Fatshark's War of the Roses really took me by surprise when I reviewed it last year. A skill-based multiplayer deathmatch title set amid the upheaval of the civil war between the Houses of York and Lancaster seemed not only too good to be true, but also a bit ambitious for a fairly new developer. I ended up thoroughly enjoying it, however, and was rather hopeful for its future.
After speaking with executive producer Gordon Van Dyke in Reykjavik last week, it seems like the developer has learned a lot since October and has some big plans for both the game, and the franchise that it's looking to develop. Most notably, Fatshark is re-releasing War of the Roses in the form of the Kingmaker edition, compiling all previous DLC and adding in some extra modes.
Between October and January, Fatshark created three content packs (with yet another released this month) for War of the Roses, all for free. These contained new arms and armor that were made available to all players. The items added in the DLC are all bought via the in-game currency, which is in turn earned through battle.
While purchasing items using game currency in multiplayer titles is as common as mud nowadays, War of the Roses actually applies some logic to it. Actual soldiers fighting during this period would have spent money earned by fighting in wars on their own gear and equipment, so there's a consistency that gives weight to what is often a shoehorned feature.
Giving away DLC for free certainly pleases the consumer, but some may not be so sure about its positive impact on the business end. Gordon blamed his "hippy parents," and admitted that he really didn't want to charge dedicated players extra when they've already invested their time. "Reward players playing the game" appears to be his mantra, and he didn't want to "bite the hand that feeds."
The latest series of DLC packs are the Swordsmith packs, collecting bladed weapons which are all the better to slay you with. These have actually been designed by a genuine swordsmith, from my own beloved Scotland, no less. I generally see more bottles being brandished as weapons these days, but maybe that's for another pack.
Gordon explained how they got a swordsmith on the team. "He has a wealth of information about the weapons from this time period, and those are the kinds of weapons he recreates. The way we actually found him was, the first cover art we released, he ripped apart in the forum. He had this long post telling me how bad I was... if you can't be him, have him join you!"
Fatshark's biggest announcement lately has been the reveal of War of the Roses: Kingmaker, essentially a relaunch/collector's edition version of the game coming this quarter. This includes a new mode, Assault/Assault Castle -- something people have been begging for since launch -- new maps being added down the line, and remixes of the classic maps in terms of lighting, expanding the areas, and making them work with the extra mode.
Gordon described the new mode, with no small amount of excitement. "They're basically attack/defense, but Assault Castle has more epic events, it's more objective driven: you have to guard the cart that's going up with the cannon, you have to guard the cannon, and the cannon shoots the gate open, and then you go in try to take the courtyard and eventually seize the castle."
As he ran through the events, I got the feeling that he wished he was playing it rather than talking to a bunch of pasty-faced journalists in a wee glass room. Unfortunately, players don't actually get to control the cannon, which would have certainly been a blast. It sounds a lot like the siege scenario in Chivalry, and I'm more than happy to have a lot more of that medieval entertainment.
In a potentially unusual move, but one in line with publisher Paradox Interactive's new focus on experimenting with alternative controls, be it through touch screen or gamepads, Kingmaker will have full controller and Steam Big Picture support. I really don't know how it will feel -- the game just seems more suited to a mouse and keyboard -- but I'm certainly willing to give it a shot.
Gordon explained that he tried it for the first time before he came to Iceland, and may enjoy using the controller more. "I almost think I'm going to prefer playing that way, just because I'm a bit older and I'm not that good at keyboard and mouse games anymore. This almost felt more natural, being more third-person for the majority of your experience, you feel puppeteer-ish... it was very intuitive for me." I can certainly see it appealing to players with more experience in console titles, and if it opens the game up to new types of players then that can only help everyone, as it will become easier to get into large battles and find folk to play with.
Kingmaker will actually be a free upgrade for existing players, with the DLC being available through in-game currency, or bought more hastily after spending real cash on fake coins. Gordon admitted that he wished everyone would just buy it with in-game coins, but some folk don't have much patience.
The only piece of genuine premium DLC will be the Brian Blessed DLC. The bombastic, bearded thespian is lending his voice to Richard Neville (sending shivers up my spine) and, as an additional bonus, players will be able to use his voice in actual battles. As it's purely cosmetic, Fatshark was more comfortable attaching a price tag to it, but players who don't pick it up will still be able to hear Brian Blessed roaring over the din of battle should their opponents or allies be less frugal. Most importantly, he does yell Blackadder.
I know you're wondering it, so I'll tell you, yes, Gordon did get Brian Blessed to shout "Gordon's alive!?" Never have I been so jealous of a man named Gordon in my entire life.
In anticipation of all these updates and additions, Fatshark has opened up War of the Roses to all the unwashed masses and peasants in the form of a free trial/demo/F2P thingymabob. Despite being a cynical git, I'm pretty impressed with the way they are handling it. Anyone can download the full game, play any of the four base classes, fight on all maps, and experience the core battle modes, all without dropping a penny.
Tweaks have even been made to ensure that the free players won't be at an extreme disadvantage while they are limited to the vanilla classes, Gordon notes. "We really wanted to make sure they didn't end up being cannon fodder, so we're updating the base kits. [They've] become a bit outdated with all the changes to the game... they're there to have a good experience... they're giving us their time, they're investing in the game -- to a certain extent -- it doesn't always have to be in hard cash given directly to us. There are other ways to measure their importance and value."
It's also worth noting that free players will still be able to earn experience points and coins, but they cannot spend the latter. That said, they will be able to save it and then spend it if they choose to unlock the full game somewhere down the line.
I've got a lot of faith in the future of War of the Roses. I couldn't help but find Gordon's enthusiasm and desire to give players the best value possible incredibly endearing, and Fatshark's philosophy of self-improvement and opening their game up to as many players as possible, even if they can't pay, will likely earn some goodwill with gamers. Although he couldn't say much about future projects, Gordon did hint at expanding the franchise with new games and new time periods, so there's something to look forward to even beyond Kingmaker.
The free trial is out now, so go check it out on Steam.