The creators of Hellblade and DmC Devil May Cry return with a new online multiplayer game that’s all about teamwork.
There’s a very good chance that Bleeding Edge will be the last first party release from Microsoft before the launch of the Xbox Series X (hopefully) later this year. It seems fair to say that Microsoft’s track record this generation has not been the best, as they realised early on that the Xbox One was a last cause and, it is assumed, quickly moved their development focus onto the next gen. But until they announce more games there’s little clue as to what direction that decision will take them, and Bleeding Edge offers little clue since it was conceived before Ninja Theory was bought by Microsoft.
But if Bleeding Edge’s willingness to experiment with new ideas and new IP is any indication of Microsoft’s attitude going forward then it augers very well for their next generation plans. And we say that with the full knowledge that many people are not going to enjoy the game.
Bleeding Edge was originally intended to be a low budget experiment, a passion project by DmC Devil May Cry combat designer Rahni Tucker, inspired by her love of MOBAs and playing as support characters in online games. As she’s admitted in interviews, the game was never expected to have a very wide audience and the fact that it only ever had a small number of people working on it made that niche appeal economically viable. But now it’s on Game Pass and millions of people are going to play it essentially for free.
You can see from comments online that Bleeding Edge is already highly divisive. The most common complaint stems from the not unreasonable concern that players don’t understand what’s going on, with many seeming to instantly dismiss it as an Overwatch clone. But while there are some superficial similarities with Blizzard’s shooter the two games have little of substance in common, beyond the imaginative and colourful designs – although most of Bleeding Edge’s characters make Overwatch seem tame by comparison.
A common description for Bleeding Hearts has been Overwatch meets Anarchy’s Reign but that’s even more inaccurate. While there is a strong emphasis on melee combat in Bleeding Edge there are still characters with guns and ranged weapons (although auto-targeting means this could never really be classed as a shooter), while the all-important healers are well advised to hang back from the frontline where they can be more easily protected.
And that, more than anything, is what separates Bleeding Edge from other online action games: teamwork. If you do not play as a team then you have very little chance of getting anywhere. Playing solo is an option, and if you’re very good at third person action games you might be able to have some fun, but the game makes it plain that it’s going to be teamwork or death for most players.
That in turn means that using a microphone is almost mandatory, as you either play with friends or risk talking to strangers. We have no idea how Ninja Theory thought that was going to work as a normally priced game but thankfully Game Pass ensures your friends do probably have a copy, if you can convince them to play it.
Bleeding Edge only has two 4 vs. 4 modes at launch, a Conquest style mode where you’re fighting over control points and a slightly more complicated one involving collecting and banking power cells. There are also only five, surprisingly large, maps with each character able to transform into a faster form to catch up. As with much of the game, what at first seems like a design flaw does prove to have a purpose, with the large maps designed that way so you have a chance to regroup when things go south or people get split up.
There are 11 characters at launch, organised into one of three classes: damage, support, and tank. There’s considerable variation even with the same class though, with the ninja-like Daemon taking on the role of the all-rounder and playing very differently to the gun-wielding Gizmo, even though they’re both damage types. Support type Zero Cool plays the whole game lazing in a gamer chair, while Kulev is a dead Cambridge history professor who’s uploaded his consciousness into an acid-spitting robot snake.
Some of the characters are clearly not meant for beginners (Cass the Russian bird-lady and Maeve the cyber witch are particularly vulnerable if you decide to play them like a Call Of Duty avatar) but despite the small number of moves they’re a lot more versatile than they first seem, and learning how to use their moves effectively takes considerable practice.
From the designs to the limited movesets, there’s a lot of obvious comparisons to be made to fighting games. And yet such a small roster is clearly not enough (as this week’s Granblue Fantasy: Versus) proves and Bleeding Edge certainly isn’t what you’d call content rich. Apart from the lack of characters, modes, and maps, there’s no ranked play and relatively few cosmetic extras to unlock. There are mods for each character’s special moves to acquire, which allow for a fair amount of customisation, but it’s the only tangible reward for repeated success.
The lack of a role queue also feels like a bad mistake, especially when a diverse team make-up is so important. There are clearly updates to come – Mekko the dolphin-in-a-robot-suit isn’t even in the game yet – but we hope that also includes a more complex combo system and a better reward for successfully parrying, which at the moment does very little. Tucker implied the former might be coming in the future, which is encouraging because at the moment the game just needs more of everything.
The main problem for most though will be the reliance on teamplay, but we don’t see that as a flaw. If you’re not a team player or can’t be bothered to communicate that’s your failing, not the game’s. It’s good to see a title that dares to rely on such things and while Bleeding Edge may not, in any sense, be the next Overwatch we’re still very interested to see how it evolves in the future.
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