Under the Eagle - Holdfast: Nations at War10 Oct 2017 0
One of the best mod scenes I’ve witnessed in my time as a games writer arose from TaleWorld’s indie-classic, Mount & Blade. A seminal action/RPG, it proved incredibly pliable in the sense that it allowed for plenty of inventive and creative mods, and one of them would give rise to the official spin-off/expansion, Mount & Blade: Napoleonic Wars (for Mount & Blade’s 2.0 game Mount & Blade: Warband).
Napoleonic Wars and its progenitor Mod gave rise to a pretty unique period for me in terms of my history as a gamer. Beyond a mere third/first person shooter (Napoleonic style), it created a convergence of LARP, re-enactment and social gaming that I’ve seldom seen anywhere else (apart from maybe dedicated role-play servers for MMOs). For a period of about half-a-year, I was a member of the 95th Rifles guild -- named after the famous green jacketed Rifle regiment that fought during the peninsular campaign, and which also inspired Sharpe, one of the best shows on British television.
To date, there’s nothing quite like the experience of when the guilds would get to fight formal battles. Each guild takes the role they specialise in, if available. Being the 95th, we’d often be the ‘Rifle’ or similar Skirmisher class (so Prussian Jaegers, or another faction’s Light Infantry slot), while others would take on Artillery, Cavalry, Line Infantry and so on. Typically the army make-up would consist mainly of Line Infantry, with one or two slots for the more specialised roles. Both sides had to be more or less even as well.
Line Infantry would move together in formation, forming lines where needed and giving volleys, Cavalry would check other cavalry or harass the flanks of enemy formations, and we skirmishers would just do our thing in the woods and snipe. It was always fun, and the only thing I felt it was missing was some kind of strategic coordination between the guilds – there was a never a ‘Commander & Chief’ role, so things could be a little disjointed.
Nations at War
Enter Holdfast: Nations at War. A third & first person shooter set during the Napoleonic Wars, it hits me with cascades of déjà vu from my Mount & Blade days. There are currently only two factions – British & French, and each faction as similar classes ranging from Line & Light Infantry, to specialised roles like Officers, Surgeons and even Carpenters. No Cavalry as of yet, but I imagine that’ll come soon, as will the other factions. Artillery exists as fixed emplacements on certain maps that can be interacted with by anyone.
If you ever played Mount & Blade Napoleonic Wars, you’ll know exactly what to expect here. It’s near carbon copy set-up is not a bad thing – there are only so many ways you can create a shooter set during this era, and the precedent set by M&B:NW was a decent one. It was only a matter of time before a team came a long and built a from-the-ground-up dedicated game covering this period, as the mod (and expansion’s) capability were limited.
It looks gorgeous – the team have done wonders with whatever graphics engine they’re using, with excellent rendering on buildings, terrain, even weather effects. Melee is incredibly underwhelming as a mechanic right now, but the shooting systems are solid. Pro tip: Always aim up when you’re at range.
So far the most endearing aspect though is watching social orders form naturally during random sessions. After loading into my first game, I was confronted by an Officer corralling a half a dozen or so Line Infantry players into a line and then marching them off to the frontline. As a skirmisher, I followed close-by to support their advance. In the ‘middle-ground’ zone that most maps seem to possess, they encountered a French formation doing pretty much the same thing. Both sides formed lined, squared off, and the volleys commenced. Unfortunately, I was shot soon after that so I didn’t see how it panned out. Wonderful to see stuff like that happen outside of the formal setting I was a part of back in the good ‘ol days.
Masters of Europe
Holdfast: Nations at War is currently in Steam’s Early Access program for $19.99 | £14.99, and they want to try and have the 1.0 version ready within 12 months of when it entered EA, which was September 21st. It currently features land battles for up to 125 players in either standard deathmatch, or ‘Siege’ mode that involves capture points. There are also ‘Naval Battle’ and ‘Naval Siege’ modes which are very different and unique, and come with their own class sets and maps.
It’s already in a pretty interesting state, and if you read their development road-map it’s only going to get better so long as they can keep the funds coming in. Holdfast is an incredibly niche proposition, it has to be said – it’s nothing like Call of Duty of Battlefield 1, but neither does is really fit in the same category as Red Orchestra, Day of Infamy, et al who are going down the more gritty, realistic shooter route. To say even this is ‘realistic’ would technically be false, as reload times on muskets were far longer than what you get in the game, but it’s a pretty decent facsimile.
For my part, I hope the Army vs Army competitive scene picks up – that’s where a game like this really shines, and the more tools and options available to players to customise that experience the better platform it will be for grand-scale competitive re-enactments. You’ll also have natural social dynamics form during random matches, but a squad-game this is not, and expecting strangers to work together only goes so far.
At the moment, the game is in a perfectly stable state where buying into it now wouldn’t be too much of a risk. The player-base is limited, but I’ve seen a couple of land servers maxed out, so you’re going to be able to find some good fights most of the time. Where it goes from here really depends if the community comes together behind it -- this game is pretty much meaningless without a dedicated corps of players who WANT to pretend to be fighting in the 1800’s, so as long as those players can be cultivated and kept entertained, all will be well.