We take a look at The Surge, Deck13’s upcoming sci-fi ARPG, and have a chat with Jan Klose, Managing Director of the studio.
Coming off the back of 2014’s Lords of the Fallen, German developer Deck13 Interactive have already made significant strides in addressing the issues that made their fantasy-driven story of Harkyn and his quest to hunt down the Rhogar Lords a good experience rather than a great one. Through fan feedback and many talks inside the studio, they’re looking to make their next game, The Surge, a more refined, explorative, and challenging experience for the player.
Sitting in on a behind closed doors presentation of the game, it became obvious from the get-go that The Surge is very different from the developer’s previous title. That, of course, comes down to the game’s futuristic sci-fi setting, something Deck13 decided on early in the game’s development: “It was kind of a lucky shot as we found something that worked together as a new idea — the program and the mechanics just clicked,” Jan Klose, Managing Director of Deck13 Interactive, said.
Having enjoyed developing Lords of the Fallen, the team quickly decided to strip away from their fantasy roots with Harkyn and co and looked to jump into something a little bit different. “We did fantasy, and it was a lot of fun, however fantasy is a bit limited on the imaginative stuff that you can really do (which is strange because it’s fantasy!), so we were looking for another fantastic thing where we can really play out new stuff and be very creative.” This is how they landed on The Surge, which takes place in a sci-fi world where machines have become, quite literally, a part of human life.
At the beginning of The Surge, you’re promptly dropped right into the game. There isn’t much in the way of explaining what the hell’s gone on — it’s up to you to find that out for yourself. “You don’t get told what’s going on, you find out,” Klose reiterates. “We had a similar approach with Lords of the Fallen but it was still a bit of a linear story — go there, meet that person, and so on. What we have here is that you don’t know where to go, you don’t know who to meet — you’re there, and then it’s up to you.”
The idea of exploration is something that plays an important role in The Surge, with the location, the enemies, and little intricacies spread around the game’s world giving perceptive players a hint into the chaos that’s seemingly gone on. The game, as Klose stated, is “for the people who like digging into their game — they’ll get rewarded. The others, well they may have a hard time!”
The basic idea, here, is firmly grounded in science fiction. You take up a job with a company that’s devoted to saving the earth, and, as such, you’re fitted with an exoskeleton. Upon being fitted, you black out and then wake up with no memory of what’s happened. Things have gone bad, and your coworkers are not as friendly as they once were — it’s up to you to figure out what has caused the world to go so bad, and, as well as this, keep yourself alive in a world filled with powerful, machine-heavy enemies.
During the presentation, Klose and the Deck13 team continued to reiterate that The Surge is not a game that favours players who just want to go from point a to point b: “In this game, if you walk in a straight line you’ll just lose — you won’t have the equipment, the abilities, or the skills to defeat the next boss,” he states. “You need to go off the track, you need to explore and go and find stuff. Backtracking is on a whole new level now, and as you walk through you see a lot of stuff that you cannot access yet but it’s intriguing… you know there’s something behind there… so later you’re a new level and you say ‘oh, I might be able to do this now!’ and we reward you for that.”
Exploration wasn’t something that just interested the developers, though, as it was also something that players wanted as well. “We also learned that the players are sort of those people that like to discover for themselves, so [early on] we said we’ll extend this [aspect] a lot.” It’s a staple, really, in these types of games, and while those that don’t take their time may have a hard time of it, the world of The Surge is one that I was completely taken aback by. Not only is this setting something that hasn’t really been done in this particular genre, it’s one that breathes character throughout — all the way from the pieces of rubble you trudge through to the crazed enemies you come across.
Of course, those enemies are an integral part of what makes The Surge feel fresh, as well as being a bit of a unique experience. Not only from the perspective that they are one of your only ways of upgrading your character’s gear, but because of their wicked futuristic design. As the presentation continued, we came across a handful of differing enemy types, from normal(ish) looking co-workers, to flying maintenance robots, to, of course, the boss: a gigantic old security robot.
From here, The Surge will feel somewhat similar in its gameplay to those who have played any of the Souls games or, obviously, Lords of the Fallen. It’s all about timing your own attacks while being careful not to leave yourself too open to attacks from the enemy. It’s as punishing as you’d expect, with any enemy in the game able to deal the killing blow if you slip up, but the title’s futuristic setting gives it a fresh and reinvigorating feeling. Not only that, Deck13 have elected to do away with light and heavy attacks in favour of horizontal and vertical attacks and a limb targeting system — something other games in the genre have not really done before.
This is where The Surge shines. Not only does the game look to change up the tried-and-true Souls formula, it looks to make it its own. Successfully targeting and attacking specific limbs on an enemy will, in time, chop that limb off, in turn giving you a component to craft and add to your character’s gear. This is how gathering gear and resources works in The Surge. “This is a very deterministic game,” Klose continues. “It’s not made up of random loot or chances — it’s your skill to get it, and it’s your time that you invest to get it.”
Crafting plays an integral part in the game, and it’s up to you to add to your character’s repertoire of gear, which, in the end, means thinking about fights in a very different way. “You need to be very skilful in the combat to get the stuff that you want to wear — there’s no shop or anything. You need to craft.”
It’s an intriguing prospect, really, to have such a heavy focus on taking on enemies in order to gather your gear and become stronger, but I felt like it immediately worked with the game’s setting. There’s a real sense of depth to The Surge already, and contributes to the idea of the game having such a heavy focus on player exploration and choice — it’s your story, so make of it what you want.
Classes have been discarded this time around as well, in favour of allowing the player to figure out how they want to play rather than be locked into any particular playstyle. Whether you prefer light or heavy weaponry, agile gear, or a combination of the two will be entirely up to you, and, as such, you’ll have to go out and fetch the gear to make that happen. Similarly, as you play through The Surge you’ll get implants which are, for lack of a better term, your attributes and skills. Some will increase your health, some will increase your movement speed and so on. It wasn’t specifically stated, but I’d safely assume that these will be scavenged throughout the game’s world, as well.
It’s immediately clear to see how much refinement and fan feedback Deck13 has taken from Lords of the Fallen, implementing a handful of new systems and changes into The Surge. “We tried to find out what people liked most, and the cool thing was that it corresponded with what we liked!” And while it is still early days, Klose told me that the game’s duration will be somewhat around that of Lords of the Fallen, which, to the average player, was anywhere between 12 to 15 hours. However, with such a heavy focus on exploration and scavenging items, it can be assumed that The Surge will probably take a little bit longer than that, given how linear Lords of the Fallen ended up being.
The Surge is looking really, really good. I’ve been following the game for some time, and the behind closed doors presentation yielded what I thought to be one of E3’s best games. I’m extremely keen to see more of the game as we approach its release in 2017, as it’s one that fans of the Souls series and, of course, Lords of the Fallen, should be keeping a close eye on.
The Surge is set to launch in 2017 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.