Hellraid was announced last year then quickly went quiet. VG247's Dave Cook speaks with developer Techland about how a year of hard work and reflection has resulted in brand-new core mechanics, an overhauled class system and a coat of new-gen polish on PS4 and Xbox One.
”Right now, we’re in the middle of transitioning to Chrome Engine 6. The whole process will take us two to three months to complete, and then we’ll start making last preparations for the launch on Steam Early Access, which we plan in autumn.”
I last interviewed Hellraid's game producer Marcin Kruczkiewicz in July, 2013. It was an interesting discussion about how Techland's fantasy brawler started life as a Dead Island weapon mod, and why it evolved into the team's love letter to long evenings spent playing Hexen and Heretic. It was sounding violent, lovingly retro and fun.
Then it all went a bit quiet, save for a few small reveals. What happened?
Well, I recently spoke with Kruczkiewicz over email to find out, and he tells me that following a period of internal testing at the Polish studio, his team made several core changes to the way Hellraid plays, and added a suite of mechanic changes under the hood - chiefly - the switch from Techland's bespoke Chrome Engine 5 to 6.
It's the same engine running open world survival horror title Dying Light, and yes, that means Hellraid is now coming to PS4 and Xbox One, in addition to PC. An early access launch is planned on Steam for Autumn.
"Basically, we’ve built a new melee and magic combat system from scratch, and it’s really changed how the game is played and what experience you get," Kruczkiewicz explains. "Shifting from four character classes to one universal class that has access to all previously class-specific skills was also a major decision.
"We believe it’s a good one too, because players will be free to adapt the character to the play-style of their preference. A lot of people playtesting Hellraid weren’t satisfied that they couldn’t combine, for example, the Barbarian’s battle strength and two-handed axes with the Mage’s resistance and powerful spells or the Rogue’s agility and crossbows. Well, now they can combine them however they like."
It might not sound like the biggest of changes on paper, but given that Hellraid is a first-person dungeon explorer with an emphasis on combat, the way your hero acts in battle is incredibly important. You're going to be facing a wide range of demonic creatures and mystical rogues within the dank bowels of each dungeon, so you need to have a class load-out tailored to meet all challenges.
”Our idea for the gameplay is quite different from what Dead Island had to offer, our combat system is built from scratch, and our artists are hard at work designing new types of terrifying monsters and dark fantasy environments.”
Inspired by Dead Island's vast weapon-crafting options, Hellraid also features an enhancement system that sees players imbuing their weapon with a variety of items and scrolls found in the game. Tantalisingly, Kruczkiewicz adds, "It’s a system similar to Dead Island to a certain degree, but more complex and varied."
More complex and varied than Dead Island's chainsaw bo-staffs, flaming BBQ swords and electric pipes? Where do I sign up?
Adding another layer of diversity to combat are environmental traps, such as chandeliers and spiked panels that can be used to crush and maim anyone foolish enough to linger around them. They sound quite sadistic, and I feel that Kruczkiewicz is playing his cards close to his chest about them for now.
"As for the traps, here’s an example: in one of the prison levels you will be able to lure enemies on a trapdoor, activate it, and drop them straight into burning lava," he tells me. "We also have proximity traps that can crush or cut enemies, even the players sometimes. These are just two examples and we will be revealing more about environmental traps later."
Techland's new combat system also allows for blocking and parrying techniques that will come in handy when staring down a pack of blood-starved skeleton warriors who want nothing more than to see you killed. In fact, where the game's combat differs from Dead Island's significantly is in the way particular weapons are swung. Too many of the zombie basher's melee implements handled identically, save for some elemental effects, but there will be a greater distinction in Hellraid.
”I believe that in the coming weeks, with new trailers, screenshots, and details about the game, we’ll finally convince the players who still think of Hellraid as of a Dead Island clone. The Steam Early Access launch will also be a chance for players to play and see for themselves that Hellraid is something completely new.”
"Blocking requires good timing, just like shield bashes," Kruczkiewicz explains. "We completely redesigned our combat system in the last few months and now we have different attacks for different types of weapons, which means that the amount of damage you deal and number of enemies you hurt with one hit will vary.
"Certain swords are best for cutting several enemies at once, while other weapons, such as warhammers, are perfect for crushing into ground a single enemy. With light and heavy attacks for each weapon and the dashing ability that lets you quickly dodge and control the distance during a fight, we offer much more than simple button mashing."
"And that’s just the melee combat," he elaborates. "We have no-less complex magic combat and, on top of that, ranged weapons. We also added quick slots to inventory, which lets you fast switch between weapons during combat. With all of these features and even more we haven’t revealed, we’re pretty sure that fighting in Hellraid will be something fresh and exciting to experience."
Curious to know more about the tech fuelling all of this blood-soaked carnage, I ask Kruczkiewicz for some insight into how Hellraid has advanced from a technical standpoint, given its switch from last-gen to new formats, and how the extra development time has been used to better understand PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
"We’re constantly pushing forward with more detailed 3D models, textures in higher resolution, more complex special and particle effects, or advanced AI algorithms," he continues. "It was rather simple on PC, yet we were strongly limited by hardware on the previous generation of consoles. Now, because the game is coming to PC and the next-gen consoles, we can focus on making the game with no worries about hardware limitations.
"Right now, we’re in the middle of transitioning to Chrome Engine 6. It goes rather quickly and smoothly, because the engine is the next iteration of our own technology, so we’re obviously quite familiar with it. The whole process will take us two to three months to complete, and then we’ll start making last preparations for the launch on Steam Early Access, which we plan in autumn.
”Our game started as a simple Dead Island mod made internally in our company. For some time – and in the first trailers – we also used a couple of old animations and sounds as placeholders, but since then our game has evolved.”
"With the Early Access, we want to give the players a chance to participate in the development of Hellraid and have their part in the final shape of the game. We’re truly excited since it’s something completely new to us and the whole company, so we really can’t wait."
Tech aside, Hellraid's core modes have also changed as well. It's no longer just about story mode, as there's now a new Arena Mode that offers PvE waves for you and up to three co-op buddies in custom-made arenas, as well as Mission Mode which enables players to revisit completed story stages to tackle a series of additional quests and challenges, such as hitting a long combo, or achieving a set high score.
It's clear that Hellraid has changed a lot since Kruczkiewicz and I last spoke, but as a fan of dark fantasy titles like Dark Souls and full-on combat experiences like Streets of Rage and Bayonetta, my anticipation for this violent, heavy-handed brawler just spiked again.
Of course, over time we'll know more about the plot and why you have been chosen to stop the gates of Hell from opening, along with details of how story missions will play out in practice. We'll keep you updated until then, but for now, this fan of bone-crunching attacks and brutal sword decapitation is looking on with interest.
I close by asking Kruczkiewicz to address fears that Hellraid is simply Dead Island in Skyrim's clothing. "We understand how some people could get such an impression," he responds. "After all, our game started as a simple Dead Island mod made internally in our company. For some time - and in the first trailers - we also used a couple of old animations and sounds as placeholders, but since then our game has evolved.
"Our idea for the gameplay is quite different from what Dead Island had to offer, our combat system is built from scratch, and our artists are hard at work designing new types of terrifying monsters and dark fantasy environments. On top of that, Hellraid runs no longer on the Chrome Engine 5 - Dead Island’s engine - but on the much more powerful Chrome Engine 6.
"I believe that in the coming weeks, with new trailers, screenshots, and details about the game, we’ll finally convince the players who still think of Hellraid as of a Dead Island clone. The Steam Early Access launch will also be a chance for players to play and see for themselves that Hellraid is something completely new, and – hopefully - they will love it."
You can keep up with new Hellraid information over at the official site.