In an era where big studio budgets don’t necessarily result in good games, indie developers are on the resurgent as gamers seek titles which are simply good, irrespective of hype, sequelitis, and irrelevant graphical gloss. Developer Eneme Entertainment certainly bring a passion to their new title, Eitr.
“We’re great friends, and we even share a flat right now,” says one half of the two-man team, Tobi Harper. “It really helps the development process. If I’ve got an idea, I can just talk to David about it right there.”
“That definitely helps,” agrees creative partner David Wright. “Although the downside is we can end up spending 18 hour days on the game….”
Fextralife was lucky enough to sit down with David and Tobi at Gamescom and play the game with the creators along for the ride, although Tobi advised we discuss the game’s concept and development first.
“It is a Souls-a-like, so it’s quite hard. I did a Twitch session the other day where I was trying to play and talk at the same time, and just got killed. It was quite embarrassing.”
So with that PS4 controller sitting tempting us, Tobi and David explained their motivation and the development of the game. Eitr has been in development about a year, and has changed a number of times in the process. Big fans of the Souls games and Bloodborne, the team wanted to make the kind of game they wanted to play. Part of this was the selection of mechanics and systems, although this didn’t provide all the answers to the game’s concept at first.
“Originally, it was a side-scroller like [Sega’s old arcade actioner] Golden Axe. And I still have that game on my phone,” says Tobi with an enormous grin. “But it all came together when we watched one of David’s favourite shows, Vikings. When we saw it, we knew: ‘that’s it, that’s what will define this: Norse mythology and a powerful Shield Maiden’.”
The main character is the Shield Maiden. The world tree Yggdrasil has been contaminated by Eitr, a corrupting force. Not only does the Shield Maiden need to purify the tree to save existence, but understand why she herself is immune when all she loves are in peril of dying. Tobi is keen to point out while the Vikings character Lagertha provided the final key for their motivation, Eitr’s Shield Maiden is not her.
“She has a name,” says Tobi, “but we’re not telling.”
Out went the side-scrolling and in came the isometric view. Many of the influences are apparent – Souls, Bloodborne and Diablo. Others are more subtle: Zelda and even Street Fighter – using powers gains charges for weapon and item buffs.
“We’re still working on the systems to include and those not. We can’t put everything into one game,” says Tobi. “One of the ideas we’re working on is fear. Spend too long in a dungeon, and fear starts to overwhelm you. It’s like a progressive de-buff.”
“Part of that is to encourage players to go back to town,” adds David. “This isn’t like Souls, part of our inspiration is Diablo so there is loot and also material which can be sold. We want there to be an economy in the game as well.”
While that is an idea under consideration, other systems are already implemented. There is no XP in the game; becoming more powerful is based around two parallel concepts. The first is based around weapons and gems. Certain weapons are more powerful, and certain gems, which can only be combined with certain weapons and items, makes them more effective still.
The second is “favour.” Defeating enemies gains favour. The more favour you hold, the more powerful you are. However, if you are killed, you lose all favour. As an alternative, you can return to Yggdrasil and spend the favour, gaining permanent stats boosts – but you are overall less powerful.
“This is something we want to appeal to Souls players,” says David. “More hardcore players will want to take that risk.”
That’s not the only Souls similarity. There are bonfires scattered throughout the game, but here again the team have their own take on things.
“Resting at a bonfire doesn’t respawn enemies,” explains David. “We figure you’re probably going to die enough as it is. Dying respawns the enemies. And not all bonfires in the game are lit.Lighting them requires flint, but flint is also a resource needed in crafting….which risk are you as the player going to take?”
At this point, absolutely itching to try all this out, we succumb and pick up the controller. The first area is an introduction. We run, and sidestep. We attack, and learn we have a strong attack that can be charged. We kill a few enemies as we learn our dance.
“You can go a bit faster than this if you want,” offers David, but with our Souls-radar on, we’re afraid of being jumped or having a flaming arrow lodged in the back of the Shield Maiden’s head. But then we start to get used to the game’s mechanics, and there is a great deal of flexibility on offer. There is a shield and sword approach, but the player can also choose to dual wield. It is possible to attack while dashing – and R1 will kick away the shield of a blocking enemy. It occurs that a player can effectively spec up as a Souls style, or take a more Bloodborne path. We opt for Bloodborne, dual wield, and zoom about the screen killing all in our path.
“I personally prefer the patience required in the Souls combat,” says David, “but you can choose how you approach the game.”
When we realise the off-hand axe we’ve picked up has a lightning buff, things become more entertaining. We have five charges we can use to buff with lightning, but outside this using the weapon seems to generate more charges.
The other icon with a number of charges is a health flask. We politely enquire if this is an Estus flask and are met with laughter.
“It’s a leather flask,” says David. “But it’s not the only flask you can have. You’ll find other flasks in the game, and like other loot, it might be normal, special or epic.”
We find an NPC in a safe area, and have a quick chat with him. We learn more about the world.
“We don’t want to be cut-scene dominated, but we do want to tell you something about the world,” says Tobi. “The rest is there to be discovered.”
We’re about to run off, and David recommends we speak with the NPC again. No spoilers, but repeated conversation with NPCs can certainly be illuminating.
Finally, we find our way to the boss. We’re warned no one has yet defeated the boss. We are duly cowed and spend a good 30 seconds quick-stepping around to see what this vicious cousin-of-Death is going to pull off. There are a series of attacks. We move, we learn. We get the boss to 68% health. One of the Fextralife team comments we might actually do this….and boss goes RAWR and we’re dead 30 seconds later.
Interestingly, while in this kind of game you know you’re going to respawn, there is a point to the death screen – there is a roulette function which may drop something good you can go back and pick up, or it may even buff you.
As we reluctantly drop the controller, we’re grateful to have seen a game in Souls style being created with some passion. We’re impressed with the mobility of the avatar and the flexibility being offered in approaching the game. We respect a tough-as-nails boss, with patterns we know can be learned and overcome. And we’re wondering exactly what an epic flask might look like.