Talk turns technical with Masquerada: Songs and Shadows' Ian Gregory


Character synergy, combat, and skill systems detailed

While at PAX East, Iwas fortunate enoughto schedule a chat with the co-founder and creative director of Singapore-based Witching Hour Studios, Ian Gregory, to talk aboutthe studio’sbeautiful upcoming “pause-for-tactics” 2.5D isometric RPG Masquerada: Songs and Shadows, planned for release on PC, Mac, and consoles (TBD) sometime inearly 2016.

The game takes placein a Venetian-inspired fantasy citycalled Ombre, and as it happens, is the only place in the game’s world where magic exists.However, discovering and donningrare masks are the key to learning and harnessing thatmagical power. Gregory describes the mask’s function in the game as that of “batteries,” storing built-up magical energy to be released in the form of the different classes’ skills and abilities.

Players follow the story of Inspettore Cicero Gavar as he returns from exile to solve a kidnapping that, as the game’s description states, will “shake up the foundations of the city.” Cicero, your starting character in the game, is a Maestro,a hybrid class that draws from the skills of all three main character classes.

Thethree main classesavailablein the game are the Sicario, who fills the role of an assassin; the Pavisierre, the tank in the group; and lastly, the Dirge, a bard-like character who can cast both summons and buffs. Each class will have access to eight to ten different abilities, all of which possess their own skill trees.

While discussing these various systems, the word synergy came up many times during our brief chat. It becameobvious that the team has put a lot of thought into how each classes’ skills can and should complement the others, ensuring that no single character is ever considered the “best.”

As such, eachcharacter classhas specificstrengths and weaknesses, but if each are used effectively, players canmanipulate the battlefield bysplitting up and isolating creaturesfrom large mobs,as well as maximize the group’s damage output potential by layering the classes’ complimentary spells andskills into the morelethal combined attacks.

Gregoryshowed me several examples of how the different classes could work together to greater effect. For example, using a pull-like Voidspell to gather enemies into a tight group could becombined with a well-timed use of the Sicario’s Fissure ability —a charge attack that damages all enemies in its path —to maximizeyour damage output.

Another method of combining the group’s uniquecharacteristics would be to leverage their elemental capabilities. An example of this would again make use of the water-based Void ability, but this time, instead of lining up enemies for an efficient physical attack, another character’s lightning ability could come into play, electrocuting thedrenched mob.

Positioning on the battlefieldalso hasadditional importance in Masquerada. Gregory notes that “all player characters, NPCs, and enemies have armor (seen in the video above as color-coded circlessurrounding each character) that must be dealt with before being able to damage them directly.” For example, character’s attempting to tangle with foes head-onwill find themselves dealing damage only to that foe’s armor until it can be destroyed.

However, armor mitigates only half the damage dealt to a target when struck from the flank and attacks to the rear cause full damage to a target, renderingarmor useless.Aside note to armor is that the player character’s armor has the capacity to regenerate unlike an enemy’s, which is rendered useless after acertain number of attacks. Also, certain characters, such as the Sicario, can sacrifice armor altogether for an added boost to damage output at the risk of becoming injured in the act.

Character skills are another important aspect that warrantsexplanation when discussing Masquerada‘s combat systems. As shown in the video, each character has a row of different abilities at their disposal in the action bar. Gregory notes that anyone familiar with Dota 2 or League of Legends will have a general idea of how to use them from the onset, e.g., after each useof a particular ability itwon’t be available again untilits cool-down timer refreshes.

One big difference in the way Masquerada handles skills is in how they evolve overtime.Witching Hour Studios has chosen to eschew experience points altogether. Instead, at certain key points in the game’s storyeach character will be issued a set amount of skill points to spend in their respective skill trees. This not only avoids tedious grinding, but it ensures that the developers have a good handle on all of the potential outcomes of character development and can tailor the game’s encounter difficulty accordingly.

Also, each skill can be modified as you progress further in the game, allowing you to tailor characters to your particular play style. Gregory gives a specific example of this when talking about upgrading Cicero’s teleportation skill, Zephyr. In this instance, Zephyr can go two ways: offensively or defensively. The offense-oriented modification blasts out hot air when Cicero re-appears and the defensive modificationblasts cold air to freeze enemies at Cicero’s original location, buying him valuable time to recover or cast other spells.

As the “pause-for-tactics” descriptor indicates, all aspects of Masquerada‘scombat can play out inreal time or the game can be paused to enter a tactical modeby hitting the spacebar for more contemplative and complex setups.You can of course usea mixture of the two if you wish. It’s up to the player on how theydecide to enjoy the game. However, as mentioned earlier in the article, the game’s combatis designed around leveraging each of the character’s special abilities in concert with the others toachieve the greatest effect, so the tactical mode will probably benecessary for the more dangerous encounters.

A year seemslike a long way out to be this intrigued about a game, but I must admit, after getting some quality hands-on experiencecoupled with Gregory’sintricate and passionately detaileddescription of the mechanics, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows has turned out tobe one ofmy first most-anticipated games coming out next year.