The key to chess is knowing how to balance offense and defense. I think. I’ve lost a lot of chess in my life.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if chess and the Unreal engine had a baby? (No? Just me?) Well, Rooks Keep gives you precisely that. There’s even a game mode in which you just play chess. But the real game – the real Rooks Keep - is a medieval fantasy arena battle. Like many modern multiplayer games you can play team deathmatch, free-for-all, and last man standing. Unlike other multiplayer games, you can also play a mode called ‘conversion’, in which all players are basically mercenaries working for whatever kingdom killed them last.
There’s also a ‘combat chess’ mode, where your ability to capture another piece depends on your ability to duke it out in a small arena. It’s not just a little animation of one piece killing another, like in Interplay’s Battle Chess; it’s an actual fight– a deathmatch– mano a mano. If I use a pawn to try to take your bishop, I’d better be a darn good fighter because your bishop is much stronger. It takes a bit of the strategy out of chess and makes it more about who’s the better gamer. I thought it was a great idea until one stubborn bishop fried my knight, my queen, and a pawn.
Conversion is my favourite game mode. In this mode, when you die you join the team that killed you. When a team is down to one player he or she becomes something called “the warlord” and gets a huge power boost to make things fair. I played four rounds in a row, losing myself in the carnage.
I did have a couple of problems with conversion mode. The concept itself is really cool, but I don’t know how well it will translate to multiplayer. If I keep switching teams, which team do I want to win? Am I rooting for the team I started on? Couldn’t some players purposely die to get back to their original team?
Also, it took a long time before I could tell who was on my team and who wasn’t. You’re coloured differently, but sometimes it’s hard to tell. And the power ups that turn players all red make it near impossible to tell what team they’re on. I spent a good while chasing my own teammates and the AI spent a good while yelling at me.
But, after an hour or so of playing, I obviously got the hang of it.
Rooks Keep mimics the basic rules of chess. The characters you choose from are equivalent to pawns, rooks, knights, and so on. You get skill points for playing well, and you can either spend those for upgrades on your current character (like more damage or health regeneration) or you can spend them on a better champion (for example, upgrading from a rook to a queen).
Like chess, it’s a game that can be simple enough for newcomers but has a steep learning curve and a lot of subtleties. The need to balance offense and defense is made clear right from the tutorial. Parrying saves lives. It also opens up opportunities to strike.
I’m interested to see what happens when clan matches come about. When I played, the AI’s teamwork was the equivalent of button mashing. And so was mine. We all just ran to the centre of the map and whacked at each other until somebody was declared the winner. I started getting the hang of the hit-and-run as I played more, but imagine the strategies that clans will use.
I do take issue with the anti-camping mechanic that teleports you to a new location if the game thinks you’re staying in one spot too long. The problem is it thinks that a lot. I was accused of camping while running into battle and I was accused of camping while running away from battle.
Honestly though, I was invested in every match I was in and I found myself pulling the old “just one more round” a couple times.
Rooks Keep is now available to buy at runestorm.com/rook/buy, and as long as it gets enough players it will be worth it. I only played with AI and I had a blast. This is going to a be a scream-at-your-screen-when-you-die kind of multiplayer.
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