Early in October, the open alpha for the 3D Battle Royale / Moba / Survival hybrid dubbed Black Survival: Eternal Return became available on steam to the joy of a small group of dedicated U.S fans.
I had never heard of the Black Survival universe before, but many users playing in the Alpha had. You see, before BS:ER, there was just Black Survival, a 2D style survival game that pit players against each other in unique RPG-esque survival combat.
In the original BS, players clicked through painted scenes, crafted items, and navigated the in-game world through text and sounds -- it has a cult following primarily for its anime aesthetic and Battle Royale (the manga, not the genre) inspiration.
A New 3D Offering.
Nimble Neuron, the developers behind Black Survival, are doing something new in the BS universe. Discarding the original 2D gameplay (but trying earnestly to keep intact a multiplayer experience that focuses on survival), Eternal Return has been designed around top-down, 3D combat.
Enter a world of serial killers, rookie cops, detectives and nurses all trapped together on the same island crawling with monsters trying to kill them. Only one can make it out alive and survival is the primary name of the game.
Imagine any Battle Royale game. You choose a loadout, select 1 area on a huge map to spawn into, and then the magic happens. Players bump into each other with lethal intent all while scurrying around the map trying their best to gather items, weapons, and other materials to strengthen their chances at surviving an encounter.
"As each player is searching for strong weapons, the limited resources available to craft those weapons become points of contention that may or may not result in lethal combat. "
But BS:ER adds a new element into the mix -- NPC mobs that are trying to kill everyone. Some enemies are low level and can be killed right off the bat, but other enemies are much stronger and pose a real threat to any player who runs into them. The rewards for killing them are greater, but their existence complicates PvP situations in which two players are both tip-toeing around the aggro radius of a strong NPC while also trying to kill each other.
Like a MOBA but different.
Like an RPG, defeating these mobs give EXP and help level up your character. Just like a MOBA, each level up grants you the ability to use one of your Q, W, E R and sometimes T abilities. Subsequent level-ups allow you to strengthen certain skills over others which adds a nice level of creativity and personal expression. This allows each character (The alpha included 7 of them) to play in different ways depending on the situation and which abilities a player chooses to level up first.
On top of all of these mechanics, the most substantial part of the game is the crafting system. In short, very powerful weapons and armor ( are available but only if a player gathers the necessary items to craft them. Over 400 different items drop off of certain NPCS or can be found in particular parts of the map -- information freely given to you through a nifty feature that allows players to choose an item they want to craft and then be told precisely where to gather those materials.
When it comes to raw PvP, this creates interesting metas and, on the surface, seems to add a lot of competitive depth. As each player is searching for strong weapons, the limited resources available to craft those weapons become points of contention that may or may not result in lethal combat.
On the flip side, players can opt for crafting slightly weaker items and perhaps face less competition. This same design could create predictable and imbalanced gameplay if not tuned properly, and there will always be the risk of one powerful item forcing players to seek it out every game.
Then again, none of that matters if you can't land your skill shots.
Skill shots, Skill shots, Skill shots.
It's a modern trend in gaming to constantly test a player's reflexes and aim whenever they want to do something cool, and BS:ER has fully embraced the trend. The majority of the game's balance is revolved a player's abilities to master their selected character and accurately use their pool of abilities.
This is a big plus for gamers who love to practice their skills and achieve mastery with certain abilities, as their player skill will nearly always trump a less experienced player. However, like most games with skill shots, it will almost invariably result in some characters being extremely powerful and other characters not standing a chance.
For example, two characters I played have every indication of eventually, being labeled as top-tier choices. They both have long-distance sniping capabilities and the primary tool to balance them seems to be that it is easy to miss with their abilities. These characters also can gain extended vision that allows them to see opponents before the opponents see them.
This means that, once players get good enough with them, it is entirely plausible to destroy opponents consistently with very little counterplay.
My time playing BS:ER left me feeling that ranged characters, in general, are incredibly strong compared to their melee counterparts. While they on average have less defensive options and have a harder time defeating NPC's, the positional advantages they provide almost always outweigh the downsides.
Imagine not bringing a gun to a Battle Royale game -- that is how it feels playing the melee characters. Melee characters are often sandwiched between two ranged characters and their mobility options limited by cooldowns make it very difficult to deal with more than one player. I expect some balance changes to occur once the Beta is live.
In The End
Although the Alpha was short, I enjoyed my time messing around in a 3d Black Survival environment. It feels like there is real potential for Nimble Neuron to create another cult hit that scratches an itch players didn't exactly know they had.
BS:ER is trying to pull the best parts of multiple genres and mix them together. Sometimes during the alpha, I felt how that was possible. The individual satisfaction of grinding NPC's and strengthening my character was made even more rewarding when I would encounter another player trying to kill me and emerge unscathed because I was a higher level or had crafted a more powerful weapon.
The RPG player in me likes that.
In addition, MOBA-esque characters with flashy unique abilities placed in free-for-all settings creates a less intimidating competitive experience than traditional 1:1 or 5:5 gameplay. The sting of death is lessened thanks to the chaos of the whole thing and, for the most part, it is quite easy (perhaps too much so) to avoid conflict entirely if you wish.
One character humorously hops on a motorcycle for his ultimate ability and, at the end of the ride, throws the bike at an enemy player dealing massive explosive damage. Moments like this are what brings the otherwise dark and grim world some levity and it almost made me forget the eery, somber BGM that plays during the entirety of gameplay.
What needs to change:
If the post alpha development team can bump up the visuals, add a whole bunch of needed SFX and voice acting and take another stab at balancing the risk/reward elements of camping vs. actively chasing players, I think the same cult audience that loved the original Black Survival will enjoy this new gameplay offering.
You can find more information about Black Survival: Eternal Return via its steam page or follow them on Twitter @BSER_WW
Warcraft 3 is my one true love and I will challenge anyone to a game of Super Smash Brothers Melee.