How is it that a squad-based FPS game like Hyenas, which is all about raiding vaults for rare treasure, is passing up the chance to add Escape From Tarkov’s persistent loot to its class-based, Apex Legends style action? When the first trailer for Creative Assembly’s forthcoming shooter arrived, it sounded like loot would be a foundational aspect of its gameplay loop, but after seeing it in action at Gamescom I’m surprised to discover that the merch you’re stealing is a mostly superficial means of progressing through each match.
Here’s how a Hyenas match plays out. You and a couple of friends pick characters from a roster of six, each with unique weapons, abilities, and play styles, and then you dock at a floating shopping mall called a Plundership with the goal of stealing as much pop culture merch as possible. You’re not the only pack of Hyenas onboard though, and as you move between different stores you’ll come up against rival squads who are competing for the same merch. There are a variety of different stores you can rob, and you’ll need to hit up a few in order to meet the loot quota, at which point an exfil route opens up. You’re effectively racing to fill a meter.
Extraction, however, is only for one team, so there’s a final showdown between all of the remaining squads right at the end. If you’ve been out of the race up until this point, this is your chance to gang up on the leading squad, feed off the scraps, and hopefully cobble together enough valuables to extract.
But what happens when you win and the doors of the exfil ship slowly slide shut? Well, the team at Creative Assembly doesn’t have a firm plan for that just yet, and from what lead meta designer Christoph Will tells us, it’s highly unlikely that it will be anything like the persistent loot economy and base-building mechanics present in Escape From Tarkov. “We’re not really talking about that right now because it’s also slightly related to those other topics [microtransactions and cosmetic unlocks] and we want to focus on the gameplay right now,” Will says. “We’re looking at different kinds of progression systems, which could be something like unlocking more Hyenas, right? There’s some stuff in the alpha, so when players see it they’ll get some indication of what we’re doing, but it’s something that we may change in the future”.
Without some kind of organic, loot-based progression outside of each match, Hyenas is pinning all of its hopes on the moment-to-moment gameplay being ahead of the pack. Fortunately then, this is a battle royale-inspired shooter with a few key differences.
Loadouts are tied to your character and floor loot is consigned to throwables and heals, so there’s a lot more emphasis on squad composition here. For example, if you want your team to be effective in long-range battles you’ll have to include the sniper character El Silbon in your lineup, and forgo another class like an engineer. Will explains the team is thinking about each character in terms of class archetypes: “Even among the first six characters, there’s a healer, a summoner, a damage-dealer, a tank, and so one – and we’re going to lean into that type of [character] design”.
Zero G can also shake up battles, throwing Hyenas into the air like flakes of white plastic in a snowglobe. In certain areas of the Plundership there are switches you can shoot that will deactivate any local gravity fields, sending the arena into chaos: players who are hunkering down behind cover will find themselves uprooted and exposed; battered squads might use this window to scramble away from danger and revive fallen comrades at a kiosk elsewhere; and aggressive players can clean up any stragglers to bolster their loot quota.
“[It’s] one of the things we’re most proud of,” Will says, “because I think we’ve achieved a rare success story of a zero G system that is intuitive and can play well in a shooter. I’m an old school Quake player, so I’m used to doing aerial trick shots, and you get that same feeling here when you execute a skill shot.”
Oh, and there are PvE threats, too. Confirming we’re still a ways off release, the Murf mercenaries in our hands-off demo aren’t able to actually move or do anything, but they come in a few flavours, from basic assault troopers to exosuit-wearing minibosses. Depending on how they’re summoned and what kind of a threat they’ll pose, this PvE component could make PvP battles much more dynamic, but it’s far too early to tell.
The gameplay does look sharp and fluid, certainly more so than I expected from a development team that’s best known for its strategy games, but I’m concerned that it’ll need more to stand a chance against free-to-play giants like Apex Legends, Fortnite, and Warzone. Beyond that, there’s some uncomfortable dissonance between the game’s ‘eat the rich’ messaging and what’ll presumably be a cosmetic-based monetisation model – and that will need solving if players are going to seriously buy into the world and characters.
Hopefully we can get some answers to those questions ahead of any betas or the 2023 release date. For now, you can sign up to the alpha on the official site if you want to try it out for yourself. Alternatively, check out our roundups of the best battle royale games and best multiplayer games for more competitive shooters like this.