The Black Death an Infectiously Fun Survival at EGX REZZED

By: Edward "Screenager" Orr   |  Reads: 1259

As gamers eagerly explored the catacombs of London’s Tobacco Docks at this year’s EGX Rezzed, the atmosphere in one particular corner of the packed convention was utterly infectious. While it could have easily been con flu I suspect it was excitement surrounding The Black Death. The Black Death is a Massive Multiplayer Online Survival game, brought to EGX by publisher Greenman Loaded and already in early access.

Developed by Syrin Studios and Small Impact Games using the Unreal 4 engine, the Black Death is far more than just a menacing name. It is an incredibly achievement for a team of seven developers, who have already managed to bring a healthy change to a genre plagued by post-apocalyptic zombie shooters. Set in Western Europe during the 14th century, The Black Death crams up to one hundred players into a grim world that is fraught with challenge and encourages players to make choices that will noticeably impact their experience.

Many survival games rarely present players with any decisions of consequence. Choices can seem frivolous when players have the ability to do everything they need to be entirely self-sustaining. Permanent death, which exists in The Black Death, can make investment seem futile and the only decisive action becomes the choice to run or gun. Taking a nuanced approach, that borrows from RPGs, The Black Death allows players to start with a choice of profession. Each profession is uniquely qualified and suits a specific role. Peasants, for example, excel at farming and gathering, Merchants can trade, and Militia are especially ferocious warriors.

Servers overflowing with Militia are unlikely to become fearsome warriors without procuring weapons, while Peasants will be ill equipped to defend themselves without the help of friendly Militia. The imitations of each profession and their dependencies support a far more varied set of interactions than simple flight or fight. Combat is not, however, the deadliest threat in The Black Death. Starvation and Infection are just as likely to fell a player as any injury.

Drawing inspiration from the game’s namesake, Disease is rife in The Black Death and is passed between people unchallenged. If a character is unable to eat or avoid infected elements of the population, then death is almost certain. Careful management can prevent, but not cure, this infection from taking hold. This creates an interesting quandary for adventurers. Social engagements are driven by deliberate dependencies between professions and despite this, infection makes human contact the riskiest of choices.

During my hands on with The Black Death, hunger and infection indicators hung at the top of the screen, a reminder of my character’s fragile condition. After a trip to one of the many villages that peppered the eight square kilometres of landscape, I successfully acquired provisions but could just as easily faced crime, disease or even another player defending their house as I decided to roam the back alleys of a major town. Combat as a Peasant consists of a pointy stick, wielded using The Black Death’s own stance system.

From combat to trading, to hunting the local wildlife, every action in The Black Death is calculated risk, with a multitude of potential outcomes. Should you meet a gruesome end at the hands of an oversized splinter, all is not lost. The Black Death incorporates an inheritance and account progression system to ease the burden, as well as the opportunity to loot your own corpse. With a myriad of systems that I could barely explore, as well as clans, social systems, and PvE events due in future updates, The Black Death might just leave the rest of the survival genre dead and buried.

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