The appearance of the next game from Ninja Theory, Bleeding Edge, was something of a surprise during Microsoft’s press conference at E3 2019. It’s a competitive game in the vein of something like Overwatch or Apex Legends, pitting teams of four players against each other as they try to capture objectives while wailing on each other. That’s pretty far removed from the studio’s past games–third-person narrative action titles such as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and DmC: Devil May Cry.
Bleeding Edge is looking to marry online competitive games with the kind of combat experiences you might expect from Ninja Theory. It’s principally a sort of competitive brawler–the majority of the characters specialize in melee combat. Think Overwatch, but fewer guns and more combos.
That’s the kind of game creative director Rahni Tucker wanted to play, so that’s the one she and her team made, she told GameSpot at E3.
“For me, combat is my interest, that’s what I love to make,” Tucker said. “At home, I play competitive team multiplayer games. So, it just seemed like a natural synergy. Like, an ‘Ah!’ moment. I was like, ‘Where’s third-person action combat meets competitive team multiplayer? I feel like this game doesn’t exist and I would play it, so why don’t we make that? It’s just the game that I love basically, my passion project.”
In Bleeding Edge, most characters are melee fighters, although there are different roles among the cast. Some are support class fighters with ranged attacks, meant to stay out of the fray to heal or buff teammates, while others are tank-like and designed to get in close and wreck people. All 10 characters have a variety of abilities, which we tried out in a match we played at the Microsoft Showcase. Melee DPS fighter Daemon, for instance, carries a samurai sword, can briefly turn himself invisible, and uses a dash move to close gaps and land quick hits. The witchy Maeve can cage opponents in place and siphon life from them, while saw-wielding tank Buttercup has a Roadhog-style chain move that can pull enemies to her. All those abilities have cooldown timers, and every character also has an ultimate move that charges up over time; Daemon’s ultimate turned him into a fast-slashing killing machine against anyone who stumbled into a certain radius around him. Each character has two ultimates for you to pick from at the start of a match.
I was like, ‘Where’s third-person action combat meets competitive team multiplayer?'”
The round we played took place on an industrial map with a train track running through the center–and happening to cross over its three control points. Capturing those spots earns your team points (as does landing kills), but the trains that occasionally run through the map are a hazard to be either avoided or used against the other team. The map also had jump pads that made it possible to reach higher levels, adding some verticality, and health drops scattered around that were key to keeping alive.
It’s all the sort of thing you’d expect from other character-based competitive games. Bleeding Edge stands out with its combat, though; it all feels much more MOBA-like as two teams converge and start wailing away at each other. As soon as you get into a fight, the action-adventure pedigree of the Ninja Theory team asserts itself. Hitting an enemy with a series of melee strikes can stun them, and linking regular attacks with your special abilities can extend a combo and let you hammer away opponents. You’ve also got a dodge move that helps you break free of a combo executed by someone else, but it has limited charges, requiring you to think about how best to use your moves to control the fight and avoid getting locked down.
“The main thing, I think, is the design sensibilities that go into making the combat feel right because the game, to play, is very different, as you know,” Tucker said. “Single-player hack-and-slash games, you can run in versus 50 guys and own them all in the face, and do a 50-hit combo where they don’t get to do anything. But playing against that is not very fun. [Bleeding Edge] is definitely a team game and that was a big thing that I wanted it to be, because I like playing support and you can’t play support if it’s not a team game. That was important to me as well. I think that’s one of the things people struggle a little bit when they see third-person action, is they go, ‘Oh, cool, I’m just gonna run in and kill everything!’ And it’s like, well, yeah, but so are they. You can’t run in versus four people and just kill everything because they’re as powerful as you are.
“The thing that I’m bringing, I think, from DmC into this is the design sensibility. So making the combat feel good, making the hits feel like they’re connecting, the animation slick, it feels right in your hand, got good response control.”
It might not feel exactly like DmC, but Bleeding Edge does capture that responsive, strategic feeling of fighting–while amping it up with the frantic unpredictability inherent in taking on other players.
Modding Your Heroes
Bleeding Edge also separates itself in the ways you can customize your characters. The premise of the title, as Tucker explained, is a friendly competition between cyborgs set some 50 or so years in the future. The characters are all at the “bleeding edge” of cybernetic body modification, using technology to do all sorts of weird things to themselves, and beating and blowing each other up are how they try out their latest enhancements.
Customization is part of the underlying premise, so in addition to picking different characters with a variety of abilities (and switching between them mid-match to adjust your strategy), you can also unlock “mods” to install on your characters, which change the way their abilities work. Each character gets three mod slots, and you can unlock more character-specific mods over time as you play (there are about 20 for each), which allow to you build different loadouts of each character that fit your playstyle and the strategies of a match.
The thing that I’m bringing, I think, from DmC into this is the design sensibility.”
“Using Daemon as an example, his default mod set is base attack/damage, a bit of extra health and more range for his shooting but if you wanted to you could go fully into, say, stealth and you can have a mod that makes stealth last forever, you have a mod that makes him move faster under stealth and there’s a mod, say, that does extra damage coming out of stealth. You can equip those three into a build and call it the Stealth Build, and then if you’re playing on a team where you don’t really need to care about survivability and you just want to get around the back and kill [support character] Zero Cool time and time again, then you might take that build.”
It all sounds like a potent recipe for a competitive game, and Bleeding Edge created some fun, chaotic moments as all eight players wailed on each other in an attempt to take control points in our match. It’s tough to gauge after just one battle, of course, but there’s a depth to Bleeding Edge’s melee combat that should entice fans of MOBAs and other competitive games, with a bright, easygoing art style and accessibility that make it easy to pick up. The question is whether Bleeding Edge can make a dent in a crowded competitive game market–but at the very least, it has the potential to scratch a combat itch no other games of this type are addressing.
Though there’s no price point or release date for Bleeding Edge yet, Tucker said Ninja Theory intends to support the game after launch with additional characters (there are 10 at launch and Ninja Theory is already teasing two more) and maps (beyond the three that’ll be available at release). Tucker also said she wants to work on a more robust spectator mode for the game as well. Microsoft and Ninja Theory are also running a technical alpha on June 27, which you can sign up for on the Bleeding Edge website.