Space Punks’ Flying Wild Hog on merging Diablo with Helldivers, the grind, and its live service plans
Space Punks might be your new favourite podcast game.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Flying Wild Hog revealed yet another game it has in development. Space Punks, a free-to-play top-down shooter RPG borrowing from Borderlands and Diablo, is the Hog’s first foray into the genre, having been mostly known for its first-person shooters.
The studio that started out with the niche, retro shooter throwback Hard Reset a decade ago, has gone on to juggle various exciting projects simultaneously. Shadow Warrior 3 is on track for release this year. Then there’s Evil West, and the recently-announced stylish side-scrolling adventure Trek to Yomi.
Flying Wild Hog is clearly more ambitious now than it’s ever been, and it wants to be known for more than just Shadow Warrior. Space Punks is one clear example that proves the studio’s satisfying game feel can can work outside of first-person shooters.
Game director, Michal Kuk, explained to VG247 how the concept of Space Punks came to be.
“When we started thinking about this game, we divided the whole top-down market into two genres,” Michal Kuk revealed. “The first ones are slashers, like Diablo or Path of Exile, and the second are shooters, like Helldivers or Ruiner.”
“We got lots of experience when it comes to combining melee combat and ranged combat – that’s something I think we’ve proven we’re doing right with our previous games – so the idea was to create a top-down shooter looter slasher,” Kuk went on.
“The spark that started everything was basically Helldivers, but the game was too slow for us. So, we wanted to do something in our Flying Wild Hog way, which is fast-paced, lots of explosions, bombastic and destructive. And then the game [has to] feel good and be over the top, because being over the top is part of our DNA.”
Space Punks is also an opportunity for the team to venture into the realm of live service games. But having no expertise in running that style of game required the help of an experienced partner. Enter Jagex, the British publisher behind Runescape, who’s been looking to expand and share its knowledge with developers working on live service games, through its Jagex Partners label.
“One of the main reasons why we are so happy that we managed to partner with Jagex is their immense experience in the sector, they have over 20 years of experience running basically living games,” lead programmer, David Romanowski, told VG247, adding that the goal has always been to create a live game that would be supported for a long time to come.
Space Punks’ game structure is familiar, and doesn’t offer too many twists on the formula. You start out in a hub area – Devil’s Gambit – shared with other players, which is where you pick up quests and talk to NPCs. The same place also houses various other portals to spend skill points, pick up bounties, craft weapons and gear, and equip the loot earned during the missions themselves.
Once you pick where you need to go, matchmaking kicks in and you’re taken to your chosen mission. The build we played had two distinct planets, each offering unique enemies, hazards, and different aesthetics in their level design. More planets are clearly planned, as the destination screen teases.
The fact that loot earned during missions can only be identified after your return to the hub was a sticking point for me. Anthem struggled with this problem for a time, before it was fixed long after anyone had cared to stay. But Flying Wild Hog told me that limiting loot and item management to the hub area is intentional.
“What’s most important for us is the crazy explosive action, like, that’s the first thing for us when it comes to creating this game,” game director, Michal Kuk, explained.
“We wanted to clearly divide the play [of] the whole game. So the management time is on the hub, where you have everything – what you need to craft stuff to progress, to manage your talents for your character and everything else,” he added.
“But when it comes to starting the job, you want to focus only on doing the job, killing enemies [and] not being killed by enemies. So we don’t want to distract players with [item] management, looking for a space in [their] backpacks or something like this. That’s the job you need to do, focus on this one.”
Despite my misgivings about that decision, I didn’t find it to be too disruptive. Missions in Space Punks are typically over in 15 minutes, if you don’t go for every side area/objective.
Most of my time was spent playing solo, because of the limited number of people who had access to this early build. The difficulty was fairly well balanced for a single player, so long as I picked power level-appropriate content. Though it works just fine solo, Space Punks is designed for a full party of four. Flying Wild Hog worked a lot on the synergy between the four heroes, who also act as different classes with their own unique abilities, both in combat and team support. The game even exposes these synergies early so you know exactly what you’re getting into.
“The way we designed the game is primarily around playing as a party,” lead programmer, David Romanowski said. “You get a lot more enemies, it’s way more explosive, and it’s way more fun.”
“At the harder difficulties, when you go [to] like hardcore difficulties, combos really come into play. And they will allow you to basically have maximum explosiveness and also just finish the missions without dying,” he went on.
The developer told me that difficulty – as far as enemy health and numbers – is dynamically adjusted based on the group size. Certain activities, however, won’t be possible without a full team. The Heist, which the team is keeping under wraps, is one such endgame/midgame activity that will test your group coordination and synergy. Though matchmaking is available there like all other missions in Space Punks, you’ll need to communicate with your teammates to overcome its challenges.
You initially start out with only one of the four heroes, and the rest can be unlocked using a currency earned through play, which is another thing Flying Wild Hog wanted to have for players who don’t want to spend any money.
As a result of the relatively small amount of content in the current build, making progress is a bit of a grind. The game expects you to replay missions and take advantage of limited-time events, such as those that modify previously-visited areas for a chance of better loot. You usually know the type of reward you’re going to get before you start a mission, which helps.
And really, you’ll want to stick with a single hero for a while before you decide to switch. It’ll take you a few hours to get just the basic four abilities for your first character. The grind is something that’s constantly being tweaked, and it’s better now than when I first got access to the game, but it is there.
The version of Space Punks that will be available on July 14 won’t be complete. It has the aforementioned two planets, four characters, and part of the game’s story – you’ll even spot early iterations of certain systems. Flying Wild Hog said that a full story-driven campaign will be added over the course of early access, and certain elements – like crafting – will evolve over time from the rudimentary state they’re in today.
Beyond that, Space Punks is missing a few other features that have become standard in the games it’s inspired by, like the ability to see the full mission map to check which corner you’ve yet to visit.
Early access will more crucially be used to tune and test much of the game, which is fairly standard for many games like this. If you want to play it now, you’ll have to buy either of the two Founder’s Packs ($30/£22 and $50/£35). Free-to-play won’t start until the open beta, scheduled for some time this winter. As with most free-to-play games, Space Punks also has an in-game store that sells cosmetic items for real money. The team wants the experience to be fair, however, so you will know exactly what you’re spending money on. There’s also a battle pass, which actually proved to be a good source of rewards during my time.
Though there isn’t much of it, what’s there today is worth playing. Space Punks is a fun shooter with a decent variety in rewards and environments. I am not totally sold on its whacky cast of characters, but their unique abilities meaningfully change gameplay. If you’re after a new podcast game, one with a satisfying loop you can grind out as you catch up on your weekly podcasts, give Space Punks a look.
Early access kicks off July 14 on the Epic Games Store.
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