With Rise of Incarnates, Bandai Namco isn’t just grabbing its stable for another free-to-play game; it’s making its own property. It does, however, use its expertise for an efficient fighting title balanced on tag teams with superhuman abilities. It’s going to need to work on server stability and balancing upgrade options to treat its players fairly, but there is a good foundation there. It’s more tactical than it appears on first sight.
For its main focus point, the game starts with a selection of detailed characters, shaped from past franchises, such as Tekken or SoulCalibur, displaying models in pristine condition. Whether it’s a showy leather jacket, a rugged face or a grizzly scythe, champions look their individual best and move with vigor over destroyed environments. Locations are inspired by real landmarks that got crushed by furious battles. Therefore, the playing field is left open, but there is a decent amount of debris to prevent it from being an empty space. There’s even room for height differences amidst the skyscraper and monument remains.
There won’t be a lot of time to enjoy the sights, however, as combat demands violent turns and gets filled with lots of flashy moves that get some close capture treatment for added effect. Each character gets its own fighting flair, though moves are extremely limited. There is only one melee and one ranged attack, doubled up with a special option, which results in increased tactical importance. For instance, trying to bridge the gap between an opponent for more short-range damage can see them easily disturb the approach with a thrown volley. Getting hit makes the character lose balance, leaving it vulnerable.
Positioning will also be important in Rise of Incarnates. Fighters can easily gain verticality with high jumps, putting them away from immediate camera angles, so keeping an eye on the full battlefield is critical to success. To stay informed, lock-on reticules give a hint to an opponent’s current spot, which keeps players from getting cornered two-on-one. It almost feels chess-like that way, but much faster. Sometimes, a retreat is better than a double beatdown. Guarding puts up a helpful shield that slows down incoming blows, but it isn’t ironclad and certainly not 360 degrees capable.
Rise of Incarnates relies heavily on the team dynamic. Since games are only played two on two, staying close to team mates ensures that there’s always backup. Moreover, when one of the squad members takes down an enemy, the lock-on target can change to indicate a possible combo chance. Taking the opportunity of a team’s combo attack deals massive damage, which quickly depletes the health counter. A solid duo is a hard thing to beat in this multiplayer game.
For some differing flair, there are currently four characters present. Each fighter comes with its own specialized moves, certainly in its alternate bestial form, but also with a different stock count. For instance, a much stronger alter ego may mean that the team loses a lot more stock when they get struck down. Once the total allotted team stock is brought to zero, the match is lost. Characters also level individually, as do player levels themselves, yielding some customization trinkets along the way.
As a final and most important defining factor, playing matches unlocks certain modifier squares that can be put into a skill grid, like a block puzzle. Each square represents a different enhancement, such as more defense, an increased type of attack damage or faster movement. With each match played, a number of blocks are consumed, so there’s no one build that can stick for too long, depending on what items are yielded at the end of the round.
Starting off is murder, but it gets better.
Combining all these elements; fighters, stock, moves, avatars and skills, there is a ton of tactical potential in Rise of Incarnates and it works out swiftly in the game. After a few painful defeats, it should be plausible to pick up the general play of the fight or notice what enhancements others possess. That, in turn, allows players to react to it by applying one of the character’s strengths. Its advantage is that there aren’t too many variables to make deductions obtuse. As rounds usually only last a minute or two, it’s this immediate action and reaction that form the captivating conflicts in the free brawler. It’s better to have a cleverly thought out design that’s simple, than opting for convoluted complexity that ultimately shaves off too much of its potential to favored builds. Moreover, especially with skill grids, there’s more than plenty to discover and rediscover when playing.
Skill grids, however, also currently present the biggest challenge for Rise of Incarnates to overcome. Like deducing the grid’s properly working traits, it’s equally instantly noticeable when a leveled character owns better gear that makes a fight uneven. Some fighters move unnaturally fast or react with the same move at a much higher pace, leaving a one on one battle to be a constant defeat. This is eventually surmountable through bearing through it, but the game needs something to welcome newcomers on an almost even ground. Grinding fresh players into a paste isn’t exactly an incentive to continue playing. Additionally, should the storefront sell skill grids, it’d be easy to see more “power builds” make their way to fights, ruining the delicate friction between opponents.
Moreover, Rise of Incarnates currently stress tested poorly with giant lag spikes that fully ruined the reactive dynamic in matches. Since a move can be won or lost on a split second reaction, it demands a smooth connection and that’s just not there yet. Since these were the first few rounds, it’s not an immediate concern yet, should it be addressed.
It’s clear that Bandai Namco has taken its experience from its fighting stable to produce Rise of Incarnates into a quality game from the get go. Despite its free banner, which often comes with irrational stigma, this two versus two multiplayer title combines few but significant moves with tactical battlefield placement and diversifying customization options. It does have a penchant for favoring veteran players so far, but nothing that even comes close to dooming the intelligent combat dynamic it built up. Solving a few lag spikes along the way will definitely make this one an interesting new entry.
A new Rise of Incarnates event is about to start this week, if you want to get your head in the game.