We all wear masks, it’s a part of life. I don’t mean like physical Halloween masks, but more emotional masks. We tend to show different aspects of our personality to different people. As an avid comic book reader, I’ve done a lot of thinking about masks in my life, and the purposes they serve. So when I walked past the Ysbryd Games publishing booth and saw a game called Masquerada at PAX East, I stopped, did a double take, and immediately inquired about the project. I’m really glad I did, too, because Witching Hour Studios is working on an RPG that is truly bewitching.
The full title of the game is Masquerada: Songs and Shadows, and the team describes it as “a dark Venetian tale for the ages, spun as a classic isometric RPG with MOBA-style twists.” It’s somewhere between a mix of Baldur’s Gate and The Witcher series, borrowing the isometric tactical RPG combat from the former, and merging it with the deeply layered political intrigue of the latter. The demo, presented for the first time at PAX, provided attendees with a very small sampling of the story, instead focusing more on the combat aspects.
Masquerada is set in a Venetian-inspired fictional city called Ombre. In this city, masks contain the ability to cast magic. (To be clear, Ombre is the only city in the world of Masquerada where magic exists.) Players are first introduced to this idea when they meet protagonist Cicero Gavar, a man who has recently returned from exile to solve a kidnapping, one with major ramifications for the entire city. The demo begins as Gavar and an accomplice work together to face strange enemies and creatures while en route to rescue a woman. About a third of the way into the demo, Gavar finds her, and due to circumstances I won’t spoil she joins him as the third party member of his group, and they embark on another mission. The world itself is designed to resemble the color palette and style of French comic book artists. Other visual inspirations include Bastion, Transistor, and The Banner Saga.
As mentioned, Witching Hour Studios borrows quite a bit of the combat from classic BioWare franchises such as Balder’s Gate and Dragon Age. The combat can be paused at any time, and commands can be issued to all party members (three are taken into battle at a time. Whether or not the party will get any larger is not yet known.) before resuming the action and watching the fight unfold. Players can also directly control any party member they choose, switching between them on the fly, and use real-time tactics without pausing. Each character has a number of skills that can be assigned to a taskbar, much like in an MMO or MOBA. Each ability has a cooldown meter as well, but there is also a basic attack that can be spammed. Characters can wear interchangeable masks that grant different abilities and buffs, and when a certain meter is full, players can trigger a more powerful attack for that character, with the effect being determined by the current mask worn. It all adds up to some exhilarating combat that is as fast and fluid as the player desires, achieving the ultimate goal of being satisfying.
In addition to combat reminiscent of BioWare games, Witching Hour is also borrowing another BioWare staple to add to Masquerada: Emphasis on three-dimensional characters that feel real in their emotional responses and reactions to the world around them. The team admires BioWare’s ability to interweave a strong narrative into the gameplay mechanics, and that’s something they hope to achieve with Masquerada. The one aspect unfortunately beyond Witching Hour’s current grasp, due to the small team size, is a branching narrative with decisions that impact the course of the plot. But the team believes the flip-side to this is that it allows them to tell a more focused, cohesive story that they can more intimately craft.
For a game still so early in development, Masquerada has all the makings of a AAA quality experience. There is currently no multiplayer planned for the game, but depending on the success of the single player aspect, it hasn’t entirely been ruled out. The game is targeting a release in early 2016 for PC, and the team is currently discussing bringing the game to consoles with Sony and Microsoft. If successful, an iOS version hasn’t been ruled out either, which would feature a touch control system.
To stay in the loop and get the latest updates throughout Masquerada‘s development, be sure to head over to the official website. (There’s not a whole lot of information about the game posted at the moment, but that will assumedly change as the project progresses. But the developer’s portfolio has some additional details if you’re really eager to know everything.) Additionally, the game has social media pages in place via Twitter and Facebook. There isn’t much going on at either page just yet, but that just means you get to follow along from the very beginning. For those who attended PAX East 2015, and spent some time with the demo build, be sure to share your thoughts below.