PAX Prime 2015: Bedlam Hands-On Preview Bedlam: (noun) a scene of uproar and confusion. 08.30.15 - 11:44 PM
Those of you following our E3 coverage may remember Kyle's preview of this intriguing mash-up of FTL, Mad Max, and The Banner Saga. After missing it at E3 and hearing about it from Kyle I was eager to try at the PAX showroom floor in Seattle. I found a compact yet strategically deep game amid the uproar and confusion of genre mash-ups. As we previously covered the basic gameplay mechanics, this time I want to focus on the meat of the gameplay, its combat.
Bedlam licensed its battle engine from The Banner Saga, and the connection is clearly visible, but combat plays out in its own unique way. First of all, there are four distinct classes: Frontliner melee units with high health, shotgun wielding Trenchers, balanced Gunslingers, and fragile yet powerful long range Deadeyes. The first thing to remember about combat in Bedlam is that your units are subject to permadeath, and further, any damage they sustain in battle will have to heal over time throughout the journey. Luckily, each Dozer comes will several units of each type that you can easily swap between battles. Racking up two kills with a particular unit will promote them to a veteran, greatly enhancing their damage and other parameters like health. It can be a tremendous loss to lose a veteran, so be careful.
You must choose your units going into each battle blind, so you will want to be prepared for any eventuality. However, post-battle rewards increased with fewer units on the field, so a brave (or desperate) commander might choose to gamble by sending in a smaller team. As Kyle mentioned last time, there is no turn order. Instead, each team alternates taking two actions at a time, where moving and attacking each count as one action. Will you take the extra action to move your Deadeye into position, or rely on your veteran Gunslinger even though he doesn't benefit from the kills? Another caveat is the Berserk meter, which builds for your enemies over time the longer the fight lasts. As it builds, enemies will be able to take more actions per turn, while you must ration your meager two points. A further complication is the fact that many battlefields have resources scattered throughout, prolonging the fight if you want to collect the precious supplies.
I found that combat forces some intriguing decisions and is very much a balancing act. Because units tend to be very squishy and damage persists out of battle, you are constantly striving to optimize your turns with a very limited resource. Luckily, each play-through is very short, at most 30-40 minutes, as the game is meant to be repeated. In fact, my time on Bedlam was even shorter because I met with a game over; not at the hands of enemy mutants, but from lack of fuel. It was eerily true to real life.