Oh, it’s a challenge to describe Evercore Heroes. A pleasant challenge. The name doesn’t say much. The team, which includes a number of people who worked on League of Legends, describes it as “competitive PvE.” My own notes from a recent online presentation suggest this is a WoW raid mixed in with some Puyo Tetris. However, having had the time to think about it, I suspect the whole thing is like one of those fancy cocktails where the various elements separate and form a rainbow layer: Evercore Heroes is easy at first, then complicated, and finally pretty easy again. And hopefully delicious.
I would start here. You jump into a team of four heroes who all work their way through some sort of raid area. You fight against mobs to become more powerful, because at the end of the game – the games last about 25 minutes – you have to face a boss. So you fight mobs and level up in a way that reminds me of League of Legends PvE stuff without any PvP stuff whatsoever. You also pursue quests, specific goals that make you much more powerful, and you harvest “shards” from the world that give you benefits. However, every now and then a so-called “Surge Wave” occurs, meaning you have to return to your base and protect it from a PvE horde. Complete a wave and you’re back out there, leveling and questing. Complete enough waves and you’ll take on the boss.
Here’s the thing though. You are alone, but you are not alone. Creepy action at a distance! Your team of four competes against three other teams of four, but indirectly. You’re all exploring the same terrain, fighting the same mobs, collecting the same shards, and taking on the same quests while leveling up the same boss, but you’re essentially in different dimensions. You can’t suddenly appear in my world and light my healer. Instead, I see your team in my world as little balls of light moving across the floor. These balls of light do no harm, but they tell me what you’re doing and remind me that we’re competitive: whoever defeats the boss first wins. What are you up to and how do I compare?
And that’s where it gets easy again. Ultimately, you all want to defeat your version of the boss: four teams facing identical challenges in different worlds, but competing against each other and even watching each other’s progress on the boss’s health bar. And after half an hour, one team wins.
So this is competitive PvE, and hopefully the League of Legends lineage is pretty clear. But what about the Puyo Tetris bit? This is the part of the presentation where I actually burst out laughing with joy despite being alone in a room watching a Discord channel while a car alarm went off outside.
Tetris – I’m most familiar with Puyo Tetris but I think it runs across the board – has great multiplayer and it’s actually a pretty good way to think about Evercore. Each player has their own fountain and faces their own blocks. I can’t walk around your well dropping certain pieces to mess things up for you. But if I play brilliantly I can send tons of junk down your well making it a lot harder for you. You can do this in Evercore. These quests? Some of them allow me to sort of send stuff to other teams’ worlds. Except it’s not junk puyo. It’s things like yetis that appear during surf waves that make defending your base even more difficult than it already was.
This part right here – the part where I go beyond dimensions and ruin your day – encapsulates the ingenuity and delicacy of what the team at Vela, who make Evercore Heroes, is trying to do. Like all new teams, Vela has some kind of mission statement. “Creating core games that combine esports mastery and the power of positive social dynamics.” Three parts to this: core games? Check. Evercore, with its cast of heroes to learn and synergies to exploit and its frantic top-down action and – I suspect – ever-changing metas is pretty much the core of what a game gets can. Championship? Yes, and by that I mean that I can well imagine making mistakes that cost my team the big W. But the power of positive social dynamics?
In a way, this is easy. By slicing opposing teams into their own dimensions, it means a lot of grief just can’t happen. You Can’t Sadden Me With The Spider-Verse! But while I can’t directly ruin your game by running around with a sword in it, I can send Yetis your way. And even more. (I think the team only focused on Yetis because it sounds more amusing.)
In other words, this is where you have to weigh things up. “When we first started exploring the idea of competitive PvE, we looked for ways to increase what we call competitive presence,” explains Velo CEO Travis George later in the conversation. “Because we knew we didn’t want to have people on the same map because firstly it introduces a lot of confusion and secondly it introduces a lot of potential grief. I go and mark all the monsters on the map and run them away from you so you don’t have a good time.
“One of the things we’ve been pushing is the idea that I can send things that make your life really miserable. And now you can see exactly which team sent you that terrifying yeti. But it’s something where you can overcome it when you work together as a team, as opposed to turning a corner and dying from a headshot in a competitive shooter, and there’s nothing you can do about it, and you feel bad. And you do it five more times and you feel worse and worse and worse. So it’s the way to really get people excited: Man, I want to beat this team. But there’s less anger at them for not stopping your fun.
It’s a nice answer I think. And Evercore is full of that kind of thinking – not just about balance and player behavior, but about the way things work. I think there’s joy with Vela in getting deep into things, whether it’s the lore that manages to bring all of those battles together in an evolving story about a world besieged by a form of dark magic – I’m inevitably distorting that – to the balance of heroes. Over the course of the presentation we see a handful of these characters, including Shade, an assassin who focuses on damage and fast traversal, Fyn, your happy barbarian tank, and Zari, an archer who I think can call in some sort of massive solar airstrikes. Each hero has a selection of talents and can unlock new talents to choose from the more they play: progression and also a dynamic when it comes to creating builds.
Evercore’s landscapes strike a nice balance between genre classics – the map I saw in action was all rocks and frozen wastelands – and interesting details. (In this last part, the game will have seasons and tell at least part of its story in changes that occur from one season to the next; it’s very likely that we’ll see the sort of narrative progression through cobbler-elves that Fortnite is that good.)
However, what really struck me is the shards, these are those perks that give the game such moment-to-moment momentum. Some are available in the in-match shop and are randomly selected from a large pool. Others are scattered around the place for take out there. Crucially, each team gets the same shards in the shop or scattered throughout. The randomness is there to bridge the gap between the item play of ARPGs, which offers nice surprises but can separate players with different item levels, and the type of recipe run of MOBAs, where there’s a set possibility to approach the store in each game with only minimal variation.
Out there in the world it’s always a choice whether to focus on the shards or whether to focus on mobs or quests or prepare for the next wave. Divided into categories ranging from defensive to magical to physical to support, there’s the same candied vibe I once got from the runes as originally planned for Diablo 3: opportunities worth wonka. Hit harder and hit faster? Win passive gold? Turn gold into a stat boost? I can see myself accidentally screwing up my team while going on Sugar Rush Shard Hunts.
And so! After all this, if I had to describe Evercore Heroes – and I remember I haven’t played it and I’m just covering the basics here – I’d probably say it’s an elegant balance of imagination and memory. It introduces a new way to play competitively without allowing for such easy, direct mourning. And yet, when you see it in action, it’s so clearly entranced with the sheen of old WoW raids and classic MOBA matches. It’s born out of an idealized memory of what it means to play those games.
“We were really interested in raids in MMOs and there is something very special about memories. Conversely, we’ve also worked on one of the most competitive esports in the world, and I remember my first pentakill,” says George. “What we’re really optimistic about for us about Evercore Heroes is that you can have those great experiences again, and you can have them together. All of my best gaming memories from games are with other people.”
This weekend, October 13-16, you’ll have the opportunity to see the game for yourself by logging in through the Evercore Heroes website and Discord. “By joining the game’s discord, you increase your chances of being selected for this weekend’s exclusive playtest.”
https://www.eurogamer.net/evercore-heroes-wants-to-wind-people-up-the-right-way Evercore Heroes really wants to tease people