First announced as “Project-V” at the end of 2020, Vela Games has finally lifted the veil of mystery on their forthcoming debut, Evercore Heroes. The team, composed of veteran developers, describe how their multiplayer online co-op game – or “MOCO” – combines the depth and strategy of a MOBA with the cooperative PvE challenge of an MMO raid.
So why this particular combination? Rather than working within a specific genre, the team focused on the player experiences they wanted to create. In a typical MMO, of course, the most rewarding challenges often require significant effort and time investment to access. You’ve got to earn your place in the raid party, and the dungeon door policy is strict – you won’t get in if your shoes don’t have impressive enough frost resistance.
No need to spend hours sewing together a magical cloak made of salamander giblets before playing a MOBA, though. Everyone begins each match at level 1, gradually becoming more powerful by obtaining resources throughout the game. Rather than investing your time into obtaining better gear, you develop your skill and game knowledge, and are rewarded for your mastery of notoriously complex characters.
A team of MOBA heroes contending with a raid-esque PvE environment sounds like a promising combination. But Vela Games CEO and co-founder Travis George describes how something was still missing from the formula,
“As we started testing Project V with the community, the game was developing really well. But we got the feeling, every time we played the game, that it wasn’t as great as we wanted it to be.”
Evercore Heroes Screenshots
The team looked back at experiments from earlier in development, and would repeatedly return to an idea they’d prototyped: a competitive PvE experience. The element of competition turned out to be the missing link, and the key to making Evercore Heroes replayable for thousands of hours.
As your team of four heroes explore the map, securing objectives, facing dangerous mobs, and powering up to tackle the final boss, three other teams are undertaking the exact same challenge in real time, racing to be the first to complete it.
Although you can’t directly interact with these rival teams, the players are represented in–game as color-coded glowing orbs, so you can see how they’re moving across their instance of the map. Once a map objective is taken by one of the teams, earning them rewards, it’s locked for everyone else, so it’s crucial to keep an eye on your competitors’ movement and modify your strategy accordingly.
The typical PvP MOBA experience involves ruthlessly striking your foes down and taking control of the map until you squeeze the life out of them, like a python. As my fellow MOBA players can attest, being on the receiving end of that punishment isn’t the greatest feeling, but Travis explains how Evercore Heroes deliberately seeks to avoid this experience.
“[Evercore Heroes] is a tough game, it’s a skill based game. You’re gonna have moments where it’s like, wow, we could have done that better, how can we improve, but… going back out into lane for example, and somebody has your number and kills you five times in a row, and the negative emotions are compounding, we don’t have that experience. Because it’s not about ending other players’ fun.”
“Our game is still competitive,” he continues, “so you have to outplay and outperform other humans, which is a really great sensation. But at the end of the day, you do that by working together better.”
Seems like rather than destroying your enemies, you’re trying to beat them in a race. Losing a race doesn’t feel as bad as being obliterated, and that’s just as well, because you’re up against three other teams. In a traditional PvP game where two teams face each other, you’d expect to win roughly 50% of your games, if the matchmaking system is doing its job. But with four teams in the running, surely that means you can only win a quarter of the time at most?
“When you have a 50% winrate, you also lose 50% of the time, right?” Travis explains. “When you have four teams, you only lose lose 25% of the time. If you’re in third place, you can still fight for second. If you’re fourth, you can fight for the position above you. There’s a lot more of an even keel across that spectrum, and I think there’s an upside to not losing losing as often.”
In the absence of any hands-on time with the game – there will be a community playtest this weekend, October 13-16, which you can sign up for on the Evercore Heroes website – I wonder whether, at a certain level of mechanical skill, you could dispatch the mobs and execute your plan with ease, essentially turning it into a contest of efficiency?
“Every game, you should feel like you can improve, and we want that to last forever.” Travis assures. “Some of our best teams are pretty equally matched, and wouldn’t always necessarily die to the game itself. But… you always have to outplay the other team – they can use a team comp and go steal a bunch of your power and now you’re actually not as powerful as you would be.”
He explains how players need to modify their strategy on the fly in response to changing circumstances. “Even when you play the same map, the objectives, the enemies, the rewards, the shards, they’re all shuffled. We have a design pillar: adaptation leads to true mastery.”
The characters themselves are also designed to reward mastery. Across the roster of heroes, Travis points out some are more mechanically straightforward than others – Beco is a “pure healer”, whereas Lotus is more of a “hybrid healer” with a more complex kit allowing her to deal damage as well. “There’s almost no cap in terms of how good you can be. Our best Zari player in the office, you just watch them play and they’ve just got magic orb walking going on and everything.”
Watching high-skill players demonstrate their prowess is a big part of what makes a game successful as an esport – did that inform some of their decisions in development?
Travis nods. “Our stance on esports is – if the community starts to really want that, we’re really happy to develop that. We wanted to create a game that you can actually learn from and watch. One of the reasons we chose the camera angle we did, is not only that it facilitates high skill [plays] with skill shots and different positioning, it’s also easier to watch and see what’s going on in a match.”
I ask if their high-skill playtesters have come up with any ridiculously overpowered combos. “All the time!” the team laugh. “I think that’s why we’re confident to come out and talk about Evercore Heroes for the first time – we’re really confident the game has that depth, and we’re going to continue [balancing] that forever – as long as players want to play the game.”
Early signs look promising, but personally, I’m most curious to find out how the matches feel in practice. Playing a MOBA, the constant presence of enemy players on the map sets an urgent, dangerous stage, where individuals can make split-second, game-changing plays using their reactions, awareness, and skill. Can a race to the finish line feel as suspenseful? I look forward to finding out.
Jen Rothery is a Senior Editor on the IGN Guides team. She can usually be found warding the Dota 2 jungle, relaxing in a chao garden, or stuck in the Peragus Mining Facility. Or you can find her on Twitter @sylfGG.