Killsquad (PC) Review

Killsquad is perfect for players that enjoy tackling MMO-style daily activities for gear to grind and to socialise. Less so for anyone else.
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Killsquad – developed and published by Novarama – is a breezy and entertaining ARPG, with a strong focus on character levelling and gear grinding, rather than a structured campaign or engaging narrative. Mission lengths make it perfect for short gameplay sessions and it’s a great coop game for catching up with friends. However, the repetitive mission design and grindy elements become more apparent the longer you play.

Killsquad is set in a future when mankind has spread among the stars, recklessly colonised and stripped planets bare, and allowed ethically-dubious corporations to flourish. On these abandoned worlds – most of them overrun by hostile alien species or malfunctioning robots – bounty hunter teams called “Killsquads” perform contracts to secure what little of value remains. The campaign – which consists of a series of branching contracts across three difficulty tiers – has mission briefings and mid-mission dialogue from your organisation’s leader, “Mom”, but there are few memorable narrative moments despite the quirky setting and goofy lines from the heroes.

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To its credit, Killsquad is transparent about what each contract offers, allowing you to grind more effectively.

In addition to the thin narrative, you’re often not at the right “Vector” score to immediately play a new contract just because you completed the prior one. It’s often wise – especially if you’re going solo – to replay older levels and grind for credits, gear drops, and crafting material to boost the “Vector” score – a combined gear tally that includes armour, weapons, and accessories – before attempting to progress. This makes an average session of Killsquad feel a lot like tackling a succession of daily events in an MMO, aiming to build up your character for a more significant raid. As such, it’s not for those who want an engaging and flowing narrative to push them forward.

On the upside, the missions are short, intense, and a lot of fun in short bursts. Killsquad plays as you’d expect from a modern isometric ARPG: you move and dodge, engage hordes of spawning enemies, manage skills with a cooldown period, collect resource drops, and – if you’re playing cooperatively – learn to synergise damage dealing and support abilities.

It also plays well on both mouse-and-keyboard or gamepad. Juggling and triggering skills feel a little easier on a gamepad but I found more than a few shots flying wild when compared to mouse-aiming with ranged heroes (melee and AoE-focused classes are probably the best fit).

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The controls, for both melee characters and more twin-stick-style ranged characters, are slick and intuitive (with solid gamepad support). Network lag could be a literal killer at times, but coop play means you can respawn if your team can hold out for a minute.

The pre-mission phase goes something like this: you select your hero; invest any skill points you have into a radial, branching skill-tree (skills that unlock, MOBA-style, each mission); check the stage details, taking careful note of hazards and enemy damage resistances; optimise your loadout; team up with friends or randoms (if you want); and launch.

Once in a mission, you tear through a procedurally-generated map in the direction of your objective, which typically involves killing something or someone, holding an area against waves of enemies, or escort duty. To spice things up, there are often environmental hazards to consider – think gas clouds, minefields, and meteor storms – chests with gear or credits, extractable crafting resources, DNA collected from enemies that can be spent on single-mission buffs, and the end-mission loot-chest.

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The MOBA-style levelling each mission to unlock skills, along with several single-mission boosts, feels weird at first but suits the short burst gameplay design.

In the early hours, it can feel like all you’re doing is trying to maximise damage output to drop enemies before they drop you, but unlocking new heroes or teaming up with other players will introduce you to support characters that can drop projectile shields and healing items for the team. When you couple the mission design with a diverse skill set, it can feel great to move through a mission as a team, playing to your strengths and sticking to the objectives. In stark contrast to so many PvE games, I found most random players objective-focused and quick to lend a hand. Unfortunately, a P2P connection is used for the online coop, so your experience is entirely dependent on the host’s connection.

Of course, the experience, credits, crafting resources, and gear drops you receive each mission feed into the gear grind; the ever-present need to boost your Vector score. Mission completion loot boxes seemed a little too RNG for my liking, but the credits you earn can be used to pick up gear from a frequently refreshing store and you’ll want to keep an eye out for rarer pieces – with Diablo-esque prefixes and suffixes – that offer interesting buffs for your preferred skills.

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Joining contracts, even early on, is a great way to get through tough contracts and earn decent gear. Just don’t expect to be MVP anytime soon. It also helps that the online randoms I played with were never lone wolves.

Additionally, you can use crafting resources to upgrade each piece of gear, enhancing their buffs while grinding for a rarer tier. Talismans – crafted by collecting three parts from missions or coliseum wave battles – can be equipped for passive buffs and upgraded using experience orbs gained from killing foes. There’s a lot to consider and optimise, but the brisk pace of missions means you’re frequently back at base, sifting through your inventory or the store. A plus point is the lack of paid-for loot-boxes despite the potential for monetising the progression system.

Unfortunately, the longer I played, the shallower the mission design felt. The entire experience is ultimately in service to the loot grind. You grind missions to increase in power, to unlock new missions, to grind for even more power. Now there is a market for this gameplay loop – anyone fond of daily MMO-like activities should take note – and it still makes for a great social game if you’re short on the playtime needed for 100-hour-long RPGs and increasingly massive “AAA” games. Sure, there’s a campaign with a beginning and finale, but those missions are, ultimately, lightly-contextualised grinds for more power. Hopefully, by this point, you’ll know if Killsquad is for you or not and, given the game’s affordable price point on Steam, if it’s worth checking out.

A review code for Killsquad was provided to Gameblur by the Publisher

Killsquad (PC) Review

Killsquad (PC) Review
7 10 0 1
Despite enjoying the short, intense gameplay sessions, the longer I played, the shallower the hands-on gameplay loop felt. Killsquads core gameplay is ultimately in service to the loot grind, making it perfect for players that enjoy tackling MMO-style daily activities to gear for grind and socialise. For anyone looking for a story-driven experience with a clear beginning and end, not so much.
Despite enjoying the short, intense gameplay sessions, the longer I played, the shallower the hands-on gameplay loop felt. Killsquads core gameplay is ultimately in service to the loot grind, making it perfect for players that enjoy tackling MMO-style daily activities to gear for grind and socialise. For anyone looking for a story-driven experience with a clear beginning and end, not so much.
7/10
Total Score
  • Story
    6/10 Normal
    Minimal and stretched thin, but there is some light context for each contract and a three-act (i.e. three difficulty tier) story.
  • Gameplay
    8/10 Very Good
    So long as you're tackling one or two missions a day, Killsquad is breezy fun and great for socialising in and out of missions. When I played longer sessions, the underlying gear grind became too obvious for my tastes.
  • Visuals
    7/10 Good
    Procedurally-generated levels get a lot of mileage out of the five tilesets, the characters and enemies all look distinctive and stylized, and performance is solid on older PCs.
  • Audio
    7/10 Good
    The voice acting ranges from generic to cringe, but the sound of combat, skills going off, and backing soundtrack were solid.

The Good

  • Perfect for short play sessions
  • Heroes with unique class skills, plenty of gear variety, and upgrades
  • A good social game that doesn’t require too much attention (on lower difficulty contracts)
  • No loot box-style monetisation despite the progression system

The Bad

  • Longer play sessions highlight the repetitive gameplay loop and grind
  • Online play uses P2P and is often dependent on the quality of the host's connection
Total
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