I’ve spent years searching for a co-op game like Bloodsports.TV. While it shares many of its concepts with MOBAs, it drops many of the competitive metagame aspects - like laning, jungling, and last hit - and instead cultivates a friendly, team-based survival experience.
There is only one mode in Bloodsports.TV: co-op. You can run through the tutorial or set up a match for just yourself to test things out, but there are no campaign or competitive matches. All that’s left is straight up five-player, drop-in/drop-out, cooperative action. You’ll start each match (assuming you’re hosting) by choosing from one of the game’s six maps, setting the game difficulty, and finally selecting how many waves of enemies you feel like facing.
With those details sorted, it’s time to choose your hero. Bloodsports’ character roster is divided up into four classes - damage dealer, tank, crowd control, and healer - with two heroes per class. These are more than just palette swaps; each character has his or her own unique abilities that impact how they play. For example, one of the “healer” heroes has direct healing and support abilities, while the other is more aggressive, healing teammates by charging through them or directly damaging foes.
There is enough variance that players should be able to find a hero that suits their particular play style. Each class (and to a degree each hero) also has their own set of challenges to complete - called the “Path to Glory” - that apply stat bonuses to that class. This gives players a little extra incentive to try out all available classes and characters.
The typical match in Bloodsports.TV plays out across a series of enemy waves, with each wave getting tougher and adding more foes. The main goal for each wave is to slaughter all of the baddies before they can get to your team’s missile silo. Killing enemies nets you some experience and coins, and if you and your teammates successfully clear a wave, the missile launches toward your foes’ village. On the fourth, seventh, and tenth waves, you’ll have go toe-to-toe against a Boss. These guys not only give as good as they take: they also have their own unique abilities that can pose a different kind of challenge to you and your teammates.
Should a fellow hero fall, he or she can be revived by a teammate. If you set off on a rescue mission, though, be sure you’ve got a good four seconds’ worth of health and time in which to do it. Seeing a nearby downed friend naturally makes you want to come to his or her aid, but if their corpse is in the middle of a group of bloodthirsty enemies, that aid may never arrive. One player’s death usually won’t cause too many problems, but things have a way of quickly spiralling out of control once two players go down. Fortunately, a complete team wipe isn’t an immediate game over; it just gives your enemies plenty of time to make their way to your missile silo and destroy it.
In between waves there are also “creep” enemies that can be killed for bonus experience and cash. Some of these enemies are weak enough to be taken down by one or two players, while the most dreaded - the moose - is as tough as any boss and requires a team effort to subdue. I have died more times than I care to admit against that moose; it is not to be underestimated.
Much like in DOTA 2 or League of Legends, gaining enough experience eventually results in your hero leveling up. Each level gained nets you one skill point that you can use to power up one of your abilities. Those hard-earned coins you nabbed from fallen foes can be spent at the item shop to purchase equipment that increases your character’s stats. Low-level items can usually be purchased outright, while higher-level ones require you to purchase lower- and mid-tier items first and then combine them. With only six item slots to fill, though, you have to be picky about what to buy.
When you’re first getting your feet wet with the game, you have the luxury of learning a hero and seeing what items the shop has to offer. While you likely won’t be able to purchase the highest-tier gear right away - as you won’t earn enough coins during gameplay - you’ll begin to get an idea of what items you should be building toward. Playing as a tank? Health and defense items make sense, though you’ll also need some enhancements to attack speed and attack damage. Building a straight-up damage dealer? Attack speed, vamp attacks (i.e., get a percentage of your life back on every hit), and attack damage are your best friends.
The game does offer a list of “recommended” items for each character to buy, but these aren’t always the best ones to get. They may get your through all three levels of Amateur difficulty, but once you move up into the Pro and Master leagues, the game changes radically. This is where Bloodsports.TV’s “meta” game resides and where the co-op experience shines.
The Champion and Boss mobs in Bloodsports.TV are tough, and they only get tougher as the difficulty increases. Champions are essentially mini-versions of the player heroes. Some of them can heal their comrades, others are deal out a lot of damage to individual targets, and some are designed to be a threat to the towers and bots that aid in your defense.
Individually, they are easy; combined, they are a threat. At the higher difficulties, groups of these enemies will spawn at different areas on the map, meaning that your team of heroes will need to split up and coordinate their efforts to bring them down. In a way, these fights remind me of boss encounters in an MMO raid. Dealing with them effectively involves a mixture of strategies. Often, you’ll want to have the tank turn the boss away from the rest of the group so that damage is (mostly) being dealt to one target. The healer can focus on keeping the tank alive, and the controller interrupts or mitigates the boss’ special abilities, while the damage dealer goes all-out.
Throughout all of this, the key to victory lies in communicating with your team and figuring out what items will benefit everyone the most. You may be the damage dealer, but you still need to able to take a hit, as you may need to fill the role of the tank in some situations. Picking up a few items that increase your health, armor, and deflection stats ensures you live longer in later waves and give the healer less to worry about. Healers need tech (i.e., energy) regeneration gear, but they also need items that increase movement speed so they can zip back and forth between groups.
Players that think beyond their own stats and point totals to help out the team as a whole are rewarded with victory, while those that are more selfish will likely face defeat. Fortunately, all of my time in the game thus far has been a positive experience in that regard. There always seem to be players looking to hop into a game, and those that do are typically focused on winning as a team, rather than winning as an individual.
Bloodsports.TV has turned out to be one of the most refreshing co-op experiences for me so far this year. The mechanics and gameplay are nothing new, but they are executed so well that I find myself hopping into matches whenever I’m looking for something fun to play. The Path to Glory challenges offer something to shoot for beyond just “beat the bad guys,” and it feels like there’s room for the game to grow with new maps, enemies, and heroes.
There are some issues with the game - like the look and feel of the UI, crucial stats getting lost amidst a cluster of health bars, and the occasional drag of repetition - that stick out from time to time, but these are quickly forgotten once you clear a difficult wave or kill an especially tough boss.
After all, nothing beats that elation you feel when you win a hard-fought battle with a group of friends.