Co-Optimus: And all of that can be done cooperatively with friends, correct?
Jesse: Yes! The whole campaign can be played co-op with up to four players total. You can play with friends or use the auto-matchmaking to find random players on the internet. Enemies do get stronger with each added player, but like Diablo, Dark Souls, etc., the campaign is easier overall when playing co-op. There is a mode that’s exclusively co-op though that’s quite hard – it’s meant for high level players and is certainly the most challenging PvE mode in the game. I talk a bit more about that later.
Co-Optimus: Do the other players retain all progress on their characters? In other words, are the players using/playing their own immortals that they then get to take back with them into their own game, or are they borrowing characters from the host?
Jesse: Yes, everyone is using their own characters that retain progression, everyone in game can complete quests, everyone gets equal XP, each player has their own unique batch of loot, and so forth. There’s no fighting over who should get what loot or spam-clicking to get the drops or trying to last-hit to make sure you get the kill. You can join a friend’s game at any point in their quest line, help them through tough areas with your more powerful character, whatever you like. It’s pretty lenient from a co-op perspective, allowing you to play how you want with your friends.
Co-Optimus: Are there any other co-op modes for players outside of the campaign?
Jesse: Yes! There is an objective based PvP mode that allows 1v1 and 2v2. The PvP is really fun actually. As different as the enemies are, you do eventually learn their ins and outs. But other real live people are much trickier and unpredictable.
And there is “The Gauntlet”, which is a 4-player co-op only mode! You can’t even play it by yourself, how about that! In The Gauntlet, each player controls only one immortal, where you face waves of increasingly powerful enemies with partially randomized abilities on a small level. Anyone who dies is out permanently until the end of the wave, and if your whole team is wiped, you lose. If you manage to get through the 25-wave gauntlet then you’re rewarded with extra nice drops. There are different difficulty levels for all character levels but it is aimed at high level play once you’ve completed the campaign.
At the high levels you sometimes get crazy combinations of abilities that you really have to co-ordinate to beat. Players used to complain that the highest difficulty was impossible, until eventually teams would get extremely co-ordinated and figure out how to beat it. So, of course we had to make an even harder difficulty...
Co-Optimus: Shifting gears to the development and overall design of the game, why did you choose to start things off with a browser game instead of shoot for a release through a digital platform? Did that decision also influence the game being free-to-play?
Jesse: Actually, originally I did want it to be a digital download game. I launched the first version way back in 2009, charged a flat fee, and applied to be released on Steam. At the time, without Greenlight it was very difficult for a game like Immortal Empire to be released on Steam without a major publisher behind you. Our application was rejected but thanks to Greenlight, we’re back in the mix again.
On the web version the flat fee really restricted our total population, which is just so important for the longevity of a multiplayer game. When we switched to free-to-play, our population went up astronomically, and we knew that this was the best way to keep a decent population of players in the game over the long term. Of course, this meant we had to add a virtual currency like most free-to-play games so that we could continue to develop features and such, which is always a tricky business to get right.