Synced tries to make its way into the crowded landscape of increasingly rich loot-based shooters by adopting a formula that the developers of NExT Studios have defined “rogue-looter shooter”. Success in battle will depend on how you tactically leverage permanent gear and volatile random rewards, which are only valid for the duration of a run.
After several hours in the company of the title, I was positively impressed by the customization options of your build and the synergies that can be obtained. I have no elements to say how deep the system will be in the more advanced stages of the game, but it definitely has potential. On the other hand, I cannot be satisfied with the pace of play, the design of the enemies and the structure of the raids which seemed a bit repetitive and anonymous to me, at least as regards the first hostile sector that my team managed to complete.
Anatomy of a raid
The raid was structured around a series of objectives to be completed in sequence until the location of the final boss was obtained. Completing the first sector unlocks the second and so on. The areas are quite large and connected to each other, but since it is not an open world that can be freely explored, each zone is an instance of its own reachable via teleportation. Between one round and the next you can choose which upgrade to get based on the position obtained with respect to your companions. Whoever fared best gets to choose first.
The first raid consisted of two zones and an arena to fight the boss. I found it repetitive that for two consecutive zones the missions were both of the same type: clean up areas "corrupted" by flux storm; an energy from which the enemy techno-creatures called Nanos emerge, and then scan and defeat the flow formations, similar to rocky pinnacles, but alive and able to attack and generate new monstrosities.
However, there is a mechanic that made it more interesting to approach the mission. Marking the time spent in a level is a flow indicator, a percentage that increases the more the difficulty increases. This means that you also need to hurry up to clean up the various flux sources in order not to raise the level of concentration in the area, but there are those who might also see this as a greater challenge and decide to fight with the maximum flux concentration. Once you reach 100% your health is attacked directly and depletes over time making it very difficult to fight.
Visually the first region visited was a bit bare and monothematic: an extensive green area with scattered here and there structures of various sizes, bridges and connecting roads. However, each Raid will be in a specific region so the environment should change as you progress. Although there was already a good number of enemies of different types already in the initial stages, their design did not convince me, at times they seemed to recall the Archaeos of Rainbow Six Extraction.
At a glance, especially when there are many of them, it is difficult to immediately distinguish the smallest Nanos because they are very similar to each other. What characterize them are above all the bright weak spots that they have on the body which also indicate their danger. For example, the "Llama" Dwarf has both arms extended like two blades that he uses to slash at opponents.
Among the larger enemies, called Primes, there is more variety and it's easier to recognize a Saetta from a Rusher. The former uses bolts to hurt and can also generate them in various areas of the field, while the latter teleports to attack or defends smaller monsters with a shield. They are priority targets when in groups and must be engaged with careful attention to their attack patterns.
The boss fight, on the other hand, was challenging but without major surprises. There were no stages or transformations that suffered a certain amount of damage, nor did the terrain undergo any particular changes, but the Tyrant was on a rampage charging and trampling everything and everyone in his path. But if I had to put it into one category, then it would be “bullet sponge”. Personally I don't like this design choice because I think it just artificially lengthens the fight making the enemy an exaggerated damage absorber.
These words of mine do not want to sound like a total rejection of the title as the tested build is not the final one, but I believe that the team will have to pay attention to the way in which the missions follow one another and how the different activities are distributed during the exploration of different areas. A feature of games of this type is the repetition of similar or previously performed activities. We often walk on a thin line where one misstep leads to repetitive and tediousness, and another instead leads to an exciting and rewarding loop.
The winning partner to survive in Synced
Satisfaction, however, was not lacking in playing Synced. Despite the elements just analyzed, the fight has given me various satisfactions. First of all, the most interesting aspect of the game is the possibility to choose one Dwarf as a companion – you can even have two. There are 4 different classes: destroyer, gunner, guardian and probe. To be able to have him at your side the first time, it will be necessary to synchronize with a defeated Prime enemy. In practice we transform enemies into our personal weapons, absorbing them and letting them merge with our arm.
What I really liked is the versatility that these companions can have. Their abilities, in fact, change according to the command assigned to them. When the Dwarf is at rest connected to the arm, the passive ability is in function, but when it is deployed on the field it can be put into deployment mode or can directly attack the designated target.
During the trial I chose to play as a medic-class Rebel, first with a hybrid build based on the ranged damage of my Gunner Dwarf and then with a more supportive build taking advantage of the sensing abilities of the Nano Probe. Surely the second entered more in tune with the team's shoulder role as it gave me the possibility to detect the enemies, their weak points and enhance direct shots at exposed points, but also the gunner, with his shock power I imagined it as support for the team dedicated to wear down the opponent over time.
This is new compared to the initial builds where the classes between Dwarf and Infiltrator were fixed and pre-established. I find that leaving the choice to the player was a smart move. Greater freedom allows you to experiment with formations outside the classic schemes. Another element of customization that the developers wanted to include can be found in the roguelite-inspired approach that NExT Studio has followed.
In each raid there are distributors where you can spend "Radia", a currency obtainable only during the game and cannot be transported outside the area. The distributor presents you with a choice between two random power-ups and it is up to the player, during the raid, to decide whether at that moment he wants to enhance his partner or himself.
Modules for Nano can affect abilities or physical characteristics such as maximum health and each module can always be leveled up at distributors which, every time they are used, will increase in price. To my Nano probe I have added the possibility of inflict poison damage when in the attack stance, transforming him into a damage machine and extending his durability on the field by increasing his recovery speed and maximum health.
In addition to the temporary loot valid only within the raid, you can recover enhancement modules to take to the shelter after the mission, a pity however that at the moment you can only have one player in the hub, so you won't see your teammates. Among other things, to unlock the mods it was necessary to talk to one of the characters but only the team leader could do it so I had to leave the team to continue. We hope the developers fix this and make team play smoother.
In any case, whether you win or lose, the obtained modules will still be yours and you can use them at the shelter to upgrade your character. You will have 4 slots available to improve your survivability, buddy bonding, and more. A module's power is indicated by numbers, and as in Destiny, you can choose to level up a module by fusing one of a higher rank that you don't intend to use.
In short, the more you play, the more chances you have of finding ever more powerful modules and you won't have to worry about failing a mission. It would have been too frustrating to lose everything because every time the raid must be restarted from the first level and not from the point where you died. Regarding Operator deaths during a raid, if you fall in battle after being knocked down, you'll have to spectator.
The tone of the game is not on the tactical and realistic, so it could be a little too punitive as a choice, but it is definitely a choice that wants underline the more survival aspect of the title. Being above all a team cooperative, perhaps this aspect could have been encouraged more by having the companions evaluate whether to continue on their own path or attempt resuscitation at dedicated structures, risking dying in the attempt or risking raising the level of concentration of flow to such an extent as to endanger the entire incursion.
A battle royale? Not entirely
Synced will also have a PvP mode, although it is more correct to call it PvPvE because AI-controlled Dwarfs will also be present within the play area. The purpose is collect more resources than your opponents while clashing and at the same time trying to remain the only team in the field. Specific locations allow you to collect "Nerva", the main resource that will be defended to the end. Each round the available positions decrease and the various teams will end up colliding all towards the same position generating a very intense final round if the teams in the field are still full.
It is a game mode that takes its cue from the battle royale where in this case they collide four teams of three players and there are two returns to the field. The human component makes the matches more unpredictable, but also the events scattered on the map and the supply stations spice things up and in a sense guide the teams to some specific areas in order to make them collide and keep the action in the center in fact, compared to the past, the size of the map has been reduced to improve the flow of the game.
An interesting aspect of the mode is the phase that precedes the start of the game where through an operations table, each player has the possibility to make two scans to reveal portions of the map and detect the presence of a safe haven where to find supplies. Once you enter the field, the same rules at the base of PvE apply, so it is possible to synchronize nano, find new modules and buy upgrades from distributors.
Synced in conclusion
Synced with his offer tries to bring together both PvE and PvP lovers and even if there is still a lot to discover about the title, especially the long-term plans which always prove to be the most difficult phase for a looter shooter, what I tried convinced me in part.
Good customization, also from a tactical point of view, of one's own character and the integration of the Nano companion in the battle phases; less convincing progression and variety of levels. We hope that in the future the developers will consider extending the participation to the hub also to members of their own team as is the case for other titles.
Synced does not yet have a release date but will be available for free. If you want to try the game, from 10 December 2022 until 15 January 2023 it will be possible to take part in the Open Beta by downloading the game from Steam or the official site.