The trouble with online fighting games
By coincidence, Naraka found itself releasing on PC in the same month that Hunter’s Arena: Legends, a surprisingly similar Eastern-themed meleefocused battle royale, arrived on PlayStation, with the PS5 version free to PS Plus subscribers. But before we invite comparisons with PUBG and Fortnite, it’s only right to point out that Korean developer Mantisco announced its game six months ahead of 24 Entertainment’s world premiere at the 2019 Game Awards, and launched it in Early Access on Steam last year. Regardless of which game technically got there first, there’s no denying that both represent an opportunity to refresh a genre from a perspective that isn’t down the sights of a gun.
Yet, easy as it is to bemoan the oversaturation of online shooters – battle royale or otherwise – they’re also more accessible in the sense that once you’ve played one, you’ll understand how to play another, even if it should feature new mechanics such as wall-running or cooldown abilities. On the other hand, fighting games (strip away its battle royale elements, and that’s effectively what Naraka is) require learning new disciplines with variations in inputs and design, from the air-dashes of anime fighters to the confounding need to hold a button to block in Mortal Kombat. And that’s just the ones played out on a 2D plane.
Blocking, incidentally, is not an option in Naraka, which instead encourages an offensive playstyle, though we’re most thrown by how parrying requires pressing both light and heavy attack buttons. On a controller, this defaults to an awkward combination of the right shoulder and analogue trigger, and in the heat of battle, it’s all too easy for your input to be output as one of the other attacks instead. This criticism may come with a heap of salt, but during some encounters, having anticipated an opponent’s focus attack, we found our parries wouldn’t even register.
Which brings us to the sore issue of lag. While every online game has to contend with high ping, fighting games have always suffered more than other genres, since being able to read your opponent and react within a matter of frames is crucial. When lag spikes, it’s hard not to feel cheated by a hitstun or missed parry window, especially when it’s being claimed that players with high ping are benefitting. It doesn’t bode well to load up the game and observe some alarmingly high ping counts in Asia, while dedicated servers for South America and Oceania were conspicuously absent at launch (at the time of going to press, however, it appears 24
Entertainment has been testing new hubs to roll out for these regions). It’s not just facing other players that’s been an issue: it’s hard to ignore frame stutters in other parts of the game, undermining our setup’s ability to handle unlimited framerates and DLSS.
Of course, there’s a huge difference between a traditional 1v1 fighting game and melee combat taking place in an open world with 60 players, especially when the rollback netcode that has become favoured within the fighting-game community wasn’t designed for the latter. Yet lowering the player count isn’t necessarily a solution, given the frame drops we’ve encountered in the more intense 16-player Bloodbath matches.
Naraka’s agility and verticality can also work against it, since the freedom to jump around or grapple away makes a mockery of a targeting system that’s better suited to slowpaced, methodical bouts – such as in PvP Dark Souls – which gives us new appreciation for why From chose not to include multiplayer in Sekiro. We don’t doubt that 24 is hard at work optimising the game as you read this, and there will surely be more pressure for the forthcoming console editions. When you consider the battle royale competition, though, it’s hard to ignore the question: can a blade ever win in a gunfight?