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Customize and Build the Perfect Mecha Army in Servo, an Evolving and Engaging RTS

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I had the opportunity to see BonusXP’s bold new RTS, Servo, at this year’s Game Developers Conference. BonusXP is a new independent studio made up of mostly former Ensemble Studios developers. Servo is a far-future RTS filled with giant-sized mecha named Servo, and with BonusXP made up of many ex-Ensemble Studios developers, this is their return to big PC-based RTS games.

The game is a traditional RTS at its core, but it shakes things up a bit with the titular Servo robots that you come into commanding. Instead of focusing on getting the proper tech path to combat a particular opponent, you’re pushed to focus on customizing and upgrading the Servo mecha themselves. Upon first glance, hardcore RTS players might be thrown off by the game’s use of a single resource, bloom, as well as its more simplified experience.

However, with their pedigree, BonusXP is promising that you’ll be able to make all the of choices you could make in a traditional RTS. The entire meta game is always changing in Servo. As you complete matches both in multiplayer and in single player scenarios, you’ll get upgrades for your Servos. These can run the gamut of new weapons like melee blades, and ranged projectiles. You can also get various parts to customize the look and performance of your Servos as well.

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BonusXP is touting the game as having some RPG elements stemming from customizing and upgrading your Servos, but how did the game look and play? I was shown a scenario in the single player campaign, and the game is already shining brilliantly. The sense of scale is perfect, in my opinion, with the massive Servo mecha towering over the almost ant-sized humans on the ground.

There are four different modes of play currently in Servo, campaign, single player skirmish, player-vs-player, and finally, cooperative. “We started the game just as a PVP/multiplayer game, but then we added cooperative because it was easy, and it turns out to be the favorite mode to play in the office,” said Dave Pottinger, president of BonusXP. “It’s cool to pick your Servos and kind of synergize how they work together.”

The original report we did for Servo mentioned the game was built for shorter, more focused matches. Does this mean the game will lose its depth and replayability? “We used to make Age [of Mythology] 45 to 60 minutes, Servo is a shorter experience,” said Pottinger. “Most of the games are about ten minutes long. The campaign tends to vary, […] but what we wanted to do was shorten the overall gameplay experience so you can play more games.”

Servo is a game that encourages players to experiment with various builds of Servos. “It’s amazing how much more people are willing to try something in that shorter game period,” said Pottinger. “In a 45 minute game, nobody wants to experiment, because it’s an hour of your life. No one wants to do that and then lose.” In ten minutes, you can try out something new and if you lose, you can swap out some parts and jump back in.

How long can fans expect to be playing the single player campaign, though? With the story mostly sitting at 25 missions currently, Pottinger said not only will fans be able to replay missions, in total Servo‘s single player campaign is roughly 15-20 hours long. Each pilot changes up the story, and they have his or her own unique abilities, like the “overlord fist,” which enables one pilot to power up an ally’s actions by 50%, while the pilot is uninterrupted of course.

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Base building in Servo is done via dropping modules down from orbit, as the setting for the game is a wayward humanity returning to Earth after a millennium away, surviving in space. You can build research buildings, turrets, drone factories, and more. “We’re all old-Ensemble guys, so there’s a lot of research, everything has upgrades that you can research to make things better,” said Pottinger.

You can focus on building drones that aid in your servos, like repair drones (there are also gunner and stunning drones). Once production is toggled on, drones will be produced automatically, although you’ll be able to upgrade the number of drones allowed, as well as their strength, and so on. It seems like you can really choose between how many Servos you have, vs. how many drones you have. “The game is focused on the Servos, you’re out there fighting with them and doing cool actions, and we want you to be able to focus on those,” said Pottinger. “You’ll still have those high level tools to manage your economy and manage the troop production.”

The bloomwell is the main form of territorial control in the game, with resource nodes that must be captured via a harvester, which provide you with bloom. Once you drop in a bloom refinery, that particular node will become a new forward base of operations. As you progress through the story, the bloomspawn (the primary antagonists in the game), grow stronger. The cracks were shown, a form of bloomspawn, although I was told of the “royal crack,” a walking mass of destruction, which has an AoE stun and feels somewhat like a mini-boss.

Each pilot will have voice acting, and while there is an established single player campaign, Pottinger said the game is definitely about giant robots blowing up each other. “Our task is to tell a great story, but also to build a fun world. We’re making sure we sprinkle those bits in everywhere that we can,” said Pottinger. There will be chatter among pilots, rivalries, and they’ll also have taunts. As you learn more about the bloom and see that it’s not quite what you thought it was, the pilots will begin talking about it, even in multiplayer.

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Every game that you play will get you some gear, and if you don’t like what you obtained, you can sell it to get crates with other gear. There is a pretty staggering number of parts already, at least 500-1000 different parts that should come at launch. These parts will be mostly defined by stats, like what makes interesting for gameplay, but not so much looks. There were 5 or 6 different types of body styles for a particular Servo.

The makeup of your Servo will directly affect not only your stats and overall performance, but also your special actions. A Servo was shown with a piston fist, which allows the pilot to wail on and use piston attacks on enemies. Equipping a second piston allows the pilot to use the piston slam, which unleashes a huge double piston attack. Utilizing the unstable core allows a Servo to wipe out nearby enemies upon death, although it requires external help to pop the explosive.

Vanity items like requisite zombies, honey badgers, flames, and bloody pandas stickers, as well as purple camouflage, were shown for the Servo parts. “What we found is that as people are building out their Servos for the function, they actually care a lot about the form too,” said Pottinger. “It’s great to get matched with someone you don’t know and see what they have on their Servo.”

Balancing will be primarily determined by the Servos “strength,” (a tentative name), which is likened to the weight classes in racing games. If you get better gear, it will up the strength of your Servo, which BonusXP takes into account when matchmaking. Pottinger seemed confident with the system overall, and he also described the constant swapping out of parts to that of a trading card game, with your Servos and their parts being your deck.

So far, three classes of Servos are coming with the game at launch: the humanoid, the tank, and the flying classes. The tank is described as a “walking behemoth of death,” while the flying Servo was described as a more “futuristic” style of mech. Despite neither of the latter classes being ready to be shown to me, Pottinger said “Over time, we’ll add more Servo classes and more Servo parts, it’s a game that just dies for more content.”

When asked whether a map editor or modding would be in the game’s debut release, Pottinger was a bit coy to confirm anything. Their team is definitely talking about it, but they won’t make it into the Early Access release, nor the 1.0 update thereafter – however, they are going to support the game in the long run with new features. “It’s on our list, it’s just a question of prioritization,” said Pottinger. Customizable pilots are something they keep getting asked for, and while it may not be at launch and it may raise content moderation concerns, “it’s inevitable that we get there,” according to Pottinger.

Servo has been in development for just under a year, and the while the core mechanics for the game came together very rapidly, the style didn’t come right away. Their concept artist did a piece for the game that had huge mechs fighting monsters in a cityscape, upon which BonusXP instantly thought it was a match for the game. They approached Stardock with the prototype and the theme, and Stardock agreed. “If you don’t like giant robots fighting each other, Servo’s not going to convince you that that’s awesome,” said Pottinger. “We’re not trying to attract somebody who’s not interested in that. There’s a lot of people who say ‘that’s exactly what I want,’ and we want to make them happy.”

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Servo was the most impressive game I saw at this year’s Game Developers Conference, and I don’t put that lightly. The game already shows lots of polish, and it has so much promise. I was like a kid again watching the Servos blowing things up, thinking of what kind of builds I could make.

For now, you can pre-order Servo over on the game’s official website.

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Brandon Orselli

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Big Papa Overlord at Niche Gamer, Nicchiban, and Pretentious Media. Italian. Dad. Outlaw fighting for a better game industry. I also write about music, food, & beer. Also an IT guy.