A steampunk airship is docked to a platform rising from a canyon floor, with a balloon also tethered in Guns of Icarus Alliance.

Airship Thrills in ‘Guns of Icarus Alliance’ – On Sale Now

A steampunk airship is docked to a platform rising from a canyon floor, with a balloon also tethered in Guns of Icarus Alliance.
Hold on, I’m rubbish at parallel parking. Image: Muse Games

Way back at PAX West 2016, I had the opportunity to sit down with a few of the gang from Muse Games and give Guns of Icarus Alliance a try. It’s a gigantic extension to their multiplayer game, Guns of Icarus, which has a still dedicated following of players, despite being four years old.

For context, Guns of Icarus Online is a player-vs-player multiplayer game of airship combat. It’s an exciting and interesting take on team-based competition, as it demands cooperation on multiple levels. Players have to work together on a single airship to use weapons, repair stations, extinguish fires, and navigate, while simultaneously working with other airships on their team for coordinated attacks.

An overhead view of an airship engagement, showing combatants at various heights above the canyon floor.
“He is intelligent, but not experienced. His pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking.” Image: Muse Games.

With the boost of a very successful Kickstarter, Guns of Icarus Alliance takes this cooperative aspect further, crafting a player-vs-environment (PvE) experience for up to 16 players, and they throw in persistent faction warfare to add gravitas to your battles. This was the game I checked out at PAX West, and it was a treat.

The world of Guns of Icarus Alliance is beautiful, with huge dirigibles maneuvering over varied landscapes. Ships are crammed with multiple guns, engines, and other stations, and are not symmetrical. This drives tactical decision-making and emphasizes cooperation, notably when you need the captain to turn just a bit more to port to bring your target into view. With this in mind, Muse has provided in-game voice chat, and has modeled it after military-style hierarchical channels, such that the crew can talk amongst itself, but captains can talk to other captains to ensure an effective combined assault.

AI Director – Making the Enemy Feel Real

The team was clearly proud of their work on the AI director. Similar to Left 4 Dead, a big part of the game comes from feeling challenged. PvE isn’t that interesting if every attempt is a walk in the park or a wipeout, and controlling the tension is the AI Director’s job. What I saw in my playthrough was a very competent system, as the game kept us on the edge of our combined abilities. Other airships on our team went down in flames around us as we engaged in a boss fight that came down to the wire, though we did eke out a win. The AI Director is also responsible to ensure games feel varied; the team told me its randomization options ensure no two battles will feel the same. Certainly, you aren’t expected to win every attempt.

Fighters sweep past an airship, streaming smoke behind them.
Fighters don’t look too imposing compared to aiships, but they were packing a punch during my playthrough and quickly became a priority target. Image: Muse Games

Indie Devs

It’s almost unbelievable that Muse Games are a team of ten people. Alliance won an award for Best 3D graphics in the Intel 2016 Level Up competition. They survived the release of Guns of Icarus Online during Hurricane Sandy. And they’ve built an incredibly committed cadre of gamers. Their fans have helped them towards this release, through Kickstarter, but also through their efforts in testing the AI Director. This game is a labor of love, and I expect that’s going to shine through in the final release.

A creepy castle looms in the distance behind the airships' wheel in Guns of Icarus Alliance.
I didn’t get to see this fortress in my playthrough. I wish I had, because it looks damn cool. Image: Muse Games

On Steam 31 March

Guns of Icarus Alliance was envisioned as DLC, but the team made design choices and worked with Steam to prevent fracturing of the community. Players who already own Guns of Icarus Online can upgrade to Alliance for 25% off. But new players can pick it up for just $19.99 on Steam, which includes the original game. Both are merged in terms of friends lists and player base, but you’ll need Alliance to play the PvE content and engage in faction warfare. You can even get it until March 31st for 10% off, so check out the release trailer below, then head over to Steam and grab it while it’s hot!

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