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Diablo meets Destiny with action-RPG Killsquad, and it's a damn good time

Killsquad looks and loots like the lovechild of Diablo and Destiny and plays like a co-op MOBA. It hit Steam Early Access this week as an action-RPG for up to four players, drenched in a hellish sci-fi theme that could almost be a Doom spin-off with some of its demonic alien creatures. The fast-paced action is easy to jump into, with gorgeous art design, fun attacks, and, refreshingly, zero microtransactions.

Currently there are four mercenaries to choose. The psychic warrior nun Cass is speedy. She can teleport into foes and slash down with her sword, while the baseball cap-wearing, friendly neighborhood gunslinging zombie Troy can dive out of danger to unleash a torrent of bullets. It was the bulky, hockey masked astronaut with a sledgehammer who fully caught my attention, though. Slamming into the ground, knocking critters around, and spinning into a crowd channels the heft and power of Monster Hunter: World’s hammer attacks in all the best ways.

Up to four players can jump into a lobby and take on a mission, which appear and reshuffle as a selection of timed contracts scaled to certain "vector" levels. Vector is a single number that represents my overall power level, and it’s tied entirely to my equipment. 

Acquiring better equipment mostly comes from spending earned credits in the random item shop and hoping for the best. Monsters don’t directly drop loot, but I can occasionally find components, or a rare item drop at the end of a contract. Only three equipment slots to play with (one weapon and two support items) and very little information displayed on each item makes loot more limiting and frustrating than it should be. I’ll see the exact same item that reflects 15% damage back on an attacker, yet one is Vector 33 while the other is Vector 28. It’s a confusing system that could use far better explanation and detail.

(Image credit: Novarama)

Thankfully the co-op combat is fun and flashy as hell. I know what to expect from most Diablo-likes, and Killsquad lands somewhere between console Diablo (each merc has their own signature dodge roll or dash) and a twin-stick shooter, though only two of the four classes have guns.

Attacks are all weighty and dramatic, from Kosmo leaping into the air to deliver a meteor-sized smash to Zero unleashing a giant electromagnetic orb that floats across the screen, zapping everything in its path. The two melee characters are a bit more interesting than their ranged counterparts. Cass' low health and high speed requires precision dodging and quick in-and-out strikes, and I love how Kosmo builds up his personal overshield by attacking and taunting everyone around him.

Killsquad’s MOBA inspirations are baked into leveling and the talent tree. Unlike just about every other action-RPG, I start every match at level one, gaining experience, reaching levels, and choosing new perks throughout each contract. It works exactly like the talents in Heroes of the Storm. Every even level I can choose from one of several different modifications to my skills, like giving Zero’s medpack an AOE heal on pickup or adding a friendly damage booster to Kosmo’s taunt. 

Upon reaching level six each mercenary can choose from one of two ultimate abilities, and each contract tends to end around the time I reach the max level of ten. It’s a neat idea to reset your skills every mission, and the ability to change talents during a match can be situationally useful for different team compositions, though like in MOBAs I mostly settle on my favorites for each character.

There’s a decent variety of contracts, such as escorting a vehicle, destroying crystals, and hunting down a boss-size baddie, though they mostly boil down into boss fights and surviving a horde. The objective doesn’t play out until after a solid bout of running across an alien planet smiting enemies. Some higher-level gold contracts provide unique, well-designed boss fights that require careful positioning and tactical awareness amidst the colorful chaos, like the culmination of a miniature raid battle. The way the vector system scales the difficulty kept the challenge about right.

Like the many action-RPGs that came before it, Killsquad is best played casually with friends. I was particularly impressed with the quick and easy matchmaking and had no real issues with lag or bugs. Killsquad may be unfinished, but what's there is polished. The limited content holds it back a bit in Early Access, which is the right problem to have at this point. Four heroes wouldn’t be so bad, but acquiring better loot is less exciting with only three slots to fill, and I’d like to see more planet types, enemy variety, and contract goals. There's a strong foundation here to make Killsquad the Destiny of Diablo-likes.