Stratego meets World of Warcraft meets Team Fortress 2
Calling the game PvP-focused alone doesn't do an adequate job of explaining how FEZ plays -- there are strong elements of gameplay that have virtually nothing to do with direct damage, encouraging players to use strategy and careful planning. And you can be useful even if you're low-level, which is a concept many games struggle with.
The short version is that the game is somewhere between RTS games, first-person shooters, and the frantic pace of battlegrounds in World of Warcraft. Battles take place in the large central landmass, where enemy nations struggle to line up as much territory as possible. Once war is declared in a region, players can begin entering the battlefield, with a citadel for each nation on opposite ends of the field. As you could expect from the setup, the goal is to destroy the other side's citadel whilst preserving your own.
However, simply marching to the citadel and attacking it won't work -- players need to build structures along the way, carefully expanding their side's sphere of command and slowly wearing down the enemy fortress. Buildings require crystals, which can be mined and spent by lower-level players less suited to direct confrontation with enemy players. As a result, the flow of battle involves both sides creating buildings and slowly expanding their influence while trying to eliminate the structures of the other side, resulting in a very open and dynamic PvP environment.
The actual mechanics of fighting against players are equally engaging. The game lacks a target lock and features freeform targeting, resulting in a very active experience as you run around and attempt to find the best position for your various skills. The three classes counter one another in a straightforward rock-paper-scissors split: warriors are strong against scouts, scouts are strong against sorcerers, and sorcerers are strong against warriors. The result is heavy activity, with dodging and positioning playing a strong role in winning individual fights and strategy needed to win on a given field.
More subtlety exists -- this doesn't get into the various summons that can be used to turn the tide of battle, for instance -- but it does illustrate the amount of activity and involvement going into each given match. I played a brief warm-up battle before getting into the main body of the tour, and it proved a useful refresher to the game's balance before I started playing with the newly-added wrench called fencers.
Good fencers make good neighbors
The core of FEZ's PvP, of course, seems to be centered around the rock-paper-scissors relationship. To quote the team, the Fencer relates to this setup by being the hammer. They're a foreign element to the existing triad, designed to disrupt the otherwise static interactions between the classes.
Everything another class can do can be countered by the Fencer, and they excel at removing players from the equation. Their weakness? Buildings. In a large-scale battle, Fencers can harass and destroy enemy troops, but they're hard-pressed to handle getting rid of the buildings that help determine ultimate victory or loss. That helps keep the class balanced; they can help eliminate an attacking force or destroy a building's defenders, but left to their own devices they'll be unable to make much of a dent on the flow of a battle.
Of course, they're a bit better served in a deathmatch environment, which is precisely where I got to take one for a spin for the first time. The class clearly isn't overpowered, but they're exceptionally versatile -- every tool you could ask for, from the ability to close distance quickly to a magic-nullifying shield, is within your arsenal. It means you need a good amount of skill in identifying your targets quickly and knowing how to counter each given set of abilities, but if you know how to counter your opponents, you can make quick work of any single target.
Flagged for encounters
The last part of the tour was the game mode being added with the update, Capture the Flag. It's a familiar mode to nearly anyone who's played a competitive game over the past several years, but the twist that FEZ puts on the game is engaging. Picking up the flag slows your character and prevents you from attacking, leaving you no options but to dodge enemy assaults and hope that you're fast enough to return to your obelisk with the flag. As a result, group support is important rather than raw speed, and carefully maneuvering in a group is the only way to avoid getting skewered.
I took on a fencer once again in this match, and it became very clear just how well the new class balanced against the others. I was very good at stopping flag carriers, but if there were enough defenders I would get swarmed and the flag would get picked right back up. My best bet was to pick off targets that no one else was strong against in the attacking party, playing the edges and trying to maintain a shaky balance against the other side.
While there isn't a huge amount to say about the mode by itself, it's a fine addition to the gameplay and a great chance for players to do something other than battle for territory endlessly. It also helps build team dynamics and teaches players to work together, as flag carriers require heavy support for the whole trip back. It's weird how much more team-oriented the rather staid game mode feels when you just weaken the carrier.
While the team at Gamepot didn't want to give us the details, they did let slip that there are a few more cool things coming in the October update. Considering the caliber of what's already there, it's hard not to assume that they'll be a boon for the game. Both the new class and the new game mode promise to improve an already-solid base of action-based PvP, and should keep FEZ players occupied for many months to come.