The key takeaway from my time with Espire 2’s single player campaign at Gamescom earlier this year was that Digital Lode is building a toolkit and framework that encourages experimentation and gives the player as much freedom as possible. After trying out two multiplayer missions last week, it’s clear that philosophy has also translated over seamlessly to Espire 2’s co-op campaign.
Espire 2’s co-op campaign features four missions, all of which take place on repurposed and reimagined maps and envionrment from the original Espire campaign. I played through two missions with Michael Wentworth-Bell, Digital Lode’s founder and developer, last week – the second of which you can check out in the gameplay video embedded above.
All of the sequel’s cool new mechanics are available in its co-op mode, including the two new character options (referred to as ‘frames’), Sooty and Sinder. As I covered in my first hands-on, players will be able to choose between Sinder (the large protagonist from Espire 1) and Sooty (a much smaller, faster character with a different toolset) on any given level in Espire 2’s main campaign. While the maps stay the same, your options and approach will change depending on the character you pick – Sooty can reach places or discover items that Sinder can’t, and vice versa.
In Espire 2’s co-op campaign, one player will embody Sooty and the other Sinder. You’ll have to work together, using each character’s strengths and unique abilities, to achieve each mission’s given objectives. This means your approach to each levels can be quite open ended, with many different options available and select routes available for either frame. While it’s still the same stealth gameplay as the main campaign, the strategy becomes much more about coordination and communication, with players able to tackle challenges together or split up in different directions.
All of the cool and interesting new mechanics from single player are also available in co-op, now with additional uses, thanks to the presence of two players. A good example is Sooty’s noisemaker, a throwable device that Sooty can speak into remotely, used either to distract enemies or issue commands. In co-op, the noisemaker can be deployed directly onto the other player, potentially opening up some interesting (or chaotic) combos.
However, double the operatives also means there’s double the chance to blow your cover. Going for that perfect stealth run will be a little harder with two players, requiring good coordination. That being said, Digital Lode doesn’t want to punish players for having fun. If you want to go guns blazing and ignore stealth, you’re more than welcome to – it’ll just mean your final mission rating isn’t very high.
This mission rating will likely be the make-or-break for the co-op mode’s replayability. Espire 2 has a couple of different post-mission rating stats, including a 5-star rating, five badges and a mission budget. The 5-star rating is determined by your overall performance, measured by factors such as time, stealth, detection, unnecessary kills and more. On the other hand, badges are awarded for specific achievements, such as remaining undetected across an entire mission or only performing non-lethal takedowns.
With only four co-op missions available at launch, it probably won’t take you and a friend very long to work through the co-op campaign once, but hopefully those rating systems will give dedicated teams reasons to keep coming back for more. At the very least, it’s should ensure that casual players can have fun without taking things too seriously, while hardcore stealth fans can buddy up and work towards the top of the leaderboards together.
Overall, what I played of Espire 2’s co-op was a surprisingly fun and dynamic experience. All of the intelligent envionrment and mechanic design from the single player carries over to co-op, with multiplayer adding yet another level of strategy. There’s a lot of potential to be had in working with the same teammate across multiple attempts, aiming for that perfect run. The question will be whether there’s truly enough longterm diversity in the gameplay to sustain replaying the same four maps multiple times just to improve your rating, but that’s something to evaluate after launch.
Between the single player and co-op modes we’ve tried so far, Espire 2 looks set to be a solid addition to the Quest 2’s stealth lineup when it launches in November. Keep an eye out for more coverage and our full review in the lead-up to release.