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Rend is a survival game like Rust, but takes its lessons from MMOs like Ultima Online

Rend is *deep breath* an open-world, PVP-focused, faction-based survival sim sandbox with crafting, RPG elements, and player-run settlements, coming soon to PC. It’s set in a fantasy universe where Midgard (as in the Norse mythology name for Earth as it exists relative to the Nine Realms) has exploded. 

Or, if you prefer developer Frostkeep Studios' shorthand version, Rend is an evolution / fusion of the survival sim and sandbox MMO genres. Think Rust meets Ultima Online, or ARK: Survival Evolved meets Star Wars Galaxies.

This is a game shaped by old-school design philosophy, by way of new-age technology. There are factions. There are talent trees. There’s a win condition. These features haven't been prominent in MMOs for years, but Rend is embracing them wholeheartedly while throwing in a few new wrinkles. And at PAX East 2018, I caught an early look at the game in action. The short and sweet summary is that this project is rough around the edges, but fascinating in its blend of concepts.

Rend's roots run deep

Rend begins with your avatar waking up on the map you'll call home. It's a land of rolling hills, fog-filled swamps, snow-capped peaks, dark forests, and just about every other type of topography you can imagine. What will no doubt catch your eye the most, however, is the massive World Tree in the center.

Taller than most mountains, the World Tree is simultaneously a landmark you can use to orient yourself as well as a sort of scoreboard for the game. Because in Rend, your avatar is - from the moment you log in - connected to one of three factions. As each faction battles for supremacy, the tree lights up with the corresponding color (green, orange, or purple), marking your progress for the world to see.

This setup brings an immediate sense of belonging and community while also giving you an identifiable goal. This isn't a survival game where you try to carve out a home in the wilds and play for an indefinite amount of time; there's a victory to be won, and everyone knows it. Not only that, but Rend will have a recurring scheduled event called "The Reckoning" where your faction's settlement will lose access to its force fields for a duration, opening you up to attack from both AI-controlled enemies and other players.

So now you've got a sense of community to give you grounding, a final goal to work toward, and urgency spurring you onward. But onward to... what, exactly? And here's where Rend will either triumph or fall flat.

Two steps forward, one server reset back

Rend's world is persistent, but not permanent. Log off in the middle of town and it's possible the next time you log in there will be a new building or feature that wasn't there before (or, if you're really unlucky, maybe the enemy will have destroyed something that was there). But once a faction fills the World Tree with its color, the server resets and players return to square one.

For example, you'll need to level up your crafting and harvesting skills each time the server resets, so you don't spawn in on a fresh map with the instant ability to make the best stuff. You'll also pick a role each server reset. Yes, role. Like many early '00s MMOs, Rend features branching skill trees, each associated with a different playstyle.

You want to be a sneaky, agile scout? Take the Assassin tree. You want utility and spells? Put points in the Mystic tree. Crafters and gatherers will be best served by the Survivalist tree. And for everyone who prefers a straight-up fight, there's the Soldier tree. You'll pick up to two trees per server lifecycle, giving you a chance to level up again and again, trying out new skill combos and tactics.

While you're doing all this, you'll be earning meta-progression points, which can be used to unlock new, permanent perks and customization options. What exactly those perks will be is yet to be determined, but the team hopes to make players feel rewarded while still keeping a level playing field.

In other words, think of each server reset less like the world going away and more akin to a New Game+ feature - a chance for you to try something different.

Rendering a final verdict

Right now, Rend is a collection of interesting ideas and systems with what sound like the best of intentions, but I admit I'm a bit worried. This game has a lot of stuff in it (I didn't even touch on PVP control points, player housing, the reputation system which will promote active community members, or the Hunger Games-style random drops full of valuable loot that everyone will fight over), and I hope it doesn't buckle beneath its own weight.

Frostkeep's great challenge will be coalescing all of its grand ideas into a coherent whole. The team certainly has the experience and know-how to accomplish the Herculean task before them, but will it succeed? I'm eager to find out.

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Sam is a former News Editor here at GamesRadar. His expert words have appeared on many of the web's well-known gaming sites, including Joystiq, Penny Arcade, Destructoid, and G4 Media, among others. Sam has a serious soft spot for MOBAs, MMOs, and emo music. Forever a farm boy, forever a '90s kid.