Relic Hunters Zero [Steam page] is one of the nicer little surprises on Steam. A completely freeware top-down shooter that feels a bit like an retro-styled hybrid of Borderlands and Halo, with charmingly blocky, pastel-shaded art and an annoyingly catchy soundtrack. It's grown significantly since launch, adding new modes, characters and Workshop-based mod support, with the most recent update dedicated to squashing a few long-standing bugs. If you've not played it, go on. We'll wait.
Okay, done? Good. Then you'll probably be happy to hear that there's a sequel in the works. Brazilian studio Rogue Snail are aiming higher this time, taking their original arcade formula and expanding it into an online co-op action-RPG hybrid called Relic Hunters Legend, and they're hoping to fund the rest of development through Kickstarter.
Mechanically, it's looking a bit like Destiny now, if Destiny were set in a lush 2D cartoon world where most of the enemies were gruff-looking space ducks. Designed for up to 4 player co-op, it seems largely what you'd expect from the genre; Loot, character building and gunplay present and correct, battlefield-controlling special powers and plenty of bad guys to shoot.
From what we can see in the trailer, it seems that there's a little more to the action than there was in the original Relic Hunters Zero, with elevated ledges and jumping added to the mix, as well as as basic cover system. Enemies now just fall over rather than explode into a cloud of blood-pixels and bones, adding to the family-friendly aesthetic.
They're going all-in on the Cartoon Network Kids Show: The Shooter concept too, going as far as snagging some talent from the channel's own Brazilian wing in order to produce the extended trailer/pilot episode below. Rogue Snail hope to produce a series of animated shorts, each focused on a different character, building up their place in the game's universe.
A little unusual for Kickstarter, Relic Hunters Legend is planned to be free-to-play, with the promise that crowdfunding will allow the studio to remain fully independent. Players that buy in now for $20 or more will get beta access to the game approximately a year from now if all goes to plan, along with an equivalent amount of cash-shop credit. While a bit vague at present, Rogue Snail are adamant in their Kickstarter pitch that the business model shouldn't impact enjoyment, and that the game will never be 'pay-to-win'.
It's a tough balancing act, but there's a growing number of independently-developed F2P games with pleasantly ethical business F2P models available now, with probably the highest-profile being Path of Exile and its entirely cosmetic-based funding. Rogue Snail themselves believe there's improvements to be made to the business style, going as far as laying out a manifesto on the subject. Being quite fond of the original Relic Hunters Zero, and pleasantly on-board with the cartoon tie-in style, I'm excited to play this one, and wish them every bit of luck on funding their dreams.