Veiled Experts is 3rd person Counter-Strike, and somehow it's utterly fantastic
Free to play and out in Early Access this week
I've been meaning to write about Veiled Experts for over a month now, since playing it religiously during the Final Beta Test. I've been putting it off mostly because I've been busy, but also because I'm trying to find a way of saying "actually it's really good" without people laughing and throwing garbage at me. It's very hard to describe Veiled Experts to someone in a way that doesn't prompt an instant dismissal. That was my reaction too. I saw it on Twitch, my mind said "third person Counter-Strike", and sent an automatic signal down to my lips to proclaim the words: "sounds awful".
Thank goodness for boredom. Later that day I was at a loose end and saw that Veiled Experts was free, so I downloaded it and tried it out. And here we are, a month and a bit later. The game is about to release into Early Access, and I'm desperately trying to get everyone I know to play it with me, because it's bloody phenomenal.
Veiled Experts (or VX) is very easy to get into if you're used to games like CS:GO and especially Valorant. It's a free-to-play 5v5 round-based shooter where teams take turns attempting to plant bombs at certain sites on the map. You choose from a roster of characters at the start of a match, each of whom has a small selection of unique abilities. Very familiar stuff so far, but VX quickly starts to pile new ideas and features on top of this well-trodden ground in a way that seems messy at first, but turns out to fit together in a very smart and satisfying manner.
The biggest change by far is the third-person perspective. This was my biggest misgiving with VX at first. Generally third-person is not a great fit for highly tactical, low time-to-kill shooters. You can use the camera to peek around cover without exposing yourself, which leads to players just holding angles forever and a swift death to those daring enough to make the run.
Veiled Experts neatly solves this problem in two ways. The first is a very strong focus on awareness of enemy positions. In the shop at the start of each round you can (and should) stock up on Scan Grenades which mark enemies through cover for a short while. There's also a Scan Bow, which delivers the same results in weapon form, and a couple of the characters have abilities which can reveal even more information about where the enemy team is positioned.
The second method is by introducing a shrinking "ring" like in Battle Royales to each round. The ring is quite mesmerising in Veiled Experts, because it's not a ring at all - it's an ever-shifting polygon that tightens slowly and unpredictably towards the centre, forcing players to stay on the move. Together with the prominence of scan grenades, it means you simply can't stay in one place for long without becoming a liability to your team.
Veiled Experts feels like a kitchen sink kind of game, but the more you play, the more you realise just how thoughtfully everything has been designed. Characters' abilities are useful but not overbearingly powerful. Unlike Counter-Strike, when you die you don't lose the weapons you've purchased in prior rounds, making the game feel a bit more forgiving towards the underdog in each match. Matches in general are quick, with far fewer rounds than in CS or Valorant.
You can also choose from a group of character-independent abilities called Leptons, which can give you small benefits like slight damage reduction while rolling, a free weapon in Round 2, and so on. Most of the best ones are money-saving traits which allow you to invest more heavily in team upgrades between rounds, improving your armour, magazine capacities, and so on.
Every misgiving I had before I started playing was quickly debunked after my first few hours with the game. Gunplay is responsive and satisfying, the maps look great (and change over the course of a match, with buildings exploding and opening up new paths and avenues). And - this may be a strangely specific thing to lavish praise on - the player animations, particularly while climbing, are just marvellous. Movement in general feels very good - not slick and quick, like Apex Legends, but deliberate and reliable. Just like the rest of the game.
Please just give Veiled Experts a try if you like shooters. It's far, far better than you'd expect it to be, and I don't want it to die because people were as immediately dismissive of the premise as I was. It's free to play, and out on Steam on Thursday (or Friday morning for us Brits).