In Den of Wolves, the upcoming heist game from GTFO developer 10 Chambers which was unveiled at The Game Awards, the prisoner protagonists of the studio’s debut co-op shooter have been traded out for free agents. Instead of convicts who are working to stay alive, players will now take on the roles of “criminal entrepreneurs”, gig worker Danny Oceans taking on jobs en-route to paydays from massive megacorporations.
Like GTFO’s turret-toting inmates, the protagonists of Den of Wolves aren’t really free. They’re small, disposable parts of a sprawling late-capitalist ecosystem that has been purpose-built to facilitate the free flow of money among the many businesses jockeying for position on a haven for corporate competition in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Instead of delving deep into the bowels of an inhospitable Earth, players will need to navigate Midway City, a fictional metropolis that is built like a futuristic Venice, where Dredd-style megastructures are separated by oceanic canals. Midway is a real atoll in the northern Pacific, but Den of Wolves reimagines it as a place where the corporations of 2097 are free to engage in business without oversight from any government. 10 Chambers’ narrative director Simon Viklund refers to it as “an unregulated innovation zone”. While these companies are evading government control, the city has been built specifically to circumnavigate the advancements of deep-learning AI, which wreaked havoc on the former means and methods of finance.
Den of Wolves is a four-player co-op shooter and it may seem like I’m giving you a lot of lore information about a game that you will mostly play on a headset with three friends, as you listen to each others’ jokes far more than the beats of the story. But when Viklund begins pitching the game during a hands-off preview event at Unity’s San Francisco office in late November, he is pitching a world as much as he is pitching a game. He shows concept art of the skyscrapers that were only partially built before the companies financing them ran out of cash, and which now serve as a home for Midway City’s less fortunate squatters.
He talks about the profiles that the 10 Chambers team has developed for more than 400 in-game brands, with CEOs and logos and histories that the team will be able to draw from while building the heists that give structure to players’ time in this world. He references sci-fi cult classics like Strange Days that have inspired the studio’s take on a future that is different from our present, but not unrecognizable.
Viklund also lists Philip K. Dick, Inception, The Matrix, and Black Mirror as inspirations for Den of Wolves.
I’m as interested as anyone in how the guns will feel when we eventually get our hands on Den of Wolves — there is no set release window yet, but the game has been in the works for two years — though Viklund emphasizes the role of story in making a game that players want to come back to.
“The game developers that don’t put this much effort into the world that they’re creating are underestimating the value of it. Because we think it’s really conducive to the experience, even for people who say they don’t care about the story,” Viklund says. “Your subconscious feels that there’s a world outside the confinement of the first-person shooter map where the game takes place, and you feel like the world is bigger. And I think people appreciate that even if they don’t get into the minutiae of the lore.”
10 Chambers was founded by multiple developers who also founded Overkill Software, the studio behind the Payday series.
Though Den of Wolves isn’t an open-world game, the broader imagined setting will help to fuel the chains of contained missions players take on in game. Viklund explains that players will have multiple quests to complete before they take on a heist, methodically collecting the necessary intel and gear before the big moment. It’s a process that sounds a lot like the preparation phase you went through before a big heist in GTA 5, but Viklund says that Den of Wolves is more inspired by current events than by any other games. Though sci-fi stories about the mega-corps of the far future are an influence, Viklund says that documentaries about corporate malfeasance have made a sizable impression on the story.
“You don’t need satire, because you can just take real-life examples of what corporations try to get away with. Obviously we don’t know what they do get away with because we never find out about it. So there’s a fog of war that we don’t know what’s happening,” he says. “But the things we do find out, it’s like you can just take those things and replace the names of the corporations and put them in as a storyline in the game, and it will come across as satire, because it’s so frickin’ dark.”
That’s one of the nice things about Den of Wolves — the game will let you do something about all that bad behavior. Viklund says that the protagonists aren’t Robin Hood; they’re in it to make money for themselves, not the less fortunate. But wherever the loot goes, I imagine players will relish the opportunity to take the one percent down a peg.
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