Even if BattleCry plays like a game that isn't entirely sure what it wants to be, that’s alright because it’s fun.

The project is the first from Bethesda’s new BattleCry Studios, formed in 2013 to begin developing its namesake title, and it's Bethesda’s first stab at the free-to-play team-based online space, currently dominated by Team Fortress 2, World of Tanks and Hawken.

Having been in development for only a year, we took a look at a fairly early build of the game and put it through the motions. Shawn Ketcherside, production director at BattleCry studios outlines what he thinks sets BattleCry apart: “One of the things we're aiming to do is combine the elements of singleplayer action games with the multi-player first person shooter.”

E3: BattleCry first impressions
E3: BattleCry first impressions

The elephant in the room is Team Fortress 2, and the comparisons between it and BattleCry and are immediate and far-reaching. BattleCry's art direction was set by Viktor Antonov, who not only designed Dishonored's haunting city of Dunwall, but also Half-Life 2's City 17.

Before sitting down to play the game, we took a look at the trailer and a quick run-down. The game is set in a parallel future without gunpowder - gratefully stopping short of steampunk - where countries settle their differences in designated war-zones. The developers allude to a greater fiction that will unfold throughout the game.

The intense and brutal trailer sets a darker tone that's at odds with the lighter, cartooned gameplay. The game is saturated in stylised gore, blood dances across the screen with every blade connection. The developers are aiming for a surreal, artistic depiction of war.

Dropping into the pre-alpha gameplay, I played the three classes on offer, the Tech Archer, Duelist and Enforcer. The duelist is a lighter melee class, the enforcer heavy melee and the tech archer is all ranged.

E3: BattleCry first impressions

What at first seem like conflicting genres actually merge together very well. It’s easy to jump right in as one of the melee classes and feel useful on a team, and the learning curve isn’t particularly steep. As an enforcer you can get away with a bit of a button-mash, but a deft duelist can take you down a peg, as can the archer. Playing alongside a group of fellow newbies, we all quickly settled into our roles after some quick deaths.

Getting around levels is made expedient through grappling nodes,which you can latch onto, propelling you around the map. The map we played displayed clever design, channeling melee fighters into bottle-necks, with archers finding themselves bouncing from tower to tower through grappling nodes to avoid the incoming melee fighters.

BattleCry will be free-to-play. There are two in-game currencies, one is strictly earned through playing, other is bought, and can be redeemed on character customisation options. BattleCry Studios says these upgrades will be purely aesthetic. Players will not be able to pay to win, insists the developer.

E3: BattleCry first impressions

So far, so similar, but where BattleCry Studios intend to break new ground is with a persistent online component called The War Effort, a world map that different factions within the game are battling over.

BattleCry Studios won't say much about The War Effort yet, but Ketcherside says, “We want to bring this meta-game to the experience, so people have something bigger than individual battles. There is a longer term and strategic element to the game.”

BattleCry will go into beta in 2015.