Holdfast: Nations at War is a multiplayer game set during the Napoleonic era. Matches are a mixture of well-disciplined line battles and lone wolf shitheads. It’s massive, chaotic, and one of the most charming games I’ve played in a long time.
Battles in Holdfast take place on massive maps ranging from South African deserts with rolling dunes to frost-covered tundras speckled with forts. Up to 150 players face off on the largest servers, forming two massive armies that vie for territory. Forces are a mixture of musket-bearing infantry, sword-swinging officers, and musicians such as drummers and fifers. Musicians can play tunes that buff accuracy, while flag bearers increase health. While the game struggles to explain all of their differences, the classes intermingle to support each other and encourage teamplay.
Part of what makes Holdfast work is just how unreliable your weapons are. Muskets are frustratingly inaccurate, making each engagement a tense scramble to find your mark. If you hit someone, you’ll instantly take them out, but if you miss, you either have to work through a lengthy reload animation or throw caution to the wind and rush in with your bayonet. Each successful kill feels like a momentous victory, while every missed shot is a tragedy. In my most embarrassing defeat, both my foe and I missed our initial shots. I rushed towards him with my bayonet, only for him to reload in nick of time and blow me away.
Holdfast alternates these chaotic moments with something far more regimented. Many players attempt to coordinate line volleys or overwhelming infantry charges. There’s an aspect of roleplay to Holdfast that dances between military reenactment and childhood make-believe. I’ve been led into battle by the brave Captain KermitTheFrog who insisted in a horrible accent that we kill the “bloody Yanks” even though there are no Colonial troops in the game. They also demanded that we never start a charge without our beloved fifer Jukebox. Other players are more effective in their leadership; I spent one memorable nighttime battle firing line volleys from high atop a ridge, all organised by a cheerful officer who offered just as many compliments as orders.
I’ve only begun to explore Holdfast, which also has a naval combat mode that I’m eager to check out, but the few hours I’ve played were memorable. It’s a wonderful mix of self-serious roleplayers and internet meme-lords, with as much hilarity as tension. Holdfast: Nations at War is currently in Early Access and will hopefully expand to give me the opportunity to ride around as a mounted cavalry so I can run over fife-dudes and French chevaliers while playing Reel Big Fish over my mic.