Playtest: War­face

How war­face is try­ing to nav­i­gate the war­zone of free-to-play shoot­ers to con­quer con­soles

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Al­lods Team and Mail.ru are walk­ing into one of the most hotly con­tested war­zones be­tween gamers and game-mak­ers around to­day. The crux of the con­tention is on how free-to-play gam­ing can best be man­aged, lever­aged and ex­pe­ri­enced so that game-mak­ers and pub­lish­ers can make the money needed to keep mov­ing for­ward, while also al­low­ing play­ers an ex­pe­ri­ence that doesn’t feel like they’re be­ing squeezed for cash. It’s about in­no­va­tive ways of de­liv­er­ing games to play­ers in a crowded mar­ket­place where our money doesn’t stretch far enough to al­low us ac­cess to every­thing. It’s about gamers who want to feel like their skills in the game mean that they can be com­pet­i­tive even if they don’t spend a penny. It’s about fair­ness. It’s about consumer rights. It’s about en­ti­tle­ment. It’s about profit. It’s about every­thing that clashes when com­mer­cial­ism and art col­lide, and War­face is re­turn­ing to con­soles in the midst of all of it. But Mail.ru doesn’t seem too put off by all of this. In fact, when we caught up with project man­ager Alexan­der Shi­mov to talk about the tran­si­tion of the PC ver­sion of War­face to PS4 and Xbox One (hav­ing picked up the free-to-play shooter from Cry­tek in early 2017), he seemed quite happy with how War­face is po­si­tion­ing it­self in the mar­ket. “We don’t look at this as pay to win, as we’re re­ally happy that ev­ery­one can play the game with­out pay­ing for it and for con­soles es­pe­cially, know­ing that there is some… not frus­tra­tion ex­actly, but peo­ple are afraid of mon­eti­sa­tion, they’re un­com­fort­able. We plan to tweak it and tune it to make sure that every­thing

in the game can be ac­quired just by play­ing it with­out crazy ob­jec­tives,” Shi­mov ex­plains to us. And while there are items in the game that have bet­ter stats than oth­ers and can be bought with in-game cur­rency, the cur­rency it­self is also earned through play, so it’s not locked away from play­ers who just play for free, “like as a re­ward for play­ing the game ev­ery day or some­thing like that,” adds Shi­mov. When we orig­i­nally sam­pled War­face a few years back, we de­scribed its store in­fra­struc­ture as re­strained, and that looks to have re­mained the same, even if the rest of the game as ex­panded and evolved con­sid­er­ably. So much of what War­face is was ul­ti­mately in­her­ited from Mail.ru’s pur­chase of the rights of the game from Cry­tek in early 2017. Since then its devel­op­ment has been passed to the pub­lisher’s in-house de­vel­oper Al­lods Team in Moscow. This team has pre­vi­ously worked on Sky­forge in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ob­sid­ian En­ter­tain­ment. It has learnt a lot from its ex­pe­ri­ence with that game, which was also re­leased for free, and adapt­ing its fea­tures to im­prove on its mixed re­cep­tion. While the ar­gu­ments over what con­sti­tutes good and bad free-to-play prac­tices, what the line is be­tween pay to win and nat­u­ral player pro­gres­sion, rages on and might be fiercer than ever, it would be fair to say that free-to-play has never been in a bet­ter po­si­tion than now. Fort­nite is ob­vi­ously the big cul­tural phe­nom­e­non of the mo­ment, but War­frame has been do­ing in­cred­i­bly well of late, as has Pal­adins, Raiders, H1Z1 and more. The dis­dain with which many gamers once looked upon this re­lease model has largely faded away, even if it’s been re­placed with a vig­i­lant dis­trust. War­face seems to be tak­ing all of the right lessons from what oth­ers have been do­ing, as well as the evolv­ing face of the game in its PC in­car­na­tion and the aborted re­lease of the game on Xbox 360 un­der its orig­i­nal de­vel­oper, Cry­tek. “Es­pe­cially on con­soles it was tough,” says Shi­mov of the en­vi­ron­ment for free-to-play games not long ago. “What we like is that War­face is about co-op­er­a­tive and com­pet­i­tive play at the same time. You can play with friends, and we also think it’s trend­ing right now, this so­cial­is­ing part of play. Peo­ple want to play to­gether. War­face has a battle royale mode. It’s unique, fast-paced and a bit dif­fer­ent from Fort­nite or PUBG. Also, it has the PVE con­tent like the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions con­tent that are re­ally cool and

fun. And then there’s PVP as well. So it has quite a lot to of­fer.”

The va­ri­ety of what War­face has to of­fer cer­tainly stands it apart from the cur­rent crop of free games out there at the mo­ment, which have tended to find some of their suc­cess through how spe­cialised they are. It also stands it apart from the orig­i­nal re­lease from Cry­tek, which while var­ied for its time has been built upon con­sid­er­ably since the orig­i­nal PC re­lease. And, of course, there was that Xbox 360 ver­sion of the game that only lasted about nine months be­fore be­ing pulled from the store. That left Al­lods Team with the tricky task of con­vert­ing the PC build of the game to con­sole from scratch and with­out the kind of in­her­ent un­der­stand­ing of the en­gine that Cry­tek would have en­joyed first time around.

“There were two most dif­fi­cult parts,” Shi­mov told us as we dis­cussed the chal­lenge of in­her­it­ing a PC game and con­vert­ing it for con­sole play. “The first was the way you look around and the mo­tion com­po­nents when you need to make the cam­era con­trols feel right. How you look around, how you move around a level. There are a lot of dif­fer­ent pa­ram­e­ters, and we looked into a lot of con­soles that have the gamepad. Ev­ery game ac­tu­ally kind of had sim­i­lar con­trols, al­beit in their own way. They have some­thing in com­mon. There’s the snap­ping, there’s some slow­ing down or some fol­low­ing func­tion for the cur­sor, but ev­ery game makes it a bit dif­fer­ent in terms of tun­ing.

“Then the aim as­sist, that was re­ally a tricky thing to do. We have PVE and PVP, and we first of all wanted to make sure that

PVP is com­pet­i­tive, be­cause it’s one of the best fea­tures of War­face. Some games switch aim as­sist com­pletely off in PVP, but we de­cided to leave it on. We’ve made it much looser than in PVE though. It still helps you a lit­tle bit, but just a lit­tle bit.”

From our ex­tended hands-on time with the game, we would say that Al­lods Team has done an ex­cel­lent job of man­ag­ing that tran­si­tion. The gamepad lay­out is very in­tu­itive, the con­trols feel sharp and re­spon­sive, and the snap­ping of bring­ing up the iron sights feels very fa­mil­iar. There’s a tight­ness to the over­all feel of the game, es­pe­cially in PVP from our ex­pe­ri­ence, that is very rem­i­nis­cent of clas­sic Call Of Duty game­play.

The game has heft in its weapons and weight in its movement, but not so much to make the ex­pe­ri­ence plod­ding, and it doesn’t feel the need to aug­ment that with speed boost armour or park­our tra­ver­sal. It al­most feels like a bit of a throw­back, but a wel­come one. Of course, much of that was there al­ready.

“Talk­ing about the game­play it­self, it re­ally fits in very well with con­soles,” Shi­mov en­thuses. “Ba­si­cally, we left every­thing in­tact that was in the PC ver­sion, and it re­ally felt just right af­ter we played a lot on con­soles, how we im­ple­mented the con­trol scheme for gamepad sup­port. It re­ally felt good for the team, and we got very good feed­back from the play­ers who we in­vited for in­ter­nal playtests.”

So in some ways that has helped the tran­si­tion, but that still left a se­ries of tech­ni­cal chal­lenges to over­come as well. “War­face was re­leased four years ago, and it runs on Cryengine 3 with some en­hance­ments be­cause Cry­tek did a very good job of mak­ing it graph­i­cally very beau­ti­ful,” ex­plains Shi­mov. “But we needed to in­tro­duce Plays­ta­tion 4 and Xbox

“We first of All Wanted to make sure that PVP is com­pet­i­tive be­cause it’s one of the best fea­tures of War­face” alexan­der shi­mov, project man­ager

One sup­port that wasn’t pos­si­ble with this ver­sion of Cryengine. Our en­gi­neers are very tal­ented, and we have a re­ally tal­ented team, and we re­ally liked the game, which helped us to make it through.”

And then there are the smaller de­tails that needed to be ad­dressed in some fash­ion, such as UI, which can of­ten trans­late poorly from PC to con­soles as a up-close mon­i­tor setup is re­placed with a more dis­tanced liv­ing room ar­range­ment. Al­lods Team has its own chal­lenges with this as well. “[The UI] is al­ways a pain, es­pe­cially if the game was devel­oped only for PC at first with­out hav­ing in mind the con­sole ver­sion,” Shi­mov be­gins. “It’s just very dif­fi­cult. So we de­cided to not build it from the ground up, be­cause we want very smooth up­dates, and we want to make them si­mul­ta­ne­ously on all plat­forms, so if we were to re­build the UI com­pletely with­out touch­ing the PC ver­sion it would be very dif­fi­cult to achieve. But we have plans about up­dat­ing some of the UI in both ver­sions to make sure that they are good for all of the au­di­ence.”

This strikes us as a sen­si­ble ap­proach, which prob­a­bly sum­marises how Al­lods Team is tak­ing this chal­lenge on rather nicely. As we’ve said, this game is launch­ing into the caul­dron of free-to-play on con­soles with a lot of dif­fer­ent ideas and ar­gu­ments rag­ing, but it ap­pears to be nav­i­gat­ing them well. An­other ex­am­ple of that would be cross play, which has been a cause of con­ster­na­tion for PS4 play­ers in par­tic­u­lar. War­face will not be cross play for any plat­form, and the rea­sons are mostly to do with of­fer­ing the fairest and most con­sis­tent player ex­pe­ri­ence.

“We mostly worry about this fair play be­tween dif­fer­ent au­di­ences be­cause we have found War­face to be very com­pet­i­tive in its na­ture, and we think it’s just un­fair to mix up the con­trol schemes that are so dif­fer­ent. On PC you don’t have aim as­sist, but re­ally some­times that works even bet­ter than PC for PVE play. It would also be un­fair there. As for PVP, we ac­tu­ally did playtests be­tween PC and con­sole gamers when we im­ple­mented the aim as­sist, and it was some­times even quite even be­tween good PC play­ers and good con­sole play­ers, but still PC had an ad­van­tage. We de­cided to make it fair, so there will be three ecosys­tems of Xbox, Plays­ta­tion and PC. And Xbox cross­play with Plays­ta­tion isn’t pos­si­ble be­cause of Sony and Mi­crosoft is­sues.”

The other side of this is that Al­lods Team and Mail.ru want to con­tinue to sup­port War­face as a go­ing es­ports con­cern and to of­fer op­por­tu­ni­ties for con­sole play­ers to play a part. Keep­ing the plat­forms sep­a­rate seems like the best way of keep­ing that side of the mul­ti­player ex­pe­ri­ence com­pet­i­tive and fair. “We plan to in­tro­duce and im­ple­ment this Plays­ta­tion 4 tour­na­ments fea­ture be­cause it fits very well with the War­face es­port com­po­nent,” Shi­mov tells us. “In the fu­ture we want to im­ple­ment an in-game tour­na­ment sys­tem that will also make it pos­si­ble for Xbox play­ers to par­tic­i­pate in tour­na­ments. Our long-term plan is that we would like to have LAN fi­nals not only for PC like we al­ready have with War­face Cups, but also for con­soles. LAN fi­nals for con­soles would be amaz­ing.”

This is an ex­cit­ing new chap­ter in the War­face story. It was a game that didn’t re­ally ex­cite or of­fend greatly on its ini­tial re­lease, that failed on Xbox 360 by any es­ti­ma­tion and that was let go by Cry­tek in early 2017 with­out too much fuss. But now, with a con­sole re­launch about to take place and with so many game­play op­tions avail­able, this could be a big freeto-play suc­cess. If you’re look­ing for some clas­sic FPS mul­ti­player and co-op game­play that feels pol­ished and bal­anced, you would be hard pressed to find much bet­ter value at the mo­ment.

“What We like is that War­face is About co­op­er­a­tive And com­pet­i­tive Play At the same time” alexan­der shi­mov, project man­ager

There are tons of cus­tomi­sa­tion op­tions for your dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters in the game as each class type can be given new armour and out­fits to your preference. These will cost you some in-game cur­rency though.

Not all gear is purely cos­metic. There are items in the game that of­fer stat boosts in mul­ti­player. How­ever, they are avail­able through in-game cur­rency that can be earned through con­sis­tent play, not just cash.

While many of the co-op lev­els are quite lin­ear in their con­struc­tion, there are of­ten some branch­ing paths that will of­fer dif­fer­ent van­tage points – par­tic­u­larly handy for the sniper in your squad.

Mul­ti­player in War­face feels a lot like clas­sic FPS gam­ing of the last gen­er­a­tion, which is no knock on our part. We like how stripped down the ex­pe­ri­ence is, re­ly­ing on shoot­ing skill and ac­cu­racy over fa­mil­iar­ity with any unique tricks or moves.

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