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