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Loadout: The Free-To-Play Shooter That Tried To Breathe New Life Into Weapon Creation [REVIEW]

By Scott Craft on February 21, 2014 2:19 PM EST 0

Get our thoughts on Loadout, the new free-to-play arena shooter from Edge of Reality, and find out whether or not one of the latest graduates of the Steam Early Access program is worth a download. (PHOTO: Edge of Reality)
Get our thoughts on Loadout, the new free-to-play arena shooter from Edge of Reality, and find out whether or not one of the latest graduates of the Steam Early Access program is worth a download. (PHOTO: Edge of Reality)

Few may have taken notice while Loadout was still in Steam Early Access, given that Edge of Reality's new free-to-play shooter was an unfamiliar F2P property with a paid (albeit cheap) beta, but Loadout has finally ditched the Early Access label and is ready to offer a collection of "over 44 billion" guns to anyone looking for a new third-person shooter.

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After a couple of weeks of off-and-on time with the game, plus a few extended Loadout sessions to grind out experience for my favorite gun modifications, now seems as good a time as any to sit down and compile some of my thoughts on Edge of Reality's first free-to-play offering. Sadly, Loadout didn't prove as entertaining as I'd hoped it would be, given the studio's heavy marketing of the approximately 44 billion gun combinations that can supposedly be forged by Loadout players.

Loadout may not have been the Borderlands-meets-Unreal experience that I was hoping for, but the game does show an incredible amount of potential, and I'd be lying if I said Loadout didn't seem as viable an option as any free-to-play shooter on the market - with the added bonus of being one of the few F2P games to utilize an entirely respectable business model.

Loadout is a new free-to-play arena shooter that pits teams of four against one another in a variety of match types that are clearly inspired by the bread-and-butter modes found in any halfway-decent multiplayer shooter. Rather than trying to match graphics with franchises like Battlefield, Call of Duty or even fellow free-to-play title PlanetSide 2, Edge of Reality opted to go for a cartoon-inspired art style that pokes fun at some of the most over-the-top heroes and action found in many classic Hollywood blockbusters.

Many have compared Loadout's vibrant textures to the combatants and locales found in Valve's own F2P multiplayer fragfest, Team Fortress 2, though it's safe to say that Edge of Reality safely carves out its own particular style with Loadout. And that's something you'll realize before you end up in a game full of naked avatars.

Like Team Fortress, Loadout also offers players a chance to "gib" their opponents, but Loadout goes quite a bit farther than many shooters by allowing players to extensively dismember their foes both before and after they die. Few deaths end without a few buckets of spilled blood, along with a lost limb or two, and you'll often find the dancing visage of your opponent waiting for you in the kill-cam after the carnage is over.

Loadout (PHOTO: Edge of Reality)
Loadout (PHOTO: Edge of Reality)

To be fair, Loadout does offer players a choice to turn down the violence, or at least some of the game's goriest death animations; but few in the community seem to feel any need to take advantage of the feature thus far. If I had to guess, I'd say that's at least partially the result of the fact that corpses don't stick around for long; but you should probably be prepared to see characters' internal organs spilling out and a combination of charred flesh and scar tissue gradually replacing the costume of any Loadout player who spends too much time on fire.

Speaking of costumes, anyone who was reconsidering a few hours with Loadout after seeing that Edge of Reality has embraced the F2P business model will be happy to hear that many of the game's costume pieces can be acquired without ever spending a dime on Loadout's in-game currency. I've already managed to acquire a couple of new hats via Loadout's "Daily Prize" mechanic, which offers rewards ranging from a few hundred Blutes (in-game currency) to new costume items every 24 hours, and have seen several others appear in chests that I left behind. The best stuff is likely reserved for paying customers but, in my experience, cool hair never made a rocket launcher more-accurate.

Even better, the game's main draw (weapon customization) remains almost entirely separated from the Loadout monetization strategy, save for players' ability to rack up XP and Blutes faster with the aid of booster items that can be purchased in the Loadout store. On the down side, there aren't any visual customization options for the game's collection of firearms, so no amount of leveling will ever leave your weapon(s) of choice looking all that much different from other competitors' arsenals. At present, four primary weapon types are included in the game -- Beam, Launcher, Pulse and Rifle -- and a variety of modifications can be unlocked for each once you've banked the necessary experience/Blutes.

Surprisingly, Blutes never really seemed to be in short-supply during my time with Loadout, but XP (and the sale of experience boosters) seem to be how Edge of Reality plans to make any sort of profit off their distribution of Loadout. Without getting too far into braggart territory, it turns out that I'm not half-bad at Loadout, and I actually hit the End of Round experience cap for non-boosted players more often than not during my time with the game. Even still, it took nearly a dozen hours to gather enough experience for me to upgrade one of my weapons, and my rifle remains the only upgraded firearm in my collection.

Of course, had I focused solely on one weapon, I probably could have shaved some time off that total; however, I'd have been much less useful to my teammates. Worse, my lack of flexibility in a game that rewards team play would likely have cost me valuable end of match XP/Blutes, potentially eliminating any gains I might have reaped from focusing on a single weapon. Of course, speeding up that process is exactly what the boosters are for, and it's also worth noting that many players seem more than content with finding/upgrading a single weapon that matches their play style.

In many cases, more than one attachment will be available for upgrade at once, as was the case when my level one pyro rifle made the jump to level four. The first three attachments I selected for my rifle had all leveled at the same time, increasing my ammo capacity and damager per shot while decreasing the amount of scope drift I encountered when aiming. Individually, the various upgrades aren't the sort of thing that will instantly make a player stand above the rest, but ongoing improvements combined with continued practice should make it quite difficult for new players to successfully defend against established competitors.

Loadout (PHOTO: Edge of Reality)
Loadout (PHOTO: Edge of Reality)

Like any good shooter, Loadout includes its fair share of game types, offering fans slightly-altered takes on genre staples like capture the flag or standard/team deathmatches. Four different game types are currently included in Loadout's "Casual" game rotation, with an equal number of maps, so it won't take you long to get familiar with the various matches and environments currently included in Loadout.

Those looking for a more-traditional deathmatch experience will likely flock to Death Snatch, a mostly-standard TDM game type that incorporates kill/confirm mechanics into its scoring system. While all of a player's kills/heals/etc are recorded on the game's leaderboard, and offer the same XP as they would in any other match type, a team will only receive points in Death Snatch after players successfully recover the Blutonium vials dropped by their fallen opponents.

Jackhammer takes the standard steal-and-return scoring mechanic of classic Capture the Flag matches, gives players the ability to beat down their opponents with their own flag hammer, and even gives you more points based on the number of kills you rack up before each capture. In an added twist, hammers will either have unlimited ammunition, or become little more than a burden on your journey to more points after just five swings.

Loadout (PHOTO: Edge of Reality)
Loadout (PHOTO: Edge of Reality)

Blitz takes the standard capture-and-defend mechanic from standard Control Point match types, and speeds things up by making teams travel from one randomly selected control point to the next in a race to eight captures. Of course, nobody's playing Loadout for foot races, so you'll obviously be fighting off the usual stream of bullets/rockets from the opposing team. Games last ten minutes, with victory going to whichever team has the highest score when the clock runs out, should both sides fail to reach the eight capture goal.

Finally, Extraction sees players take turns as the Collector, during which time you'll need to find chunks of Blutonium and deliver them to pre-determined scoring zones, all the while avoiding incoming enemy fire and attempting to kill whichever of your enemies is scooping up Blutonium for the opposing team. To make things interesting, the Blutonium chunks scattered around the map are extra-volatile, and the explosions that result from shooting them will often leave surrounding players collecting their limbs after an explosion.

Like other modern shooters, Loadout also features one game type that was designed specifically for competitive play, Annihilation, giving those who'd prefer less-casual competition an area to congregate and test their mettle against one another. In a first for the genre -- or at least the only case I can recall -- Annihilation ditches the One Life, Last Team Standing Wins ruleset of shooters like CS:GO or Battlefield 4, and instead combines almost all of Loadout's other game types to create one of the most fast-paced and chaotic competitive matches ever featured in a shooter of its ilk.

In a game of Annihilation, players have the option of retrieving Jackhammers, fighting for control points or recovering Blutonium vials from fallen opponents in a mad dash to 10,000 points that comes with an extra twist. Rather than bringing an immediate halt to the game, reaching the 10K goal gives your team the ability to supercharge your opponent's Jackhammer on your next theft, and will drop the shield that used to protect the opposing team's base. The game ends once one team successfully retrieves their opponents' Jackhammer, supercharges it and then destroys the opposing team's HQ.

Sadly, Loadout shipped without any sort of proper matchmaking system for Annihilation, forcing those with entry-level weaponry to face off against those who've already amassed a serious collection of mid- to high-power firearms. Worse, the lack of ranked Annihilation servers is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ways in which Loadout is likely to disappoint most of those who spend more than a few hours with Edge of Reality's arena shooter.

Loadout's Weaponcrafting screen (and my level 4 rifle)
Loadout's Weaponcrafting screen (and my level 4 rifle)

The ability to design and modify your own firearms certainly proved to be an interesting idea, at least in theory, but the only mechanic that really separates Loadout from its competition is currently held back by a surprisingly small number of gun parts and equally-limited tech trees. It won't take but a couple of hours for players to unlock most (if not all) of the gun mods they're interested in, leaving little other than the game's aforementioned XP grind to look forward to after your first few levels.

I was also surprised to find a complete lack of weapon skins in Loadout, which wouldn't have been an issue if the various weapon types and attachments made any significant alterations to each firearm's appearance., but there's relatively little outside of flames/sparks to differentiate weapons in the heat of battle.

Here's a shot of my gun locker to show you what I mean:

My four-gun arsenal in Loadout
My four gun arsenal in Loadout

Sure, the rocket cage attached to the front of a launcher looks different than a silenced rifle barrel, but can anybody argue that Edge of Reality could have given players some means of altering the dull green metal that was apparently used to forge every player's arsenal.

It's kind of surprising, given how thorough Edge of Reality was with its creation of personalization assets for the various characters included in Loadout at launch, that the studio failed to make its most-marketed feature stand out in any significant way. Where the game could easily have felt like the love child of Borderlands and your favorite arena shooter, Loadout instead feels like the modern equivalent of Henry Ford's "any color, as long as it's [green]" policy.

Of course, outward appearance hardly affects how any of the weapons work in combat, but it's just a continued example of how little there is to look forward to when playing Loadout, especially after you've put in the few hours needed to master most of the game's mechanics and become competitive. Those who immediately find themselves performing well will soon find even less incentive to return to the game, as there's relatively little to work towards without ranked competition and zero reason to invest in new weapons/parts after locking down your build of choice.

As I said before, Loadout shows quite a bit of promise, but it doesn't look great when one of the most-trumpeted features of the games comes up short in ways that had to have been obvious to someone at Edge of Reality.

Loadout (PHOTO: Edge of Reality)
Loadout (PHOTO: Edge of Reality)

Loadout Review - Final Verdict

Make no mistake about it. For a game that won't cost you anything more than bandwidth, Loadout is a surprisingly robust arena shooter, and one which could very well emerge as a fan-favorite after a few months of availability on Steam. Where many free-to-play game seem designed to do little more than siphon money from your wallet, Loadout is the sort of game that makes you want to give money to the developers, if only to increase the likelihood of post-launch content and/or a sequel.

The game's current progression arc could use some tweaking, as leveling most gun mods currently takes a bit longer than I suspect even many free-to-play fans will be willing to wait; however, it doesn't step even begin to cross into what I personally consider to be abusive territory. Even better, while few would have blamed Edge of Reality for only offering costume pieces in the game's store, the Loadout team offers those without extra cash a means of earning new cosmetic items for their characters over time.

Loadout may not be the game that changes everyone's mind about the positive aspects of the free-to-play boom, and it may not have offered as many weapon customization options as I'd have liked, but there's still plenty of time for the game to grow. If you've got a few dollars to spend, existing AAA shooters like Call of Duty or Battlefield will likely be what you're looking for, but those looking for something cheap/free to play this weekend could do a whole lot worse than Loadout.

Score - 3/5

Have you spent any time playing Loadout since Edge of Reality's free-to-play arena shooter hit Steam earlier this year? Come away with a vastly different opinion of Loadout than Scott did? Have an idea for a weapon part, gun type or customization item you'd like to see added to Loadout in the future?

Let us know in the comments section!

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