Tag Archive: F2P

I talk about how DLC has changed the nature of buying games in a modern world for this news piece.

I imagine when the folks from Wargaming met with Creative Assembly it went something like this:

Wargaming: “I love strategy and war.”

Creative Assembly: “I love strategy and war, too!”

Wargaming: “Did we just become best friends?!”

And thus the partnership that’s led to Total War: Arena started. (Okay, not really.)

The Total War series isn’t known really for its multiplayer options. It’s single-player has always shined, of course, with players reliving the campaigns of history’s greatest conflicts against the computer. On the multiplayer front, though, all you had were two human players standing at the heads of their respective armies in a one-on-one setting, or more recent iterations maxed out with a four-on-four offering.

Total War: Arena changes this by offering a full, 10-on-10, free-to-play showdown, with each player allowed to select their own legendary general from the annals of history, like Rome’s Julius Caesar or the English barbarian queen Boudica. Players can then bring into battle three different unit squads appropriate to their general, like foot soldiers, cavalry, siege weapons, or even war dogs. Each general also features a bevy of passive buffs and abilities you can activate in order to better assist your army.

Those three units are all that is available to players, though. Your three units and general will need to coordinate with the units other players on your team is bringing into battle in order to hopefully rout your opponents, or capture their base and ensure victory. It can lead to glorious multi-front chaos only available in a large player setting like this, but still relies heavily on the classic tenants of real-time strategy games in terms of how your units move and attack. It even touts the classic Total War morale system, where if you break an opponent unit’s spirit, they may just start a hasty retreat and give you the victory.

With any free-to-play offering, the question always comes up about how a game will monetize itself. There are some limited customization options you can pick up for each of your generals, but Total War: Arena leans more heavily on the highly successful World of Tanks model. This allows players to spend real world money to expedite levels, which in turn unlocks new and more powerful units for each of your respective generals.

Even though you’re in control of a legendary general, you’re really just one piece of a much larger army in each match you play, and in that regard Total War: Arena looks to capitalize on the greatest strategic endeavor there is: working as a team. If players can successfully come together, not only will you have a variety of legendary generals working together for a common goal, but also the strategic possibilities are endless. From blitzkriegs to pincer maneuvers, the 10-on-10 scenario feels like it is bringing true war to Total War, and is shaping up to be an excellent alternative for people looking for competitive multiplayer without the need for twitch reflexes.

Total War: Arena is currently in closed alpha on PC and is moving to closed beta later this year.

Shifting Gears

Racing games have been around for a long time, and several top-quality franchises immediately spring to mind for anyone with an affinity for tearing up the asphalt. But when you narrow it down to free-to-play racing games for the PC, that list shrinks significantly. So, Slightly Mad Studios—best known for the pair of Need for Speed: Shift games they’ve worked on—decided to act a bit like their namesake in order to try to mix things up. Not only do they hope to succeed in an environment that hasn’t been great for racing games, but they also want to provide something different than what’s offered by the few competitors already in the space.

Enter World of Speed, a racing MMO that hopes to deliver the look and feel of a triple-A racer while simultaneously connecting players via a social experience they usually don’t get from other games of this ilk. Sure, the game has brilliant HD graphics like Forza and all the tracks and real-world locales you’d expect from Gran Turismo, but the hook here lies in trying to win races and contests in teams and as part of larger clubs. Not to mention that, of course, since the game is free-to-play and on PC, new tracks and cars can be added at any time.

Team-based racing in and of itself isn’t necessarily a new thing, though—and this is where Slightly Mad mixes things up. Besides trying to win the race, each team member is also attempting to complete objectives to earn points. Whether it’s drafting a certain number of feet beyond an opponent, drifting through specific turns, or trading paint with so many cars, the objective points are worth more than your placement points. So, a squad that finishes third and fourth, could still beat a team that places first and second across the finish line. This adds an interesting bit of strategy to each race, since you’ll sometimes have to “throw” the actual crossing-the-finish-line part in order to hit your objectives. Yes, this actually happened during one of my races while playing the game.

I was in second place steadily for much of the race and was desperately trying to catch my opponent to hit the drafting objective. When I realized I had no chance of catching him, though, with about a half a lap to go, I slammed on the brakes and let his teammate, who was in third, pass me. I then earned the drafting points on him. In the end, my team still lost, because the partner I was randomly paired with seemed to not know what the gas pedal was, but I closed the points gap significantly with that move, even if I finished one place lower than I would’ve originally.

All this flies in the face of the basic instincts of a racing game, but the nuances added by the objectives are a fun touch and help the game straddle a line between pure simulation and arcade racer. Another element that straddles that border? The handling of the cars. The way vehicles take turns or accelerate makes them feel heavy, like there’s weight to them—just like in a simulation experience. But to make the game a little more fun, and to expand the possible objectives list, you don’t lose speed when drifting through turns, similar to an arcade-style experience like Ridge Racer. This strikes a balance you don’t often see in racing games, since they usually go one way or the other. I admit that, much like the objectives, it took some getting used to, but it only made the game feel that much more refreshing as I tried to master a new control scheme.

World of Speed left me wanting more. It fine-tunes a classic formula and makes it feel fresh again, and I was impressed even after just a couple of races with how everything handled—and how badly I wanted to form a team with some close friends. Some big questions still surround the game, such as release date and monetization, but as of right now, World of Speed seems to be set on a path straight for the winner’s circle.

Gotta get back in time

When you consider the phenomenon that the first Plants vs. Zombies became—being ported countless times to every system available and inspiring every piece of merchandise imaginable—it’s no wonder that the folks at PopCap would, at some point, get around to making a sequel. Instead of resting on their laurels and riding the massive wave of success generated by the first game to an easy payday, however, Plants vs. Zombies 2 erects a wondrous monument on the foundation of its predecessor that has the potential to consume every free second you have—if you let it.

Building a bit on the story of the first game, PvZ 2 sees your neighbor, good ol’ Crazy Dave, construct a talking time machine out of his car. After eating the most delicious taco ever assembled, Dave gets the idea of using his time machine to travel several minutes back in time to consume this hallowed taco once more. Being in the vicinity of the car, you’re pulled back with Dave, but instead of several minutes, you’re sent back several thousand years. Now, you must battle zombie hordes with the help of Dave and his sentient automobile, traveling through time as you try to get back home.

The biggest change that most players will notice is that, unlike its predecessor, Plants vs. Zombies 2 is free-to-play (not to mention starting out as an exclusive on iOS devices). Fans needn’t worry about free-to-play becoming pay-to-win, or about any story content being gated, though. The entire game can be played without you having to pay a dime, and only one of the new plant types is locked by a purchase. Plus, the extra good news is that PopCap has promised continual content updates to the game through this system.

Despite the switch to a free-to-play model, both the core tower-defense gameplay and cheesy humor that made Plants vs. Zombies so great return here in droves. The obvious additions are dozens of new plants, like the fire-breathing Snapdragon or kung-fu-proficient Bop Choy, and new zombies, like the sun-stealing Ra Zombie. Along with these new characters comes a bevy of powers that you can utilize at any time.

Some of these powers come from supercharged plant food that you acquire by defeating special green-tinted zombies. By utilizing it at the right time, you can turn the tide of any battle, and each plant has its own appropriate special attacks. Old standbys like Pea Pods will shoot a continuous stream of pellets, perfect for wearing down shielded zombies, while Bop Choy will deliver furious roundhouse kicks and swinging haymakers that allow it to attack not only directly in front of it, but in adjacent lanes as well.

Utilizing the touchscreen feature of the iOS devices, PvZ 2 can also give the player special powers that you can purchase either with in-game currency earned by playing well, or by dropping some real-world cash via the in-game store. These powers can serve as a Hail Mary for some more troublesome maps. For a few seconds, one power grants you the ability to electrocute any zombie onscreen and turn them to ash. Another allows you to pinch zombie heads off their bodies, instantly killing them. And the final power allows you to flick zombies off the screen and into an unknown abyss from whence they will never return. When you combine the new plant food feature with these powers, you have countless new strategies that can potentially open up.

Outside of the action on each main level, there are plenty of side activities as well, providing some much-appreciated gameplay variety in the form of minigames and challenge maps. Whether it’s using only a certain number of total plants in the match or starting with plants already on the field that you can’t let die, the challenge maps add a ton of replayability.

There is, however, a fine line between replayability and grinding. The one negative in PvZ 2 is that in order to advance from ancient Egypt to the pirate world and finally to the Wild West, you need to collect a certain number of stars—and these stars usually will require you to do the same story levels over and over again, collecting them one at a time. Although it’s enjoyable at first, after a while, it feels needless to constantly backtrack and retread ground, like some infuriating JRPG.

Putting that aside, though, there’s no way I can’t recommend Plants vs Zombies 2: It’s About Time if you have an iOS device. It doesn’t cost you a single cent to play, it maintains the same addictive strategy elements of the first game, and it adds a ton of new gameplay variety. If the first Plants vs. Zombies was a sensation, Plants vs. Zombies 2 may turn the franchise into a way of life.

Developer: PopCap Games • Publisher: Electronic Arts • ESRB: N/A • Release Date: 08.15.2013

PopCap maintains the addictive tower-defense gameplay and cheesy humor that made the first Plants vs. Zombies such a phenomenon, while adding a plethora of new features that ensure this game will consume every free second you have—if you let it.

The Good A near-unbelievable amount of enjoyable additions.
The Bad Can become a bit of a grind when forced to replay a lot of levels before advancing to the next world.
The Ugly Fire-breathing flowers and highly combustible zombie flesh.
Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time is currently an iOS exclusive. 

Dr. Doomed from the start

Right next to having superpowers of their own and fighting alongside their favorite characters, the next best thing for most comic-book fans would be actually assuming the role of their most beloved superheroes. Personally, I’d probably like to be one of the X-Men. Wolverine, Iceman, or Colossus, if possible—I’m not picky.

The guys and gals at Gazillion Entertainment zero in on this concept with their free-to-play PC game, Marvel Heroes. Driven by Diablo-style action-RPG mechanics, the game sees players starting off by choosing one of five heroes who most comic fans would consider B-list: Hawkeye, Storm, Scarlet Witch, Daredevil, and the Thing. By beating the game—or spending some cold, hard cash—you can unlock other heroes or purchase a variety of costumes for these characters.

Unfortunately, if you’re like me and get tempted into picking up the ’90s X-Men cartoon version of Cyclops or Wolverine after a few story chapters, you’ll soon realize that the starter characters represent core classes—and no matter what hero you choose, the powersets are basically the same, just with different animations.

Considering the differences between the heroes in the Marvel universe, this was frustrating as a fan. After all, I was willing to shell out the cash—only to find out there’s no need beyond cosmetic preferences. To add insult to injury, each purchased character starts at level 1, so if you want to immediately use them, the game recommends that you start the entire adventure over again, no matter what point you’re currently at.

A couple of saving graces here, however, are the story and comic-book-still cutscenes. Written by Marvel super-scribe Brian Michael Bendis, the tale incorporates some of Marvel’s most famous story arcs from all their major comic lines into one tidy package. The basics, though, boil down to this: Dr. Doom has a Cosmic Cube, and he feels like messing with reality, because that’s what megalomaniacal bad guys do. I’ve also got to compliment the top-notch voice acting in the cutscenes, including instantly recognizable pros like Nolan North as Deadpool, Steve Blum as Wolverine, and Keith David as Nick Fury.

After choosing your characters, it’s time to actually play the game. And by the time I got a third of the way through the campaign, I’d already grown bored. Instead of offering any kind of variety or difficulty, the game simply threw more and more enemies at me—or gave them an insane amount of health—in the hopes of slowing me down. But it’s not like I was actually doing anything. I played as Hawkeye for most of the game after wasting my money, so all I had to do was get a decent distance away, hold the Shift key in order to ground my hero, and then hold another button to attack. Sometimes two. If I played as the Hulk or Thing, the only thing that changed was my distance relative to the target. The enemy spawn times are also horribly balanced, and I’d regularly clear an area of Hand ninjas or HYDRA goons, only to have them reappear nanoseconds later.

One decent aspect of the gameplay, however, comes in the dungeons. If you turn on auto-grouping, you can enter any dungeon without the fear of being completely overwhelmed. Unlike a lot of other MMOs, when you enter a dungeon around the same time as other players, you can be automatically placed on a team with them. Of course, this can lead to the confusing dilemma of having six Hawkeyes on the same team (which happened to me a lot) and getting your particular avatar lost in the chaos, but if you’re a more introverted gamer, you don’t have to worry about pulling up an awkward chat window, begging for assistance, and dealing with complete strangers.

Normally, this is about where I’d wrap up my review, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the most disappointing aspect of my time playing Marvel Heroes: the technical side. I purposely waited as long as I did to put up my review because I was waiting to see how the game performed after some patches. While the game has seen several small patches and one major fix in the two weeks since the game went live, I’m still experiencing many gameplay-balance problems, as well as numerous technical issues.

Every 20 to 30 minutes, my game crashes or freezes for no apparent reason, and while I’ve reported this error on the technical forums, it remains unfixed after performing the recommended actions from the support staff. I’ve made sure my drivers are up to date, I’ve uninstalled and reinstalled the game launcher, and I’ve even turned down the specs to the lowest possible setting (my PC isn’t the highest-end gaming rig, but it should handle the minimum requirements no problem).

This left the support staff confounded—and me increasingly frustrated. So, I want to warn people before they play Marvel Heroes: In my experience, it just doesn’t work as well as it should. And after perusing the forums, I found that the error I encountered is actually pretty common. Then again, you get what you pay for—and the core of the game is free, after all.

So, if the game works for you perfectly, that’s great, but at the end of the day, fewer crashes still won’t make Marvel Heroes the most worthwhile of experiences unless you fall in love with its price tag.

Developer: Gazillion Entertainment • Publisher: Gazillion Entertainment • ESRB: N/A • Release Date: 06.04.13
While Marvel Heroes does some nice things, the Marvel license isn’t enough to cover up glaring technical and design flaws. As much as I wanted to like this game, I can’t recommend something that is, at its core, broken. In the end, you get what you pay for (or less, if you actually invested in this).
The Good Story that expertly reimagines some of Marvel’s greatest moments.
The Bad Constant crashing and glitches; uninspired gameplay.
The Ugly Expecting to get something for nothing—and then being surprised when what you get just isn’t that good.
Marvel Heroes is a PC exclusive. 

Make Mine Marvel

I can’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t want to be a superhero. Whether it was wielding the Hulk’s impossible strength, firing lasers from my eyes like Cyclops, or cutting things to ribbons with Wolverine’s claws, superpowers have always been at the forefront of my imagination. So, I’ll admit that I relished being able to go hands-on with Gazillion Entertainment’s upcoming free-to-play MMORPG Marvel Heroes.

The story starts off with vintage Marvel bad guy Dr. Doom getting his hands on a Cosmic Cube—and the chaos he intends to bring down upon the citizenry of the world will be significant. Therefore, Marvel’s mightiest heroes from across all major lines must come together to root out Doom and his allies. Being as obsessed with comics as I am, this story may look like it’s been done before—on the surface, anyway. But the game’s writer, Brian Michael Bendis (best known for his long run on The Avengers), is clear that it’s difficult to write for a game like this.

“The challenge was to come up with a story that hits as much architecture and landscape in the Marvel Universe as possible without it feeling too much like a knee-jerk thing,” he says. “What’s interesting about the Marvel Universe is that there are just as many interesting things going on at the street level—let’s say the Daredevil level, the Spider-Man level—as there are at the cosmic level, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Silver Surfer, the Galactus level. The cool thing—and the interesting idea for us—was to actually start the story at the ground level and kind of roll like a snowball downhill. As you discover more and more about the actual story and play through the game, you get to travel up toward the cosmic level of the Marvel universe, all the while not getting newcomers lost or confused. I looked at it like this grand opportunity to create almost like a Marvel event comic unlike anything you’d actually seen in publishing. And at the same time, create like a Marvel lifestyle product, if that makes sense. Then, there are some fans who live and breathe these characters—and are going to live and breathe this game. This is going to be, if done well, the next step of the worldwide community of comic-book fans and Marvel fans and just fans of games. To create something that really lives and breathes like the Marvel Universe for them all to live in is a real treat—and a real challenge.”

If you should live and breathe these characters, as Mr. Bendis so aptly puts it, then you’ll probably be as excited as I was to see what he was talking about. I was fortunate enough to play through three of the story’s dozen chapters; in that time, I went from Mutant Town in New York City to the Kingpin’s penthouse to the Morlock sewers to the Savage Land—hopping through some of Marvel’s most iconic locations in a way that makes sense to the story. I also took on iconic baddies like Sentinels, Mutates, A.I.M., and the Purifiers, not to mention individual supervillains like Green Goblin, Tombstone, Sauron, Bullseye, and Lady Deathstrike.

But including characters that we expect to see in a game like this isn’t going to be enough—the gameplay needs to be there, too. Fortunately, Gazillion president and COO David Brevik has a bit of experience in making games like this really shine (he created Diablo I and II, if you didn’t recognize the name).

Steering away from fully customizable avatars, Marvel Heroes wants to make you feel like those great characters we all grew up loving, so you only play as established characters from the Marvel Universe. If you want to smash with the Hulk, you can do it. If Ms. Marvel is more your thing, then no one will stop you. Or maybe purple really does it for you, so Hawkeye’s your man. If they’re a hero in the Marvel Universe, you can unlock them and play with them at some point. And if you don’t like their standard look, you’ve got a bevy of alternate costumes you can unlock—like, if you’d rather your Captain America have that 1940s helmet instead of his modern mask.

And playing with these characters feels as great as you’d expect. Setting hotkeys for special powers or just left- and right-clicking makes it so you can fire a variety of beams with Cyclops or set the world on fire however you wish with the Human Torch. It couldn’t be easier to start mowing down Mole People or putting the screws to Pyro than that.

As Brevik explains, though, you can’t just go it alone if you really want to get through the story and the inevitable expansions down the road. At times, you’ll have to team up, and Gazillion’s trying some different ways to make some of those feel more spur-of-the-moment than camping out in front of a dungeon entrance looking for help.

“We had an idea about the way that we’d like to get invites going and get people together,” he says. “We have events that are more traditional encounters, making sure that there are opportunities for people to socially get together and group up. You hang out in town, and people are like, ‘I need help with the Kingpin fight!’ or ‘Oh, I’m on that, too,’ and group up and go to this thing together. That’s something we wanted from the very beginning as part of the design. Then, we have optional grouping, which is this loose grouping out in the public combat zones. Green Goblin suddenly pops up, and then everybody can get together dynamically and work together, and everybody gets rewarded. So, there isn’t an official formalization of the grouping there. There’ll be other ways to group and other ways to do things, especially in the endgame, that I think will also play right into the kind of MMO hands that people are used to.”

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the crafting system. Going to certain characters like Forge at the X-Mansion or Hank Pym at Avengers Tower will allow players the chance to upgrade their equipment or add buffs to items like Cyclops’ visor or Deadpool’s katanas. This just gives you an even deeper connection to the experience; it hearkens back to Diablo while still featuring the Marvel flair players expect.

Marvel Heroes is shaping up as one of the more special free-to-play MMO experiences. With the power of the Marvel license, writers like Brian Michael Bendis, and David Brevik’s Diablo background, every Marvelite will likely be shouting “Excelsior!” when this game’s finally open to everyone—hopefully sometime later this year.

It’s FREE-kin’ Sweet!

Brian and Stewie’s adventures in the multiverse. Peter versus the giant chicken. The greased up deaf guy. These are just some of the hysterical moments we think of when we think of Family Guy. Now, in its 10th season and with nearly 200 episodes under it’s belt, including several seasonal and movie based spoofs, it is time for our favorite family from Quahog to invade the digital realm in a way, well, you just might not be ready for.

Family Guy Online looks to immerse you in the world of the animated sitcom in ways you never thought possible by actually putting you inside of Quahog as its newest resident alongside the Griffins. Dubbing itself a Free-to-play ‘MMLOL game’ (Massively multiplayer laugh-out-loud), you’ll get to choose from four classes stemming from the main members of the family (for a small fee you can also unlock the ‘Brian the Dog’ class). There’s the Peter class representing your tanks, the Lois class representing healers, the Meg/Chris teenager class representing your brawlers, and the Stewie class representing your rogue class. And you can customize them to look as outrageous or mundane as you want with chances to unlock more costume parts by completing quests that tie directly into the show.

And the quests are really what will make Family Guy Online stand out. Helping various characters from the show that act as your NPC quest givers, you try to impress the almighty Mayor Adam West in trying to be the best Quahog citizen possible. And if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll want to do every quest as not only does it help you towards the overall end goal of the game, but each quest has unique dialogue performed by the actual cast of the show as well clips that set up each quest to let you know just what episode this task was inspired by. Plus, Adam West serves as your overall narrator and as long as they keep making Family Guy episodes, you can bet there is a good chance to see the game expand later on.

Not to mention, it wouldn’t be Family Guy if you didn’t have insane non-sequiturs. We were able to go hands-on with the first handful of quests available in the game (including trying to set the fastest time record for catching greased up deaf guy, or just smashing Peter’s collection of Trashmen records…we get it…the bird is the word) and after getting over the fact that we were exploring locations like The Griffin’s House or The Drunken Clam, there were literally hundreds of random things in the world to interact with that had nothing to do with the task at hand, like pulling a midget from a well. Just another normal day in Quahog for sure.

What might be the nicest aspect of the game though is that even with (hopefully) a ton of other players online is that the guys from Roadhouse Interactive, the main developers behind Family Guy Online, are trying to craft a personal experience for each player as well as a social one.

“So your first quest when you enter the game is to talk to Peter Griffin. Pretty easy, I know, but we want to hand hold you a little in the beginning. But when you talk to Peter, he actually gets up and out of his lawn chair that he’s lounging in, and talks directly to you. We’re doing some pretty amazing things from a technology standpoint in terms of instantiation for gamers, so even though there are multiple people in the world who may be talking to Peter there, you’ll still see him get up and out of the chair only for you. And this is important to us because the source material, Family Guy, is so character driven. So instead of him just standing there with a question mark over his head, we created a way for the characters to react and engage you specifically and we think that will help the gamer and their created character feel important,” says Roadhouse Interactive Co-Founder and CCO Ian Verchere.

After our brief sojourn in the virtual Quahog, we sadly had to bid farewell, but what we saw had us very excited. The class system is something that MMO fans will immediately be able to recognize and the attacks fit each character class perfectly as we fought off enemies that made sense to the world and quests before us. And when you mix a great looking, fully realized 3D Quahog with solid controls and the classic humor of Family Guy, I think it’s going to be hard for fans not to embrace this digital world when the open beta launches on April 17th, especially considering its F2P status.

THE BUZZ: Newzoo, a market research group that specializes in video games, released a report yesterday that Americans are spending 24% more money on the micro transactions of free-to-play (F2P) games this year than they did in 2010.

This number equates so far to a total of $4.9 billion dollars across the nation being poured into F2P games. The report also warns via a prediction for 2012 that a time for consolidation could be at hand due to the market being saturated with high quality F2P games and that some may fold up shop before even getting started.

EGM’S TAKE: This report comes hot on the heels of the news that World of Warcraft lost 800,000 subscriptions last quarter and really seems to be painting a clear trend in the MMO market in that gamers do not want monthly fees anymore. With such high quality MMOs like FireFall, WildStar, Auto-Club Revolution, and more coming out as F2P in the coming months, it should be interesting to see just how much consolidation happens as Newzoo predicts.

It is also interesting to note that DCU Online, City of Heroes, and the soon to be re-released All Points Bulletin, games that started as subscription based, have also all switched to F2P in order to survive. It makes you wonder about games like The Secret World that have announced subscription plans at launch and if they will be able to buck this trend. You would think though EA would have learned this lesson after APB tanked last year.

What do you guys think of F2P MMOs? Are you fans? Do you prefer subscription based MMOs? What do you think of the micro transaction business model? Let us know your thoughts with comments below!