Last week I examined EA/DICE's free to play FPS 'Battlefield Heroes' (http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/JustinNearing/20100203/4315/Battlefield_Heroes_A_Review.php). This week I take a look at some of the competition: Nexon's free-to-play shooter 'Combat Arms.' How does it stack up against Heroes? I'll let you be the judge:
What is it?
Combat Arms is a free-to-play first-person-shooter from Korean publisher Nexon. It mixes design standards from several existing FPS games to create a fast-paced, skill-based PC game. Nexon has been a dominant force in the free-to-play market, and will be a source of inspiration as the west shifts to a similar business model.
Things I Liked:
Ability to jump right into gameplay: No unnecessary wait times, just choose a lobby and away you go. Theres no tacked on story, no unnecessary tutorials, just the shortest path of resistance from launch to gameplay.
Customizable character: Almost every item you buy for your character affects gameplay. Not only does it affect gameplay, but there are different items for different play types. For example, light vests increase a players speed, giving them an advantage in Capture the Flag matches or for getting away from the enemy. Alternatively, heavy vests increase the armor and decreases speed, giving snipers an advantage or people who tend to take a lot of damage. The important thing to take from this is the fact that there are different items for different playtypes. Additionally, as you rank, new items are unlocked, rewarding players for continuing playing.
Cost of Items to Amount of Money Earned: At first I was going to put this as a negative, as the amount of money earned per match seems to be less than the cost of my weapons and gear. Then I realized how brilliant this system is: A new player can earn enough money to buy their favourite guns and continue to earn a profit. But as the player becomes more in tune with the game, they start to buy helmets, vests, uniforms, backpacks- soon the amount of money earned just isn’t enough. When the player runs out of money, they still want all the cool gear, and that’s where the Nexon points come into play. The player will pay real money for an influx of points, turning a profit for Nexon.
Level Design: The maps in Combat Arms are some of the most well designed I have ever seen in a shooter of its type. I would go so far as to say its better than some of todays current leading shooters. There are several reasons why:
1. All play types satisfied: The maps in Combat Arms are tailored towards both snipers and rushers. In every map there are prime sniper locations, with covered areas and escape routes if they’re spotted. On the other hand, players are able to go anywhere running at full speed. There are few areas where the player is actually blocked, or have to go around or backtrack. The player can constantly move without anything in the world blocking their path.
2. All the maps are in different locations. Each map has its own distinct location and feel, avoiding the feeling that all maps look/feel the same.
3. Each map usually has a distinct feature that sets its design apart from the other maps. The rooftops on Waverider, or the plane on Brushwood is a good example of this. This is really important for the replayability of the maps. Because each one is different, yet well balanced, it avoids the problem seen in some shooters where players only play on one or two maps over and over again.
Things I disliked:
Spawn Camping: Most of the time in the game the teams are unbalanced. A few really good players will be on one team, completely dominating the other. This usually translates to a few players camping right outside the other teams spawn point, killing all users stuck in the bottleneck.
Hacker Heaven: Hackers can get away with murder in the game (pun intended), and Nexon doesn’t seem to care. Nothing ruins a game experience worse than some guy with super auto-aim on running around killing an entire team. Also, there are several ‘glitches’ that can be pulled off in the game, where users can get out of the map or embedded in a building, where they are then unable to be killed.
Wait For It: Kills don’t count until the end of the round. Im not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, but I dislike the fact that I have to wait until I finish a round in order for the money and experience to take effect. I would rather you get kills and XP in real-time- which opens doors to get an XP multiplier for double kills/multi kills/ etc. Multikills don’t really matter outside proving you are good at the game. It would be better if they affected gameplay somehow, such as rewarding the player with extra money/experience. Validating the players skill (and not punishing for lack there of) is important for player retention.
Things to take away from Combat Arms:
- Instant Action: Player can get into the game quickly and efficiently, without the game holding their hand or forcing some tutorial on them. Players are dropped into the world and can easily figure out what to do.
- Different items for different play types: Having items that affect gameplay differently can add variety to a game, and is important for player retention.
- Balanced Teams: If your game has any team based game modes, make sure that there is some kind of balancing function, as well as kick player functionality for cheaters, glitchers, and trolls. Its surprisingly easy for one person to ruin the experience of everyone else in the game. Giving some kind of control to the majority of players ensures that all players are getting the best user experience.
- Offer Quality Gameplay Even Though it's free: This is the only way a player will pay real money for upgrades and special items. Also make sure that you give the player a taste of the good stuff, before taking it away. This will make player more willing to pay real money for in-game items.
- Know Your Audience, Tailor to It: Combat Arms unapologetically rips all the fun features from every FPS ever made and mashes them together in one free-to-play game. The game is made for hardcore FPS fans and is marketed to hardcore FPS fans.
Nexon is one of the premier free-to-play developer/publisher in the world, and with games like Combat Armsit's easy to see why. With Combat Arms, they’ve created a solid game, created with an identifiable and marketable audience in mind. However, even with their strong core gameplay, they haven’t seemed to adopted a Games as a Service mentality. You have to keep supporting the game- fixing issues, tweaking gameplay, adding features based on what the community is requesting. Either way, Combat Arms is a great example of a Free-to-Play game.