Free to play games are certainly a market that seems to have grown huge over the past year or two. The games range from mindless puzzle games like Candy Crush to deeply complex MOBA’s such as League of Legends. However, often times free to play games are just poorly designed or are so entrenched with microtransactions that they become just bad. Loadout, thankfully, is neither of these things.
Loadout is, in general, a fairly simple game. It’s all about fast-paced competitive multiplayer action. Teams are small – 4 on 4 – and respawns are quick. The draw of Loadout is the almost endless combinations of weapons that can be constructed and used in any of the game’s modes. Unlike other shooters with strong customization, a single change of an item on your gun can greatly affect how your gun feels and performs on the battlefield.
The matches themselves are really a lot of fun when everything clicks. You fight from a third person perspective with floaty jumping and a dodge mechanic, which means that mobility and aim are pretty big factors to success and most of the levels have verticality to them. Obviously the biggest factor is your weapon itself and it will take a lot of playing around and testing to find the perfect weapon. You can also take two different weapons into every match so you can easily meld what you carry to fit your play style perfectly.
Graphically Loadout seems like it takes a large amount of influence from Team Fortress 2 but it definitely changes it up enough to feel unique. There are three different character models – who are also incredibly customizable – that feel very cartoon-like and goofy. But unlike Team Fortress 2, Loadout definitely skews much more mature, with deaths resulting in missing limbs, gushing blood, charred skin and much more. Thanks to the light-hearted nature of the characters and graphics it feels silly rather than gory.
Loadout also seems to take hints from Team Fortress in how it plays. There are no classes but with the amount of customizable weapons available, you can easily create any type of class including snipers, grenadiers and even healers. You also have an equipment slot which can give you an extra shield, health packs to drop or even a disguise.
How you go about upgrading and creating your weapons is easily the best part of Loadout. At the beginning of the game you have only a few options unlocked for each of the four weapon types: Rifle, Beam, Launcher and Pulse. As you purchase new modifications for each type you unlock further options in an RTS style tech tree. Each addition costs a certain amount of Blutes, Loadout’s regular currency that you win healthy amounts of with each match.
Each change to your weapon is going to affect things like damage, rate of fire, reload time and so forth. Before you actually spend any hard earned Blutes on an item, you can take your gun to a test range to see firsthand how it feels. The only real drawback is that most of the time this short test usually isn’t enough to truly see how your gun will perform. Several times I found myself with a gun that felt good while testing it but it did not actually perform well in a live match. Sure it might take some grinding to earn enough Blutes to get that awesome gun, and sometimes you might spend Blutes on a weapon modification that you end up hating, but overall the way the gun system works is awesome and the various types of weapons you can create is impressive.
You will also likely need to switch out your weapons depending on what type of game mode you play. The game modes are pretty standard fare but thanks to the weapons and the action each mode is tons of fun. In Death Snatch you have to grab a canister from each dead body to score a point. Jackhammer is capture the flag except that every kill you get with the hammer increases the amount of points you get when you capture it. Blitz asks players to gain control of a single point on the map at a time but it jumps around wildly each time. Extraction is the most unique in that it tasks one player to collect minerals while the rest either defend that player from the other team or try to assassinate the enemy collector.
Those are the modes that the game divides into the “Casual” playlist. This is intended as the starting point and can either be played against humans or even in co-op against AI bots. However the main draw of the game is clearly Annihilation, which is split out into its own playlist. Annihilation is essentially a third person shooter version of a MOBA. It mixes elements of Death Snatch, Blitz and Jackhammer together to create one ultimate game mode. The goal is similar to Jackhammer but as you kill enemies you earn in-game Blutes that allow you to rank up your character in either health, damage or healing ability. There are also control points on the map that will earn your team a constant stream of Blutes if you capture them. Once a team earns enough points, the enemy’s base is exposed. Then it’s required that you to steal the hammer, bring it back to your base to charge up only to redeliver it back to the enemy base to deal the final, explosive blow.
Annihilation is fun in that it adds an extra layer of complexity onto the other modes but it doesn’t necessarily add quite enough to really make it really unique. Not to say that it’s bad; it’s just that all of the modes are really fun, so much in fact that Annihilation doesn’t necessarily stand out.
While Loadout is now officially in full release, unfortunately it is pretty clear that the game was not ready for the surge of players that hit the game as it exited Beta. Due to server problem,s Annihilation mode was temporarily removed as well as all forms of a private matches and a party system. As of this writing, the party system has returned but Annihilation is still absent. There is also a spot for custom matches but that option is sitting behind a “Coming Soon” message right now.
Another matchmaking issue that has cropped up often is a match starting with unbalanced teams. In the Casual playlist this usually evens itself out as more players join but in Annihilation the teams appear locked, which means that you can easily find yourself in a nasty 3 on 4 or even a 2 on 4 beatdown. If you try to quit a slaughter such as this, the game refuses to let you join another matc. Instead it forces you to rejoin the match you quit or wait until it has finished.
The last thing that you need to know about any free to play game is how monetization works. Loadout handles this incredibly well. All player customization is handled through microtransactions by purchasing Spacebux, the game’s tongue-in cheek premium currency. You can also (very rarely) get a customization item through the game’s daily giveway for the first match you play each day but other than that, you’ll have to buy them. You can also use Spacebux to unlock more weapon slots or loadouts; ranking up only gives you three loadout slots and six gun slots, any more and you’ll have to pay. You can also buy double experience or double Blutes boosters that last anywhere from a day to two weeks but you will still have to play the game to actually earn Blutes and experience.
It’s easy to recommend that people check out Loadout due to the fact that it’s free. While some issues have left the game absent of some of the main modes, what’s left over is still a blast to play. Plus, despite the issues that are going on behind the scenes, the game runs smooth and I never ran into any problems with lost connections or lag. Most of all, Loadout feels like a high quality, fun game. It doesn’t really feel like a free to play game and that, perhaps, is the highest praise a free to play game can hope to attain.
SCORE: 8.0 out of 10
An early access code of Loadout was provided to Pixel Related for review.