Tag Archives: free to play

Thoughts: Hawken.


I’ve reviewed a fair few free-to-play titles on this blog over the last couple of years. Planetside 2, Tribes: Ascend, Mechwarrior Online, War Thunder, Hearthstone – no matter how grindy or grasping their economies turned out to be, what these games all had in common was an engaging core experience. Any one of them was a game I’d have been happy to sink a large quantity of my free time into on the basis that playing it, even without paying for it, was just so damn fun. This is the key to PC free-to-play: you have to make that core gameplay element – the one that exists outside of the level treadmill and continual trickle-trickle of soft and hard currency that forms the cornerstone of any F2P economy – fun for everyone who plays it, not just those who have paid money. If people are having fun, and spending a lot of time in your game as a consequence, then spending money on it will seem like the most natural thing in the world. Each of the above games (with the possible exception of Tribes: Ascend) grasped this concept, and grasped it well. Along with World of Tanks they convinced me that PC free-to-play was a viable model for both players and developers who weren’t Valve, and since then I’ve been happy to give other free-to-play games a spin without any prejudice whatsoever in the hopes that they’ll provide me with even a fraction of the fun that their predecessors did. This is how I came to play Hawken, and after several hours with it I kind of wish I hadn’t.

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Thoughts: War Thunder.


I cannot figure War Thunder out for the life of me. It’s a pseudo-arcadey free-to-play game in the vein of World of Tanks, except in this one you fly a variety of WW2-era aeroplanes around maps that are unfailingly gorgeous trying to shoot down the opposition and bomb enemy ground targets. It’s also a grognardy1 dogfighting simulator where you have to worry about altitude and air speed and the actual combat part is limited to split-second high velocity diving gun runs at enemy aircraft. Each is accessed through a different game mode, and how they’ve ended up being so wildly different despite using exactly the same engine and the same assets is worth taking a closer look at.

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  1. If you’ve never come across this term before, it’s usually used to refer to the sort of wargame player who values historical verisimilitude more than they do simplicity or ease of play and inevitably ends up buried under a mountain of unit counters festooned with NATO symbols.
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Thoughts: MechWarrior Online.


The best thing about MechWarrior Online is the startup routine your pilot goes through every time they enter a match. When it begins you’re treated to a first-person view of the cockpit interior of your unpowered mech, with no HUD or other visual accoutrements apart from a pair of hands pushing buttons, flipping switches and even test-waggling the control stick while a calm, computerised voice intones the following:

“Reactor: Online. Sensors: Online. Weapons: Online.”

All systems nominal.”

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Thoughts: Tribes Ascend.

Ever heard of a Skinner box? You must have at some point; it’s one of those behavioural experiments where an animal is taught to perform a certain action – usually very basic, like pressing a switch — in return for a simple reward such as food. I’ve drawn unflattering comparisons between Skinner boxes and the mechanics of several of the games I’ve reviewed this year, and nowhere is it more apt than in the case of Tribes Ascend. Nowhere is it more regrettable, either, because staggering beneath the weight of the enormous piles of equipment unlocks and the experience point grinds required to obtain them is an extremely competent multiplayer shooter that’s struggling to escape the shadow of its free-to-play genetics.

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