The concept of a free to play game is nothing new, you pay nothing to get through the door but are instead presented with an experience rife with adverts or one with the pacing slowed which can be remedied through micro transactions, sometimes both. That’s not to say F2P can’t be done well, where loot/currency is mostly, if not entirely cosmetic and this can be unlocked either through playing the game and acquiring said loot through gameplay, or via a (preferably small) payment if you don’t want to wait for the item. However, you’ll be lucky to find an F2P game that comes close to fulfilling these categories as they are few and far between.
A considerable proportion of F2P games follow some variation of the above models so it is now considered noteworthy when a game tries to mix up the traditional F2P format and make it more appealing. Today we are going to look at one such game that tries to do so and in the process made me very angry, namely Battlecrew: Space Pirates. The game is an Awesomenauts style PVP combat game, available now via Steam sitting at a “mixed” 62% review score and has 2 monetary tiers, a free version and a £6.99 “Unlimited” version. Whilst this is nothing revolutionary, see Brawlhalla, the difference here is that Battlecrew hides not characters, but actual gameplay features behind its paywall.
If you are unwilling to proffer the £7 for the unlimited mode, you are presented with what is a multiplayer game that you cannot play with your friends through any means other than blind luck whilst matchmaking. Yes, I’m serious, you can’t play with friends until you pay. And you ALL have to pay, don’t think you can get around it by having one poor sod in your group pay, for as the steam page for the unlimited edition states; “You will be able to create crews and invite friends or be invited”. So that means that if you haven’t bought the game then tough luck boyo, even the ones who coughed up the money can’t invite you to play with them. The store page for the game also touts the 18 “unique maps” offered, 9 for each game mode (oh yes, there are only 2 game modes, and that’s in both versions). However, several reviews are suggesting that only a handful of that number of maps are available in the free version, they may, of course, be wrong, but I have not played enough to either confirm or deny as such.
You might think that this is ridiculous enough, not being able to play with your friends and with not much room for variety in gameplay, but it gets worse! As a free player, you are given 5 coins at the start of every day, these coins are used to get into games, with each game played costing 1 coin. More coins can be acquired of course, but only through micro transactions, meaning that if you can’t or won’t pay then you can only play 5 [very laggy] games every 24 hours. That is if you can even get into a game, with servers emptier than Cincinnati Zoo’s sales ledger post-Harambe it is very difficult for a game to get going and can result in terribly imbalanced teams, especially in the 4V4 mode. With all the preceding in mind and still somehow sounding like a tantalizing prospect, you’d think that the Unlimited edition would contain all the content of the game, with everything unlocked and available to be accessed from the get-go. You’d be wrong in that assumption as skins and trails for the [only] 4 playable characters are locked behind, guess what, more micro transactions or a nice bundle costing £11… A whole £4 more than the paid version of the game… While I said at the start of this piece that cosmetic micro transactions are okay, I take exception in this instance when they are gated behind micro payments or a bundle even after forking out money for the whole game.
Whether or not this game was sold this way with intention good or ill, it was certainly the wrong way to do it, reviews of the game on steam attest to that with many decrying the free versions glaring missteps. It feels like a game that could’ve been something much better, with a strong art style and if the servers were more reliable, quite nice gameplay. As it stands it feels like a missed opportunity and one that will not stand the test of time, all thanks to the F2P model they chose to implement.