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State Of The Game: Robocraft

State Of The Game is a new series we’re launching here on aybonline.com, to cover games that defy the normal reviewing process.

Titles like Dota 2, World of Warcraft, and CS:GO evolve constantly, making a release-date review less and less useful as time goes on. Instead, we’ll periodically check in on them, to provide our take on what’s happening with the game and whether it’s worth your time at the moment.

This month, Jesse Mackenzie kicks us off by talking about Robocraft, a free-to-play title currently in Early Access on Steam.

A big Squirtle statue with guns on it. No, we're not kidding.

One of these days, I’ll figure out why we insist on calling everything “-craft”. Anyway!

HOW IT PLAYS

In Robocraft, you build your own tank and wreck face with it. Or a plasma bomber. Or a railgun sniper with crab legs that clings to walls. Or a big damn Squirtle statue with guns on it. It’s up to you.

The deal with Robocraft is, you spend time building the perfect robot in your garage, then you take it out into battles with other players. Kill everyone on the other team, or capture their point before they capture yours, and you win. You get Repair Points and Tech Points to spend on building better robots, you soup up your robot a little more, rinse and repeat. First victory of the day for each garage slot will net you double the points.

The voxel blocks that will make up most of your robot allow for a lot of flexibility and creativity. Cubes, prisms, tetras, and “inners” give you enough options to build basically anything. As you spend Tech Points to unlock more blocks in the Tech Tree, you’ll get access to better and better blocks—and different blocks, too, like electroplates that give you boatloads of armour, the aforementioned crab legs, wings and hover blades and healing nanolasers and radar jammers and some crazy frickin’ guns. The options are endless—until you run into your CPU limit, which rises with your player level. The higher-tier the block, the more CPU it’ll eat up. Balance it out effectively, and you’ve got yourself a robot that’ll make your enemies wish for ray-hee-ain on their wedding day.

When you get out into the maps, you’ll see a lot of robots fall into a few basic types. High-flying plasma bombers, low-profile SMG gunbeds, and hovering healer drones are some of the more common ones. But there’s always a sense of discovery when you come across a new design and think, “Damn, I wish I’d thought of that!”

Right now, there’s three main gameplay modes—the capture-the-point/deathmatch combo I mentioned above, called “Classic”; a MOBA-like “Battle” mode where you capture towers before assaulting the enemy base, and the “Megaboss Battle” where a swarm of low-tier robots gang up on a few high-tier bots and try to take them out.

There’s an excellent rock-paper-scissors interaction between the different types of guns, and when you combine that with the infinity of player-designed robots you’ll be up against, it stays pretty fresh. The netcode’s solid and there’s no trouble finding players. Cheaters used to be somewhat common, but developer FreeJam has implemented EasyAntiCheat on their servers, and that seems to have cut out a lot of the chaff. Graphics are raw, but well-built, with little clipping or tearing. All in all, really damn solid for something that’s still in Early Access.

HOW IT PAYS

Galaxy Cash is the in-game currency, and it does affect gameplay—though not in quite the way you might think.

Here’s what you can spend Galaxy Cash on: “Premium” gameplay time (more on this later), new blocks both cosmetic and functional, pre-designed robots from FreeJam (with a bunch of included bonuses—another garage space, more blocks, and CPU increases and Premium time at the higher tiers), garage spaces for more robots, and converting your Tech Points into “Uber Tech Points” that can be used to unlock blocks of any tier you have access to.

Here’s what you can’t spend Galaxy Cash on: acquiring Tech Points.

And that’s the bottleneck on paper. Tech Points are how you unlock new blocks to buy, and the only way you can get those is killing other players in matches. If you’re going to make the choice FreeJam did and allow money to be spent on acquiring raw blocks, I think making Tech Points your gameplay bottleneck is a pretty reasonable way of countering pay-to-win.

I also have to give them credit for what they’ve done with Premium time. You can buy Premium time directly, or receive it as a bonus when you buy some of the more expensive robot designs. Premium does two things: it doubles the Repair Points and Tech Points you receive, and every player will get a 5% bonus to their RP and TP for every Premium player they’re in a match with. So if you’re in a match with five Premium players, you get a 25% bonus to your RP and TP without paying a cent. (They get 125% bonuses, but hey—save the whales, right?) It’s a very direct way of “spreading the love”, and it works very well in practice.

A plasma tank fires on a nearly-destroyed enemy robot in Robocraft.

THE VERDICT

I know this has been practically a puff piece for Robocraft so far, and I’m gonna straight-up say that it’s worth your time to check out. There’s one thing I’m not a fan of, though, and it’s this: spending money can allow you to completely skip grinding through lower tiers, instead of simply making it quicker to do so.

If you want, you can buy yourself a nice supply of Galaxy Cash, build yourself a low-tier robot with higher-tier guns on it, go pseudo-smurfing in the lower tiers to build up raw Tech Points, then spend your GC to convert them to Uber Tech Points (which can be applied to any tier of technology) and unlock everything quickly. Rinse and repeat.

I don’t like that the game opens that up for you. It can make for an unfun experience in the lower tiers if you happen to find yourself matched up against a few savvy veterans squeezing themselves down into overpowered robots that’ll rip anything apart. Of course, the reverse is also true — if you’ve got a smurfer on your team, you’ll probably have a blast.

With that said, it’s one of the absolute best titles in Early Access and FreeJam seem to be handling it well, so I’m excited to see what they’ve got planned. Go check it out!

Jesse has logged 120+ hours in Robocraft as of this writing.

Jesse Mackenzie is the Managing Editor for aybonline.com. He often writes while listening to the gentle hum of Star Trek engine cores. His opinions are his own.

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