Battleswarm: Field of Honor is a Chinese-developed war game that blends both real-time strategy and first-person shooter genres. The catch is you have to pick which genre you can win with.
Another catch to Battleswarm is its pay-to-play system called MetaTix—the latest endeavour of former Atari headman Nolan Bushnell, plus Mark Hood and Mike Williams of Reality Gap. It's basically a micro-transaction system that uses small payment increments (i.e. pennies instead of dollars) that supposedly lowers the gamer's natural aversion to entering credit card information and reduces the risk for developers to try new and weird ideas.
Like Battleswarm, it's kind of new and weird.
What Is It? Battleswarm: Field of Honor is a war game where two factions fight for control of various maps. The human faction functions like an FPS with an alternate third-person shooter view. The insect faction works like an RTS with the ability to zoom in to almost third-person action view. On each map, players can accept missions (like kill X amount of Y) to win special items that they can then use or sell in the consignment shop (which costs MetaTix) and the overall goal is the level up and graduate to the expert server.
What We Saw Christopher Mahnken, Senior Producer at Reality Gap gave me a crash course on MetaTix, the store system and both factions before turning me loose for a rookie match. I chose the insect faction because I heart RTS games.
How Far Along Is It? The game will enter open beta next week and go live sometime in September.
What Needs Improvement? Steep Learning Curve For The RTS Faction: Not to knock on the complexity of shooters, but strategy games typically have a steeper learning curve. This is especially true in Battleswarm because the RTS faction doesn't function the way many contemporary RTS games do—there's no base to level up, no resource points to whore and the map is entirely visible to both factions at all times, so scouting is a waste of units. The only constraints to work around are the unit number caps (e.g. 200 on the field at one time) and the geography of the maps which sometimes creates good choke points. It takes some getting used to even if you are an RTS buff.
Concept of Ownership: You don't buy weapons and keep them in Battleswarm—you lease them and then customise them with chips that you find or earn in the game (which revert to you when the lease on the weapon is up(. Something about this bugs me because even though I have proof levelling through the chips, I don't feel like I own my equipment. That could just be a weird nuance of mine, however; there may be some merit to a system where you can rent only what you need for a certain map. Time will tell.
What Should Stay The Same? Crazy-Intimidating FPS View: The human faction plays like a typical first person shooter, but there's something to be said for having an entire horde of insects around you, battering you and shooting you with green slime. The screen turns red and a blood splatter effect obscures the screen the closer you get to death—and still the bugs keep on coming and the satisfaction of killing on is hollow because you know it's not your opponent. It's just a piece of his enormous horde. The overall effect is visually overwhelming and somewhat different than dying in other shooters.
Interesting Concept That Could Go Somewhere: It seems to me like the developer deliberately kept the RTS and FPS gameplay on the shallow side so that every gamer could go back and forth between the two factions. Also, it probably helped them balance the factions by not giving the RTS faction too much to babysit and not giving the FPS faction too many ways to kill. However, it would be interesting to see what would happen if a higher level RTS faction where bases and resources points were in play fared against a more complex shooter faction that had a cover system and so forth.
Final Thoughts Micro-transactions make me uncomfortable only because there's an assumption with pay-to-play games that the richest gamer will automatically be the best. Mahnken heard as much from playtest users and even gave one a ton of MetaTix to see if that user would prove the point—but he says it's just not true of Battleswarm. The smarter players are the better ones, he said, and there's nothing in the game you can't buy with gold as well as MetaTix.