GDC 2013: The free-to-play ‘Loadout’ is worth every penny (and quite a few more)

Loadout GDC

A multiplayer-focused shooter needs to do something that makes it stand out. Austin-based developer Edge of Reality understands this, and has spent much of the past two years spit-shining the free-to-play Loadout for an audience that isn’t easily dazzled. It shows, as we learned from a sitdown with the free-to-play third-person shooter at the 2013 Game Developer’s Conference.

The principal hook in Loadout that promises to keep players coming back is an insanely elaborate weapon crafting system. Starting with a basic chassis that determines the overall makeup of the thing, players cobble together killing tools of their own out of a basic set of parts. You can then equip your creations in a loadout and carry them into battle.

It all starts with a chassis, which determines the basic “type” of firearm you’re working with. Will you fire bullets or rockets? Sustained beams or energy pulses? The chassis that you settle on determines what other components you can tweak, such as the stock, sights, trigger, barrel, or projectile type.

Each choice confers different effects and there’s a neat “Test” option that allows you to try out your creation in a live-fire environment before finishing it off. The whole interface feels a bit like Ghost Recon: Future Soldier‘s Gunsmith customization menu, only you’ve got a much wider range of options to work with in Loadout. A similarly elaboration customization menu allows for cosmetic alterations to your character, covering everything from clothing and accessories to taunts.

Loadout GDC 2

The slickness of the customization interface carries over into the game as well. Loadout‘s third person action seems to take a page of inspiration from Team Fortress 2, particularly in the exaggeratedly beefy avatars that you trot into battle. The environments are similarly colorful, avoiding the drab military browns and greens that you’d typically expect to see in a multiplayer shooter

What really stands out about Loadout, however, is the overall presentation. Edge of Reality built a nasty little engine for this game from scratch and everything you see drips with quality and fresh ideas. Take Jackhammer, the game’s capture the flag mode. Two teams compete to grab the enemy’s flag and carry it back to home base, same as it ever was, though flag-holders enjoy an added bonus: the “flag” is actually an electrically charged hammer (think Halo‘s gravity hammer). The more kills you can score with the it, the higher your team’s point reward is when you get the flag to your base.

Even small details stand out. Characters take visible damage as you wound them, depending on the weapon you’re wielding. Bullets will carve bits and pieces of skin off of exposed extremities, leaving muscle and even bone fully exposed. This works in reverse as well, with support tools – be they health pick-ups or custom-designed healing “weapons” – visibly patching up the damage.

Loadout is one of those top-quality F2P offerings that we’ve been seeing more and more of lately. We’ll be participating in the beta – which should be opening up wider very soon – and bringing additional insights in the near future. This is definitely one you’ll want to watch for though.