Loadout preview: A million possibilities

By Steve Watts, Sep 17, 2012 11:30am PDT

Loadout is about weaponry, but it isn't aiming for verisimilitude or wacky cartoon-inspired guns. Edge of Reality's free-to-play shooter instead carries a unique hook in its modular weaponry, resulting in roughly two million possible combinations so far. The craft is just as important as the battlefield, making for a shooter that captures that elusive tinkering quality.

Visually, the game shares some traits with shooters like Team Fortress 2 or Super Monday Night Combat, but the game isn't class-based. The characters all have the same bulk, the same movement attributes, and so on. The difference is in the weapons, and it all starts with the workbench.

While the game lacks specific classes, building a perfect weapon to customize your play style works very similarly. You can choose from a variety of weapon attributes--slug, fire, ice, healing--and then choose ammo types, sights, and other attachments to alter the weapon's behavior.

I wanted to wade in gently as a support member, so I toyed with the healing options. Healing could be delivered with a beam, bullets, or even a guided rocket. The latter option is an excellent choice for keeping out of the fray while taking care of teammates. Each weapon can be tested and named for quick reference. I decided on a quad-barrel rocket launcher with a healing attribute, which meant I was able to fire off large doses of healing -- even at myself -- with relative ease. This let me stay in the thick of the action, alternating between firing at my feet to heal myself and outward to help teammates.

Those rockets could have been any other ammo type, but each weapon attribute has its counterbalance. Since it can be used as a standard ammo type, the guided rocket may seem overpowered. But it's also noisy and slow-moving, and therefore prone to being shot out of the sky. Weapons with more risk make for greater rewards. I could use a second weapon as well, along with grenades and melee, but mostly leaned on my healing abilities.

With all these modular parts in play, balance is a hefty task. The team acknowledges that it's a task that won't ever be done, since any new piece can create several new combinations. But so far, no one weapon seemed to dominate the others, and a testing field made it easy to see the inherent advantages and disadvantages of each of my builds.

The currently-running closed beta is aimed at ironing out the kinks. Edge of Reality is keeping it small, only inviting about 500 members per week. The game hasn't even hinted at how it will make money yet, though I was told that everything will be available simply by playing the game.

Loadout was one of the more modest games at PAX this year, and it's facing an uphill battle. The shooter genre is crowded as it is. Even its name might have difficulty getting attention, since the generic term is used so often in reference to other games. But it blends the unique satisfaction that comes from crafting and experimentation into a shooter, and that made it stand out even amid the bustling show floor. Its hook is clever, and it deserves more attention as it heads toward a full release.

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