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Carbine and Zenimax rocked the world this week by announcing their games -- Wildstar and The Elder Scrolls Online, if you’ve been living under a rock -- would be adopting the subscription business model. One of the biggest shocks of the year is Crytek's announcement that it is to shift development away from traditional AAA retail games, instead embracing the emerging free-to-play market. It's a remarkable (though reversible) decision, swiftly followed by the news that its first F2P title - Warface - will be coming to Western markets after an initial release in Russia that has already attracted 2m registered users. It's a bold aspiration - to bring state-of-the-art production values and console-level investment into a release where there is no monetary barrier to entry, where the game has to survive based on optional subscriptions and micro-transactions. We played every single PvP gameplay variation and captured our adventures on the way - here's an edited highlights package showing every level and every game mode.
With no specific Western release date announced yet, we were curious as to how successful Crytek has been with its initial foray into F2P - but clearly getting access to Warface is an issue. First impressions are mostly positive, with Warface coming across very much as a console-quality multiplayer game, with robust support for both co-op and competitive modes. The PvP mode is mostly standard stuff: Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes are bolstered with King of the Hill and "Plant a Bomb" game variations, along with a Capture the Flag variant that sees a briefcase dropped into the map that players need to track down and return to base. Bearing in mind that this is a CryEngine 3 title, we were intrigued to see how the engine is deployed in Warface - after all, an F2P title by necessity needs to appeal to as many PC owners as possible, meaning that the tech needs to accommodate weaker machines as well as the more powerful. Ramping up everything to the max, Warface is an interesting experience - texture quality, object detail and effects work ramp up nicely when played in 1080p resolution, more so than on many of the PC console ports we've played - while the levels lack character in general. On top of that, the overall impression we get is that Warface's stages are using mostly pre-baked light and shadow - fine as far as it goes - and it's clear that the artists have skillfully used CryEngine 3's colour-grading tools for tweaking the look of the stages. We seem to be looking at COD-style levels of in-game physics overall - environments are essentially invulnerable to weapons fire in Warface, with breakable scenery limited to incidental objects. A range of settings are available allowing Warface to scale across a wide range of PCs - we reckon that even modern PC with integrated graphics could run this on sensible settings very nicely. Curiously there are definite diminishing returns when moving up to faster hardware - on a GTX 680 system backed by six-core i7 CPU power, we saw performance between 70-120FPS with v-sync enabled when playing on a 120Hz screen. Gameplay-wise, Warface ticks most of the boxes you'd expect from an FPS shooter, but there is a general sense that the whole game is essentially of an "above average" quality, lacking in two distinct areas: firstly, visuals and gameplay are accomplished enough but there's never any real feeling that there's anything truly special about what you're seeing and experiencing.
You may think that a lot of these elements are relatively minor and easy to tolerate factoring in that Warface is free to play and state-of-the-art in many respects - and that's fair enough.
There's nothing like COD-style Killstreaks in Warface but there are special weapons unlocked by a third currency: crowns.
Of course, changes to the game balance set-up could be implemented in the future, perhaps before you even get to play the game. But in the here and now, Warface is an intriguing curiosity: a state-of-the-art engine deliberately run at less than optimal settings in order to accommodate a broad church of PC owners, missing many of the key features we find in the latest AAA console shooters, yet still looking rather decent overall. That said, this is a first-time offering from Crytek's Kiev studio (who seem to have spent much of their previous efforts working on engine projects) and the full might of the company's established staff has yet to be deployed on an F2P project.
Follow the games you're interested in and we'll send you an email the instant we publish new articles about them. Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences. That implies budgets of between $10m to $30m - so no compromise there - but at the price-point of $0 entry," says Yerli.
Cevat Yerli also talks about the current model of premium services and DLC "milking customers to death", and here the challenge facing Crytek is even more pronounced: it has to offer value to players who've invested real money into the game without ruining the experience for the more financially challenged members of the community. Playing the game outside of its Russian base of operations is challenging: it's no problem to install the code, but the combination of no in-game English language support plus what we think is an IP lock-out makes playing the game impossible, while VPN access via a Russian server gets you into the game but with a poor quality of service.
The former (PvE, to adopt the lingo) sees gamers working as a team, moving through a mostly linear level, taking out enemy troops and occasionally engaging in pitched battles with heavily-armoured boss characters. There's even a mode equivalent to Battlefield 3's Rush, where players move from point to point through the map. To that end, there's a fairly simple graphical presets screen that allows players to adjust texture, shadow, shader and object detail levels, along with the quality of the physics simulation. More positively, ragdoll physics on the characters are fun to play with - especially when blowing away opponents from close-range with a shotgun.
Warface comes across as a game heavily inspired by the Call of Duty "twitch" school of gameplay and while tech and visuals aren't quite at true AAA quality, the game gives the appearance of punching over its weight - mostly due to the CryEngine 3 infrastructure that powers it.
V-sync limits the top-end, but the fact that frame-rate dips to that lower level on a monstrous machine like this is unexpected and a little weird.


This is a game without wonder or spectacle and lacks an inventive edge - aside from the fact that it is free to play - to set it apart from the crowd. While the visuals work well, features like destruction and animation aren't best in class, pop-in is commonplace and it's not difficult to find yourself trapped in the scenery owing to dodgy collision detection.
Clearly you do get a lot of game for your ?0 investment, but the fact is that Warface has to earn its keep, meaning that the gameplay balance is skewed towards the extraction of your hard-earned wonga one way or another.
In other areas, there's a sense that it's missing the polish required to compete with the best first-person shooters." Some snapshots of tech elements that impressed us in Warface.
This automatically gives you a 75 per cent boost to the XP and in-game credits you amass, and it transforms an infuriatingly slow level of progression into something best described as 'tolerable'. Instead, your actual money is used to buy "Kredits" which allow you to rent upgrades like enhanced weapons (for seven, 30 or 90 days depending on how much cash you sink in).
These are accrued in the co-op mode, but only if you get a high score within the top 10,000 players. You'll be needing to play the co-op 'PvE' mode to accrue the crowns necessary to rent them.
Warface isn't available to Western audiences at the moment - what you're seeing on this page is effectively a 1.0 version and there could be extensive tweaks deployed before it rolls out into new markets.
While the "pay to progress" subscription model rankles, the fact is that with astute weapon choices, you can dip into the game with zero investment and have a fun time. In a world where Crysis 2 runs nicely on integrated graphics, it's clear that Crytek has the tools and the talent to truly make a difference in the emerging F2P market. It’s easy to get drowned out arguing on forums and sub-reddits, so we step to the podium to represent your side of the issue before turning it over to you in the comments.
No problem: Digital Foundry played the game in Moscow, on a fully armed and operational 300mbps connection for the best possible experience. Sub-missions see you defending strategic points on the map, acquiring codes or blowing up scenery.
All told then, that's a fairly comprehensive list of options, equivalent to the standard AAA multiplayer mode - no cutbacks or compromises here. Low, medium and high settings are accommodated, and as the shots on the page demonstrate, the differences are easily noticeable. However, generally speaking things are rather static with very little in the way of environmental animation. That said, the juxtaposition of bright light from the sky in combination with deep black shadows suggests that HDR rendering is in effect, and the same scene also demonstrates that light-shafts have also been implemented.
Where the game scores highly is in its use of post-processing effects - motion blur in particular looks as impressive as it did in Crysis 2, particle effects work is used sparingly but effectively, while bullet ricochets from the ground and scenery look good, accompanied by small plumes of smoke.
The optimisation work Crytek carried out on CE3 pays off here - Warface plays very nicely even on mediocre PC hardware. Warface is clearly trying to tap into the Call of Duty formula, but despite running on clearly superior rendering technology, the experience doesn't seem to be quite as thrilling overall. There's also a general sense that Crytek Kiev hasn't quite got to grips with the more subtle aspects of the FPS model - for example, there's no penalty for moving into a prone position, and you can continue firing as you dive down and get up again - it's the sort of thing that can be exploited, as you'll see in the PvP video at the top of this page. Ragdoll physics can result in some amusing moments (top-left), post-processing is of a typically high CE3 standard (top-right), ricochet effects are subtle but effective (bottom-left), but vegetation is stiff and lifeless even in the middle of an intense fire-fight (bottom-right).
To put it into perspective, after our first eight hours of play, we'd unlocked two primary weapon upgrades but we simply didn't have the in-game cash to buy them - if you're serious about Warface, you're going to need that premium-level boost that only the subscription offers. A curious aspect is that these weapons aren't actually hugely more powerful than the standard guns, on paper at least - improvements to stats like damage and range are usually in the 10 per cent region, but often with drawbacks too (lower accuracy when firing from the hip, for example). Obviously this is skill-based, but breaking into that table and consistently earning crowns requires a lot of time, and clearly the strategic use of the rentable equipment will boost your earning power. Here we have two co-op campaign missions played through from start to finish for your enjoyment. Crytek is already working on integrating the game into its own GFACE social networking system for example, and having already received one major update in its current guise, it stands to reason that the game may be further iterated before we get to play it.
Only rarely did we ever feel that a combat scenario may have been unfairly skewed towards a premium player and the crown weapons seem to be rare enough that the game isn't broken because of them.
In that sense we feel some disappointment, but only really because this is a Crytek release, with all the expectations the brand brings with it.
A full class system sees assault troopers carry the most powerful weapons, with the ability to generate ammo for comrades while shotgun-wielding medics patch up the wounded. There are currently 12 PvP maps, and a rolling roster of around six PvE levels, with three different ones open each day.


This is most noticeable with vegetation, which looks stiff and unnatural - somewhat surprising bearing in mind Crytek's standards-setting work here in Crysis. An ambient occlusion implementation also serves to give an extra layer of depth to the scene. At 1366x768 with max settings engaged on a very complex map, frame-rates rate between 45 to 60FPS on a dual-core PC with an aged GeForce GTS 250 graphics card. Also, as many of the maps feature relatively confined spaces, the shotgun becomes the weapon of choice for one-shot kills. However, other rentable equipment has clear gameplay advantages: helmets can allow you to survive headshots or they can stop you being blinded by flashbangs, while boots allow you to run faster.
Crown weapons can be used in both PvE and PvP modes, and they are supremely powerful - offering a good 2.5x boost in all categories over the standard weapons. Indeed, we get the impression that they're serious tools for serious players and saved for showcase events rather than being "wasted" on gunning down newbies with gay abandon. This is clearly a decent release worth spending some time with, but it doesn't seem to quite fit with the "Maximum Game" ethos on which the studio made its name.
Animation in general - especially on the characters - also seems lacking compared to the latest Call of Duty and Battlefield titles, but is decent enough. Dial back the settings and we're sure that even integrated graphics could pull this one off. They're useable in all gameplay variations, effectively making a competent player into an omnipotent one while the weapon lasts - crown weapons are hired for one or seven days. It removes the biggest barrier to entry and let’s gamers choose how much a game is worth.
When publishers set reasonable expectations and design for them, they can support quality games that stand the test of time. The market for the MMORPG, however much it grew when players discovered Azeroth, is still finite.
Look at our Game List on the website, and tell me if even one-tenth of those games are something you’d consider paying money for. The free-to-play model is stuck in a catch-22: players need to use the store to keep the game running but to get players in the first place the store it has to be ignorable at the same time.
Is it any wonder so much design time gets spent away from the actual game?Bill: Just as there are games that do the F2P model badly, there are those who do it well and without beating you over the head with their store. Free-to-play suffers because players are made into repeat multi-stop spenders instead of one-time payers already bought-in. For F2P games, it’s getting you to buy little things here or there on a repeat basis. For subscription games, and no one can deny this is true of the MMO genre at large I suppose, it’s all about getting players to subscribe for as long as possible through any means necessary. Subscription games will stretch out the amount of time it takes to get things done in their game in order to keep you playing.
Players in free-to-play MMOs are far more likely to disappear overnight, leaving servers, guilds, and individual players in constant revolving door status.
I would also submit that the sense of commitment from a recurring payment is anything but bad!
It’s true that the time-rich will always be able to accomplish more -- but that is as it should be.
But then everyone has that opportunity without bringing immersion shattering payouts into the mix.
You’ve recently admitted to greatly enjoying Guild Wars 2 these days after initially being turned off by the game.
But I’d argue that as players we should be looking towards the good models, and supporting them as much as we support the tried and true subscription. Because frankly, for all of these AAA MMOs to thrive and for us to keep getting games we care about, everyone needs some measure of success.



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