Eurogamer Expo 2012: Warface hands-on and Interview
There was a palpable buzz of excitement around Crytek’s Warface booth at Eurogamer Expo 2012; one I gathered was for two reasons after chatting to some of the attendee’s: Firstly, this was one of Warface’s first playable showings in the west, which made it stand out against many of the re-hashed demo’s that have already been playable elsewhere at earlier expo’s this year. And secondly, people were extremely interested to see exactly what a free to play shooter from the house of graphically bleeding edge FPS’s looks, plays and feels like. As one particularly excitable attendee rhetorically put it – “It’s free Crytek braw, what could be bad about that?”
My time with the demo was a simple short 8v8 team deathmatch, but it’s illuminating just how much I gleamed about the game during that short play session. Warface is a near future class based online military shooter, allowing you to take on the role of a rifleman, a medic, an engineer or a sniper. It’s also, clearly, a little more of a graphically subdued affair than Crytek’s nanosuit powered franchise.
“So the tech line that we have is Crytek quality for everyone, which sounds really marketing claimy, but it’s really something that we feel strongly about because the idea is that we remove every potential barrier that we have, starting with the hardware requirements.” Warface west producer Peter Holzapfel told me about Crytek’s philosophy as we chatted behind the main exhibition hall of Eurogamer Expo 2012. Holzapfel nonchalantly puffed on a cigarette as he replied, clearly composed and used to talking about the game by now.
“We’ve really worked insanely hard to optimise the engine, and we already did that for Crysis 2 porting it onto consoles, but we’ve taken it to the next level with Warface. Also, because Warface is a global brand, and we’re already live in Russia we’re going to launch in China and we’re going to launch in Korea, in some of those areas obviously the minimum hardware specs are a bit lower than in western territories, so we’re trying to widen the audience as much as possible in all the areas.”
It’s something that shows in Warface’s visuals. This isn’t quite the GPU melting experience you might have expected from the creators of Crysis, but that’s shallow criticism because by any other industry standard Warface still looks great, and not just ‘great for a free to play shooter’, great for a triple-A shooter. The industrial storage facility map that I played was geometrically simple but it still had highly detailed texture work and beautiful lighting. As Peter put it – “It’s still CryEngine 3.”
It’s also abundantly clear just how accessible the game is: I managed to reach a 5 run kill-streak after a few minutes of play, a feat I’m yet to achieve on any Call of Duty, and judging by some of the pre-match banter, many of my opponents were far superior FPS player than me. Accessibility, Holzapfel explained, was a big mantra of Crytek Kiev’s when developing Warface, not only on the technical side, but throughout the overall experience.
“So, on the competitive side again there are a lot of maps there that are very easy to read and if you know how to play shooters you will find your way around. And then on the design side, also again to make the entry as easy as possible, and also to differentiate us from the competition, we have 5 player co-op. So you go in with your friends, and if you fail, you fail as a team, then you try it again until you succeed, you get to know how to handle the weapons, you get to know what the game feels like.”
“You learn the mechanics there.”
“Exactly, and then people tend to move over to competitive modes. So the user behaviour that we see right now is people come in with their friends, they play the daily mission because there is a new daily mission every day, and after they’ve finished that, succeeded in it, they move over to competitive, and then drop out and come back the next day and do the same thing, which is really what we like, and that is like a really good way to play.”
Co-operative mode is one particular area in which Crytek are going to great lengths to in order to ensure that Warface is packed with new, fresh, and most importantly, varied content every time you log on.
“With this 5 player co-op comes a special set-up. We have a new mission every day, so every day you log on you get this daily mission, and when the mission comes in its double the reward so it’s very hard, people love it, it’s really challenging so people really like it, and then the next day this mission we take into normal difficulty, and a new mission comes in. So the idea being that nowadays you have so much content, like it’s really hard to choose form all the content, and we kind of limit the amount of content you can play, but by doing so we give players a new mission every day, so fresh content every day that they can just go in and know, okay there’s a new mission we can play.”
It’s a similar sounding set up to that of an MMO’s daily missions, and something that it’s easy to imagine succumbing to repetition, but Holzapfel asserted that this wouldn’t be the case:
“So the ideas is that obviously we have to do some mixing up there, like playing levels from a to b and from b to a, so back and forth, but at the moment we have two settings live, which are Afghanistan and Kosovo. And we are working on a new setting that we are showing here as well, a favela, so we continuously keep adding new settings, those settings are varied, and the way the missions are designed always consists of two parts. The first part is a path which you either play in one direction or the other, and the second part of the missions is going to be a challenge mode, which is either a horde mode or a boss fight, it’s going to be quite varied obviously.”
Co-operation is something of a running theme throughout Warface then, not only in the available game modes, but in the gameplay itself: In my short playtime I discovered the ability to carry out interactive moves with your teammates, giving them boosts to tactically advantageous areas of higher ground, which I like to think was a vital ingredient in my Team’s victory.
“So, those co-op moves we actually really like because they are kind of unique and make you feel good when you work as a team and open up new possibilities within a level. And on top of that, every class, apart from the sniper class has a support role as well, so the idea is really to make people play together as much as they can, because the idea behind Warface is to make this a very social experience, so we’re launching it in the US with our social network Gface so that you can actually connect easily with your friends and make new friends there talking about the game.”
Warface also has a fresh take on character progression which is dealt with not by levelling, but by access to different gear vendors.
“It’s a bit different from what players might be used to. Before you go into a mission you actually choose between three different vendors. So you then choose either against weapons, equipment or gear. And then when you go into the game and unlock the weapon, the next weapon or gear or equipment will then be chosen randomly. So in theory you have the chance to get a very high tiered weapon early on in the game. The idea behind this is that we don’t want players to necessarily stick to one class, play through it and then drop the game because they don’t want to go through the whole progression with the next class, although they would potentially like playing it, but to include basically switching between classes, trying out different play styles.”
It’s is a design choice that links right into what is perhaps the most important thing about Warface – the fact that it’s a free to play title. Crytek’s CEO Cevat Yerli recently stated that they are in a transitional phase from packaged goods into entirely free-to-play experiences, and whilst other big FPS development houses have dipped a toe into the free to play market – CCP with Dust 514 and DICE with Battlefield Play4Free – Crytek are diving into the pool headfirst with Warface.
I asked Holzapfel why he though free to play has taken so long to come over to the west considering just how prevalent the model already is in eastern territories like Korea and Russia. He chuckled at this, replying “Interesting question” before pondering for a minute. Intrigued I interjected with a second question – What prompted Crytek to make the decision to bring Warface over to the west?
“Also an interesting question, so why it’s taken so long is I think western players are used to different models, and in the past also, a lot of the games that were free-to-play were of a lower quality, so they probably though okay, it’s for free, so, what the hell, we can go with the medium quality, but those times are over. And also I think that made western players think okay, I’d rather spend fifty bucks up front and get the higher quality of game, and this is changing really fast now I would say, with games like League of Legends where it’s a high quality game for free. They’re treating their community really well, so I think not it’s going to move really fast.”
He pondered for a short while again, thinking about the first half of my question.
“What made us actually go into this model is that, one, as you say, in eastern territories it’s super big already and that’s an interesting market for us. And on the other side we truly believe that the for-free model is a very fair model for developers and players alike. Players can test it and since it’s for free the player base will be large, so it’s not going to be empty servers and being unable to find a match. And on top of that, it’s going to be iterated upon, so then if I like the game and invest time into it the chances are higher that I’m going to invest money in it because I like the game and I want to support the developers. From there on it’s the players choice how much money they want to spend. If they want to spend 1, 2, 5 euro’s, dollar’s or whatever, that’s cool with us, if they want to spend like 200, 250 dollars even better. So it’s not only this one segment of players that says okay I’m going to spend 60 bucks for a game, it’s now the choice of the player how much money they spend.”
“As developers we can then continuously grow a product instead of being in this kind of very competitive lifecycle where you launch a game, you patch it, and then, if you’re unlucky after six months, it’s kind of going down already. For a developer that can be quite frustrating because obviously we’ve put a lot of hard work into it, so growing the game together with the community and earning money by doing so feels like a good thing for everyone.”
The iterative community driven evolution of Warface is something that Crytek feels strongly about as a company. Holzapfel explained their plans for the continual expansion of the game.
“So we already have the 8v8 competitive PvP, and we have 6 modes so far, and the idea is that – one based on community feedback, two, based on what we think is fun – this should go hand in hand developing new modes, developing new weapons and new gear. That’s kind of the small content, but then there is new settings, new game modes. Basically everything is open, like we are open to suggestions. I mean we have ideas obviously, but the idea would be really to put it out there as strong core product and take it from there.”
And whilst Warface is already live in Russia, Crytek are still yet to develop the full microtransaction model for the western market: “We’re still working on the ecosystem for western territories, but the idea would be that every item you can purchase in the game, you can either purchase for hard currency or soft currency. And then the microtransaction part where you can only buy things with hard currency, so real money, would be convenience features, so XP boosts, or resurrection coins for co-op which is kind of an arcade coin-op mechanic and sets of items, so yeh microtransactions there.”
Warface didn’t hold any huge surprises in terms of gameplay, and to expect it to would be to miss the point. Holzapfel perhaps best summed up my experience of the game when questioned about the feel of Warface, which I described as somewhere inbetween the accessibility of Call of Duty and the deeply nuanced Counter Strike – “It’s a Crytek quality shooter, for free.”