A Free to Play Shooter That Doesn’t Suck
The words Free-to-Play are usually forbidden to me. I’ve never been fond of free-to-play titles because of its premium and somewhat pay-to-win structure only offering advantage to those that drop cold hard cash every time. I was skeptical of Dirty Bomb at first but after months of diving into this team-based objective shooter, I started to realise that developer Splash Damage has found the perfect balance within this market.
Dirty Bomb is a shooter that heavily focuses on team objective and follows similar mechanics to Call of Duty, Titanfall and Team Fortress. It’s fast paced and runs this perfect momentum that guarantees intense action every match. The game is set in London after a bomb, presumably ‘dirty’ was set off. The population are nowhere to be seen and a bunch of mercenaries (you) come in to loot the whole goddamn place. Being a game based around multiplayer only, it was not surprising to see a lack of story for Dirty Bomb. It has however more vivid and brighter colours than standard ‘gritty’ shooters which is a plus in my opinion because it gives it more character.
The game modes currently available since its open beta launched are Objective and Stopwatch. Another has appeared in-game but has been locked for a later release which is called Execution. In Objective, one team must complete a series of main objectives with the other opposition team trying to prevent them from completing it. This is probably the most played game mode and simply one of my favourites because of its heavy focus on team play rather than kill/death ratio. In Stopwatch, the setup is quite similar to Objective but instead of taking turns being the attacker or defender – each team receives objectives and must complete them before the other team does. Another mode which popped up recently is Execution. Execution is pretty much the standard bomb/defuse modes like in Counter-Strike. If you want something more ‘shoot everyone rather than objectives’ – this is the mode for you.
Movement and speed plays a vital role to the objective style of Dirty Bomb and the folks over at Splash Damage have perfected this area of the game. Players can traverse fast depending on the character used and all have the ability to double jump off objects like walls. This opens up new ways to approach an enemy or even escape. If you’ve ever played Brink – which was Splash Damage’s previous big release – Dirty Bomb has similar mechanics in its movement. The maps offer opportunities to flank and some new paths can be open or shut by each team shifting the balance of control. This really ramps up Dirty Bomb’s intensity as each team attempts to trigger/or close the new paths.
Being a developer with lots of experience in the shooter field, Dirty Bomb plays very accurately and above a level I expect for this genre. Hit detection is really good and movement feels very smooth for the speed it’s going at. As mentioned above, movement is vital and I was happy they got the mechanics down pat as it makes the overall game experience enjoyable.
Characters and selection plays a major role on how your team performs in matches. Before you jump into the game, each player must select three characters to bring into the match. Each character or mercenary has different attributes to them and serve a particular role in each team. You have your usual assault classes who are just overall fairly good, to the fast, yet weak medic who mainly serve to heal and revive people, to the tanks themselves. So picking the right characters is crucial to your team’s performance. Yes you can play Dirty Bomb like a normal shooter but statistics and attributes is how this game really works.
Apart from characters, players must also choose a ‘Loadout’ card for each character they’re taking in. You will get the standard loadout card for each character but you can also unlock new ones that rate in different tiers from common to the ultra-rares. Loadout cards usually contain a different skin for the character giving it a more unique look but also gives you variations in weapons. You can’t choose weapons in Dirty Bomb, you only get stock weapons or loadout variations.
So let’s talk premium.
Of course when things are free to play – there’s usually a paid section. So the next part of this review is where we look into the things that require money. Let’s be frank here, developers need to get paid and the module that Splash Damage has implemented into Dirty Bomb is probably the best I’ve seen in the shooter category. From my perspective, Dirty Bomb is not pay to win. I was one of those guys who believe all free to play games are pay to win and while many out there are – Dirty Bomb is not one of them.
So what does require your money? Well two things: Mercenaries (Characters) and the Loadouts.
The characters you play have a monetary level to them and that’s one fraction of where the game is semi-premium. From the beta launch, we had a selection of up to 10 mercenaries which has been expanded now. Before you complain about paying for characters – the game does rotate the ‘free’ roster almost consistently if you don’t want to or don’t have the money to pay. This will ensure you are playing someone new all the time and actually have someone to play with. The module works similarly to League of Legends etc – you can either purchase the characters up front with real cash money or the credits you earn in-game after each round. When I started playing Dirty Bomb – I mainly used the characters that were free and haven’t dropped a single cent on the game for almost 4 weeks or more. It’s a bit of a grind to gain credits to buy characters but you will get there eventually as I managed to unlock a merc for free using credits within a month.
The other part of the premium section is Loadout and as explained earlier – the loadout cards unlock new weapon kits for the character (mostly variations of weapons unique to other characters) plus skins. It also has some slight increase in attributes but usually a small percentage that doesn’t seem to matter anyway. Put it this way, if the opponent bleeds, you can kill it. Loadout Cards are great but this area in a way annoyed me.
There’s two type of cases – one you get with in-game credits or random drops and the other is via real world money. The real money cases called Elite Cases have a higher chance of dropping a rarer card than the standard case. While I like the idea of collecting loadout cards and having different rare types – the drops for these are completely RNG and have a low percentage of actually receiving the top ranking card. This kinda forces you to pay more money and grind the game. In my review of the premium section of Dirty Bomb, I dropped $70 AUD of money on cases to see what kind of rare cards I would get. The outcome, shocking. Out of the $70, only 2 gold card dropped while the rest have been a variation of medium to commons. Gold cards are not even the rarest cards available in-game coming in at second under Cobalt.
So does that mean the game is bad?
Not really because the Loadout card area of the game felt optional. Yes you get a cool skin, a weapon variation but it doesn’t really affect actual skills to win matches. We only tested this area so you don’t have to. The mercenaries are the only part of the game that is worth spending money on because these are actual things you’re going to use in-game. If you like a merc you played in rotation or just simply wanted someone new to play – the entry price point is not that high when compared to dropping $70 AUD on cases to collect cards.
Splash Damage has really learnt that gameplay and balance comes first before profits and their free-to-play module with Dirty Bomb works. Despite the loadout card section which is somewhat addictive and a trap at the same time – Dirty Bomb is one of my go-to shooters currently in my Steam library because it’s fast, intense and rewarding. Also did I mention it was free to jump in?
Developer: Splash Damage
Disclaimer: A Starter Kit that included a few mercs and credits was provided for this review. We used our own funds to review the premium portions of Dirty Bomb.