Online shooters and me have a weird history. They were always one of those “quick bite” types of games for me. I never really got amazing at them, but I had a good time regardless. Nowadays, online FPS games seem to reward people who optimize instead of go with the flow or just come together to have a good time. Not since Splatoon have I found an online shooter that fostered a sense of fun.
Enter Block N’ Load, a free-to-play shooter with a presumably thin premise that actually surprised me.
The Brick and Mortar
The hook of this game is that you have a combination of Minecraft-style building with Team Fortress-style team-based shooting. The objective is to take out the opposing team’s base core through the usual means. However, the method in which you achieve this goal is where things got interesting. The environment in the game is fully modifiable. Entire sections of the map can be built up, reinforced and chipped away. In fact, you’re given a full five minutes to arrange base defenses before the match starts, with your view of the opposing team’s base completely obstructed by a large screen. Usually, this time is spent placing down a variety of specialty blocks like traps, health and ammo rechargers and radars that reveal enemy positions. However, you also have the ability to build walls and fortifications around your base’s core to protect it from attack. It all offers a very unique setting that combines a neat touch of strategy with some creative thinking on the part of your team and the opposition.
After the five minute build time, the curtain drops and the match begins. The pacing of the matches was really well done, keeping things moving without making me feel like I was being overwhelmed. Combined with the fun wrinkle of buildable and destructable environments, each match felt like a unique experience. In one match, one of my teammates built up a siege bridge to create a direct route from our base to the enemy’s. In another match, I managed to locate an enemy building a tunnel directly to our base’s core, forcing the two of us to face each other point-blank in a tunnel and blast away until one of us died. It was fun to see the variety of ways players tried to get an advantage.
Block N’ Load has a selection of 13 different heroes, with three offered for free on a rotation, much like LoL’s champions. As expected, they all have their varying styles, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. They also all come loaded with painfully goofy names like O.P. “Juan” Shinobi and Nigel Purdey-Longshott. Though, admittedly, I was very close to purchasing Roly-Poly Fat Fat. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play an FPS game as a hamster driving a murderous hamster ball?
Most of the time I played as Cogwheel, a hard-hitting frontline robot who came equipped with a rotary gun and a bomb cannon. Each hero has a selection of two weapons with primary and alt fire modes, as well as a building tool that you have to switch over to in order to chip away at the environment, collect resources and damage the enemy’s core. Heroes, as I mentioned, all have a variety of unique skills that play more to either offense or defense, as well as different building blocks and trap items that they can place. Despite some of the overdone attempts at humor and the nearly Gex-level amount of “witty” one-liners characters spit up, they all have their charms. I got the feeling that there’s at least one or two heroes that can work with anyone’s playstyle.
Also, I REALLY wanted to play as a fat hamster.
The Shop-Related Brick Pun
As a free-to-play game, I had to take a peek at the shop, of course. Here you can purchase items for either Gold Bricks, which are earned (slowly) over the course of regular play, or with Platinum, the game’s funny money currency you buy with real cash. Shop items include full unlocks of heroes, skins and a broad swath of convenience items such as health boosts or resource collection boosts. While the boosts all sound like they’d ruin game balance, I was surprised to see that each boost also came with a negative to counteract abuse. For example, there’s a boost that allows your hero to have a higher health pool, but in return they don’t heal quite as much. It’s an actually very clever way to maintain game balance as well as make purchasing decisions carry a little more weight.
Additionally, I never really felt intense pressure to visit the store. Sure, the main menu had nods to the store button, but it never really struck me as trying to wave me through like some loudmouth carnival ringmaster. Also, the store never showed up where it counted–while I was in a match. Both tactics, in my view, are far more effective in getting me to open up my wallet.
Ultimately, the game is best taken at face value. I’m sure someone somewhere will have tried to make this game as efficient as possible, and in a few cases there were matches where the usual online FPS player behaviors sprung their ragequitting, derivative-slinging heads. However, the gameplay moves just right to make this sort of thing easy to ignore, and finding fun ways to pull together and get a spectacular win or an embarrassing loss is the ultimate reason to play.
Don’t let the underhand pitch of this game’s style fool you. Beneath a seemingly cheap paint is a game that feels as solid and substantial as…
…well, you get the idea, I hope. I’m not sure I can subject myself or anyone else to another brick pun.
- Excellent pacing and flow of matches
- Creative use of building materials mechanic
- Similarly creative ways players use this mechanic
- Good sense of fun and lightheartedness
- Squares can warp and bend, making things look weird
- “Sense of humor” tries too hard
- Currency earnings feel slow
Related: Block N Load, Review, Shooter