Hero shooters have been in something of a genre slump over the last few years. After being codified by the evergreen Team Fortress 2, popularized by the explosively successful Overwatch, and then solidified by the free-to-play Paladins, it seemed like a lot of companies wanted to try to throw their hats into the crowded ring.
Some of them – Valorant, Apex Legends, and Rainbow Six Siege – managed to maintain a level of popularity, while others like Lawbreakers tried way too soon and failed miserably. But, for many reasons, king-on-the-mountain Overwatch has found itself in its worst position since launch, and the hole it left behind was finally ready to be filled by a competitor.
And, I mean, if you’ve got a square hole, you put a square block in it, right?
Gundam Evolution is a delightful title that I have had a lot of fun with over the last few days, but the first thing you’ve probably already noticed about the game is the if-it-ain’t-broke approach. Every single person that has watched me play this game has commented on its similarity to Overwatch, from the UI to the hero pool. You start with a tutorial where you play as a Pale Rider unit (from a spin-off that never came out in the States,) who is strikingly similar to Soldier 76, right down to his moveset.
Other units include the support-type Methuss, which combines a persistent healing ability to anyone in its line of sight with the ability to toss a destructible, auto-targeting turret wherever the player chooses. There’s also the Exia, a high-ceiling ninja-esque robot who throws daggers, and the Barbatos from Iron-Blooded Orphans, who swings around its massive club and can use it for a chargeable stun attack.
One criticism I honestly have for the character pool is that there are too many characters with generic functions. It doesn’t feel like several of them are distinct enough from each other that a player would seriously develop a preference, and I would like to see the machine gun DPS-type suits be more diversified for that purpose.
It’s also noteworthy that two of the suits in this playtest are locked behind a fake paywall – the game will give you the currency to buy them both just by checking your present box, but I have no idea how much they might cost in real money at launch. There isn’t a method in the playtest to earn the currency you use to purchase them.
I’m also concerned about the rewards system. This network test included a 20-tier battle pass that the player obviously gets for free since the only item that transfers over to the full game will be the reward for completing the pass, but the loot boxes are not doled out particularly frequently.
The player has their own “player level” that doesn’t seem to confer any kind of reward for ranking up, so you just get a new loot box for every other battle pass tier, which could be up to twenty full matches if you’re on a bad losing streak. Each box also only contains three drops. This might be simply because the customization options in this test are very limited, but I hope to see a more generous reward progression if the game is going to adopt a pay-per-character monetization system.
But with all of that being said, I can’t deny that the game looks great and feels good to play. My graphics card is a bit too old to run it at maxed-out settings, and I experienced some slight freezing on High when suits got clustered up in the fray, but I’ve still been having a blast in my seven hours or so of playtime. Out of all the free-to-play offerings I’ve found, this is the one that comes closest to replicating the feel of Overwatch, and that’s a pretty high bar to reach.
My hopes are that if it gets another test, participants are able to get friend passes (since obviously a lot of the appeal of these games comes from partying up rather than playing with randoms,) and that they increase the player rewards in-game if they’re going to include characters behind a paywall. The balance is fine, if one takes into account that the high-skill-ceiling suits are likely being played by people who got used to similar characters in Blizzard’s title, but some of them need more impressive ultimate moves (or G-Maneuvers, as they’re called here).
This playtest gives me a lot of confidence that Sunrise and Bandai Namco have put enough resources and effort into Gundam Evolution to make it the best game in the franchise in a very long time, and I want to see it blow up. I’m excited to play the final release on PlayStation 5, but this was an exciting taste of what I hope becomes a long-term staple for mech nerds all over the world.
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