As yet another shooter amongst a sea of similar high quality titles, DirtyBomb has a really hard stand to set itself apart from the rest. In addition to that it’s also a free to play title, which brings a lot of additional questions to the table: Is the F2P-model worth your time or is it one big grind – or is it even pay to win? Those are questions you might ask yourself when you see “just” another shooter that looks pretty much no different from the rest.
But before you run away, take your time to read this article – DirtyBomb has just hit “Open Beta” phase and is well-worth a second look.
What’s it all about?
DirtyBomb is set in a futuristic London, depicting a rather grim future. The eponymous destructive force has brought poisonous havoc upon our world, which is now economically driven by PMCs and war machinery. But despite that rather dark setting the game itself is rather nicely designed, showing futuristic cityscapes in a rich color palette which vastly differs from the usual “fps-brown” you get to see so often. The design even includes subtle use of flashy neon colors and modern shapes that remind me of DICE’s “Mirror’s Edge” in many aspects, a design approach that is very intentionally underlined by the kinetic and speedy nature of the game. All characters in this game move pretty fast and can double or even triple jump up a wall to reach new areas – which feels very fluent and close to the gameplay you know from Quake or Unreal Tournament. It’s quite apparent that the inofficial predecessor “Brink” had a huge influence on this game.
This strong focus on movement and split-second decision-making is a defining key feature of DirtyBomb: You have to act and react first, surprising your enemy with quick attacks around the corner or by coming from unexpected directions in order to get to your objective. Running in blindly will not get you far as each character dies with a couple of well-placed shots. Luckily, most of the maps have a lot of thought put into their layout, allowing for alternate routes to choose when you hit that impenetrable wall of enemies.
And let’s not forget objectives: All the maps are heavily designed around various tasks that your team needs to fulfill, ranging from simple “destroy the objective” goals to more complex “repair and guard the vehicle” mission and therefore heavily influence the choice of classes you should bring along. For both defenders and attackers there’s always something to destroy or repair, opening and closing alternate routes for your team in the process. This keeps the pace in the game on a high and healthy level throughout matches which last 10-15 min. each. Currently there are not too many different maps and only 2 modes to choose from, but each of these options seems to have a lot of thought behind and has a lot of quality feel to it already.
DirtyBomb sports a solid class system that offers various female and male protagonist of varying physique and size. These “mercs” have one or two individual active or passive class abilities, all of which are catered towards co-dependent roles and team play. Basically this means that you can fight by your own, but will do much better when you act together. While not quite as charismatic and distinct as the cast of Team Fortress 2, the mercs all have a very individual look and shape as well as a bit of personality to them. The similarities with TF2 don’t stop here, as most mercs also define themselves via their nationality and some hilarious one-liners, making them feel just deep enough to allow for some personal identification.
As of this article there are a total of 12 mercs available in the game, with a lot more to come in near future (as implied by Nexon’s own Wiki). Such a vast selection of classes is bound to have some overlap of abilities, but each merc still has enough defining traits and passive bonuses to allow for a specific style of play. If you’re the kind of player that likes to ignore objectives and instead run around as a pure killing machine or are rather the supportive type you can do just that and still rank high in the point based mission stats screen.
Select your style
Once you start playing you will soon notice that you only have 2 mercs available: “Skyhammer”, a grunt-of-all-trades type with a good main weapon and a powerful airstrike and “Aura”, a quick but fragile medic that has a quite capable shotgun and powerful healing dispenser at her disposal – and I might add that healing and reviving is pretty rewarding in this game, even better than in TF2. Both starter classes are accompanied by a weekly rotation of 2 additional mercs which can also be played to their full extent and completely free of charge. The starters are equally powerful to all other classes available in the game, so you don’t feel hard-pressed to buy into more power but only into more variety for your matches.
By using loadout cards you find (or buy) randomly during your sessions you can define the weaponry of your mercs and add random passive benefits. Loadouts come in different rarity levels, all of which can be won by opening random cases. If you are out of luck you can still “fuse” lower quality loadouts into higher level ones for any merc you want, thus allowing you to get to the loadout and rarity level you like. Having the possibility to use 3 different mercs to select prior to each mission adds a lot of spice and variety to your game, as you can quickly adapt and switch the role (or armaments) of your character depending on how your mission progresses.
Loadouts and mercs are unlocked by ingame-credits (and of course real money), ranging from prizes of 15000 for a specific loadout to 50000 for newer mercs (which are not more powerful than others). While not being as complex than the weapon modding system of Brink or Blacklight Retribution, the loadout system adds enough complexity and motivation to keep you hunting for better cards that may offer a better combination of perks and weapons that you already have.
This leads to the question of grindiness. By playing on a daily basis (let’s say 30-60 min.) you can easily earn 1000-3000 in-game credits. Regular boosters and events quickly help to ramp up that value. Fulfilling regularly respawning mini-objectives like “play 3 games with a certain merc in your squad” grants you another income. As mercs start with 30000 credits, unlocking them is doable on a weekly basis, but can feel a bit grindy at times – more price range diversity would do the game good, especially as newer mercs start rolling in on a quick pace. In regards of real money the individual merc price point ranges around a steep 10$, which may be set so high to encourage players into buying the merc starter pack on steam.
This may also be my biggest point of critique on DirtyBomb at this point: progression is a bit too much based on “a carrot on a stick”, starting you off quite quickly at first but slowing down the pace noticeably once you buy your first merc and hit the higher levels that require vastly more XP to gain. The merc starter pack may be a nice alternative, but leaves a salty taste in your mouth as you don’t unlock all the mercs currently available in the game, not to mention all of their possible loadout combinations. Here’s hoping that Nexon reconsiders their price point for individual mercs and maybe even offers a “full game” purchase in the near future that lets you avoid the grind if you want.
DirtyBomb may not win design prices on its graphical side or mission design, but it does a core thing rather well: it’s fast, it’s very skill and team based and it runs on a fluid 60FPS on my mediocre spec machine. The menus however could use a redesign as they feel sluggish and “separated” due to many smaller transition and loading screens. The game runs stable, but transitioning in between mission-screens and the actual game can take up to 30-60 seconds between each round, which takes away from the otherwise good pacing the game has to offer.
A special note for shooter newbies: the game is quick to get into and understand, but quite challenging to play and master. Even if all the weapons ingame are hitscan-based and have very little recoil to them, hitting the fast enemies requires the same reaction speed like for example a match of Quake Arena. There is no sophisticated damage model in the game, but aiming for the head is greatly rewarded.
That doesn’t mean that the game falls short on the tactical side: communicating with your teammates, playing the objectives and chosing the right class at the right time are essential parts of your match and have a huge impact on the amount of fun you get out of playing this game. At the current point I’d recommend giving DirtyBomb a quick look and try some of the classes during the free rotation. As it stands now the amount of maps, mercs and modes is still something that needs additional work, so I’d recommend holding back your wallet until Nexon comes up with new concepts of monetizing their game.