Robocraft: Now in Beta

The new login splash screen

I’ve had a long relationship with Robocraft.  It’s been in early access alpha for years now, and the game has morphed and grown in so many ways.  Wayyy back in the day, the game was built in tiers kinda like World of Tanks, there was only about three movement types (wheels, hoverblades, and thrusters and helium for flying), and three types of weapons, SMG laser spam, arcing AOE blasts of plasma, and railgun snipers.  Your craft was piloted by a goofy little spaceman, whom you had to protect to survive.  The only game mode was a 10v10 last man standing deathmatch.

The game has changed quite a bit.  New movement parts like various legs, tank treads, helicopters, and airplane parts were added.  Healing was a thing, with repairing nano guns, and later CoD style regeneration.  New, more specialized weapons were added, such as the flak cannons, a lock-on missile pod, or the massive Chain Shredder minigun.  The World of Tanks tier system was dropped, now both small and large bots fight along side each other.  New game modes were added, a team deathmatch with respawns, and an objective mode involving controlling towers and destroying an enemy base.  Bots can have multiple types of weapons, and there’s modules that grant special abilities such as a short range teleport or an EMP orbital strike.  Matchmaking is based off of some sort of ELO system, now.  And as of this month, after a long road of changes, we’re in beta, boys.

The big change in the beta patch is the all-new revamped objective mode (now called… Normal Mode… for some reason).  Instead of destroying crystals to capture towers or blow up reactors, its now a domination style mode with capture points you just have to stand on, which gathers energy for your reactor to power an orbital cannon to blow up the enemy base.  If you can hold all three points, you can raid the enemy reactor to steal energy, and occasionally there’s a special crystal eruption in the center of the map the losing team can destroy to equalize the score for a comeback.  The maps were also downsized, and its now 5v5 instead of 8v8.

Tiny Spitzer Dam is Tiny.

Honestly, objective mode really needed a rework.  The winning strategy was always more offense, as you couldn’t really stop someone from capturing a tower outside of nuking them or stunning them with EMP.  Holding towers outside of one team having all three basically had no bonus to it, meanwhile taking towers gave your dead teammates an instant respawn (when respawns could be a minute long in the late game).  Only certain weapons could damage tower crystals all that well, so if you wanted to win you basically needed those guns, and make it fast as possible to get from tower to tower.  Late game was basically who could rush and capture towers faster would always win.

The jury’s still out on if the new game mode is ultimately better or not, it will probably take a month or so for the meta dust to settle.  So far I think its an improvement.  I see a bit more variety in bot types and loadouts.  The capture points are easier to defend, like in TF2 you can stand on the point to contest it, so you see a lot more tanky builds to slug it out on points and survive on it as long as possible.  The capture area is also a strict hemisphere, so air builds either support from afar or risk landing to capture, which gives ground units a bit more of a role of capturing, since it doesn’t hinder their ability to fight that much.  Modules like the disk shield and EMP are seeing a resurgance, the disk shield being great for surviving long enough to capture a point, and the EMP has a near perfect AoE to flush out a capture point.

The new map design is a bit concerning.  The maps are much smaller now to support the 5v5 team size, but are also built around paths to the various capture points with a lot of hills and such to break up sight lines and provide cover.  The overall effect feels very dense and claustrophobic.  Vanguard’s End, the only map that didn’t really see any changes, feels like the only map with any amount of breathing space.  The map design also really affects balance.  Encounters are almost always short range, so things like the ion shotguns or tesla blades don’t have to deal with their limited range, and overall big alpha strikes are all the rage.  Honestly most of the maps could benefit with at least one good open area.

The crystal erruption mechanic has also seen a lot of flak.  Some see it equalizing the scores as cheapening early game advantages, others see defending the pillar as a fool’s errand, the pillar having too few hit points.  Honestly I’ve seen a variety of effects from the pillar, sometimes it turns the game around, sometimes it does nothing.  While it balances the team scores, often the winning team retains the majority of capture points, and just regains its lead over time.  Sometimes the losing team gets the pillar, but dies in the process, so the winning team can get the third capture and steal all the energy the losing team just gained.  Sometimes the pillar serves as a distraction for the losers to steal the capture points and gain a lead that way.  I see the pillar as a way to force teams into a large engagement, and to force winning teams to not get too complacent in their lead.

The game in general still has a lot of balance issues as well.  E-Plate shields serve almost no purpose, they’re supposed to be shields that recharge after some time, but nowadays the whole bot regenerates in 10 seconds anyway.  Wheels are obsolete, having tons of disadvantages but no real competitive advantage.  Sprinter legs are almost always better than mech legs, and the spider legs are a joke, too slow and far too frail to be useful.  Flying has always been dominant to being a ground bot, mobility being king.  The blink module has often felt a lot like Flash in League of Legends, almost mandatory as a short range teleport can do so many things.  Protoseekers have been nerfed to hell and back and I’m not really sure what the point of them are anymore.

Overall the patch feels like some sort of step in the right direction, but its hard to say the game feels like a beta.  The game’s been changed in so many directions, things being added and changed and deleted, its hard to predict exactly what the devs want out of their game.  Like for example, a year ago or so the devs say they want to get rid of bots that spam guns, so they make some changes around that.  Fast forward to today, and one of the bots new players start with is a tank covered in guns.

The fear I have is that beta is solely a marketing move.  It’s a way to say we’ve made progress in the whole early access thing, show up in that steam announcement thing, say we’re relevant again.  It’s not much of a secret that the game is slowly declining in player count, either.  Especially with these big sweeping changes that players don’t what to adapt to and so they just leave.  Kerbal Space Program’s beta announcement left people feeling a similar way.

Who knows.  At this point I’m filthy stinking rich in the game after all these years, I own at least one of every part.  The game changes and I somehow adapt to it, and the game usually takes no time to play a quick match, which is what draws me to it every now and again.  Maybe I’ll finally get around to joining one of the major clans or something.

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