In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war, so goes the popular tagline in Games Workshop’s titular post dystopian Warhammer 40,000 game universe and at the pace of games that they are releasing, there’s plenty of fighting to go around. That’s no surprise either seeing the setting.
The Warhammer 40K universe is as dark as it gets, set in a distant future where a pan-galactic human empire consisting of millions of worlds is constantly embroiled in war with the equivalent of Space Elves, Space Orcs and robotic undead Necrons as well as gibbering demons constantly vying to turn humanity into tasty snacks. The Imperium of Man, as humanity’s empire is called has stagnated into a dogma-laden, superstitious and decaying empire where life is cheap and where being eaten by demonic horrors from beyond space time isn’t a fairy tale; it’s almost a certainty next to death and taxes which is where you come in.
In Freeblade, you play as a pilot of a Knight suit of powered armour. You start the game off with a short tutorial where you are newly inducted into your Knightly order though that’s scant comfort as your base gets curb stomped by a horde of angry evil demon worshipers with you as the last survivor. Fortunately, your bacon is saved when Space Marine friendlies scare the enemy off with a fusillade of bullets. Seeing as resigning from the job is out of the option, you take the next best thing: vengeance on the bad guys and there’s plenty of them to take it out on.
A Knight in the 40K universe is a different thing altogether from the medieval version of yore. In 40K, a Knight walker is the height of a three-storey building, comes with a chainsword the size of an SUV and an autocannon that fires tank shells. In the 40K universe, a Knight is the equivalent of a main battle tank, able to shrug off withering curtains of fire and engage enemy armour and troop concentrations head-on like a metal god of war.
Most of the game has you running about in such a Knight in a third person on-rails shooter. When it was originally launched on the iPhone a few months back, it took advantage of 3D Touch though on Android, you’ll have to make do without such tactility and rely on a series of taps to deploy your Knight’s weaponry. Tap on a target and you employ an anti personnel weapon to mow down infantry. Tap a target with two fingers and you fire off your main gun. Double tap on the screen and you fire off a missile barrage to whittle down all targets in sight.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”#FF0000″ class=”” size=”15″]That’s what your chainsword is for as you’ll have to engage enemy walkers Pacific Rim style in melee combat.[/pullquote]
You plod along on a predetermined path in a level, destroying targets that present themselves though you cannot alter your path or speed. Half the time, you’ll encounter hordes of hapless infantry desperate to stop you and tanks though the only things that can present a real challenge are enemy bipedal walkers. That’s what your chainsword is for as you’ll have to engage enemy walkers Pacific Rim style in melee combat. It’s quite a sight onscreen too as your Knight lunges and pirouettes with a whirring chainsword that connects with sparks and exploding parts all over the place when it connects with the enemy and if you time it right, you get a satisfying coup de grâce when you finish off a target that leaves the enemy slumped in the dirt like a puppet with its strings cut and sparks flying about the place.
The system mostly works though it is prone to mishaps when there’s too many targets onscreen. Firing off the anti personnel weapon is great fun with infantry getting moved down in droves though by its very nature it’s horribly imprecise which means your first few shots are just to get the range. It’s also little more than an annoyance on enemy tanks and walkers. The main gun you mount on the Knight is more precise and can smash enemy armour to bits with a few shots though it is overkill on infantry and infernally slow to reload. The problems start when you have both enemy infantry and armour onscreen and having to use the appropriate gestures to deal with both of them. Things get worse when you employ your melee weapon, which requires you to go through a quick time event to land a slider in the right area onscreen. Fortunately, you only need it when engaging enemy walkers.
Missions are short, sharp and engrossing for the first few times you play them with a string of them tied up into a campaign that covers some 50 plus missions across 8 worlds. There isn’t much variety between missions in the campaign as they all invariably revolve around you either finishing a mission under par time, destroying certain targets along the way or racking up enough kills. In between missions, you can customise the weapons and payload of your Knight to suit your needs. There’s a good dozen plus item slots that you can equip weapons and gear on which you can acquire as drops in missions in the campaign. You can also alter your payload slightly by swapping out your main gun and anti personnel weapon mount though the mechanics don’t alter much barring different reload rates, damage and magazine size.
Pixel Toys have lavished the game with a ton of attention. The graphics are exceptional for a mobile game with tons of detail in your Knight and a real feel of power when you let loose with the firepower at your disposal. Firing off your main gun rewards you with a visceral report and a gratifying effect as tanks explode and infantry pinwheel through the air. There’s some gaps in the graphics, but they’re mostly for nitpickers; enemy death animations are all similar despite the effect of different weapons. An example is a meltagun, a huge antiarmour weapon in the game lore that you can mount on your Knight that fires concentrated beams of heat that flash vapourise infantry and cut into armour like a hot knife through butter. In the game, the death and tank destruction animations are all the same regardless of what weapon you use but that’s a minor quibble because they all still explode in a relatively entertaining fashion. Inflicting carnage needs to be done in style so the game lets you tweak the look of your Knight with a host of aesthetic customisation options like new logos and paint jobs though you’ll encounter one of the biggest problems of a freemium game – the good stuff costs money.
Pay to Play
The design of the game means it is best enjoyed in short bursts which is the most you’re getting if you aim to play it for free as Freeblade has a host of limitations to persuade you to part with your hard earned cash. As you play, your Knight will take damage. Take enough damage and you’ll be far more prone to damage that you would otherwise have been able to shrug off, making things much harder. You can either wait for a timer as your armour gets repaired or you can fork out cash to expedite repairs.
When you undertake campaign missions, you’ll need a minimum level gear quality to advance to higher levels. If you lack the necessary hardware, you’ll have to keep grinding to get enough gear or raw material so you can craft the requisite hardware. Don’t have the time or patience to grind or wait for your forge to finish crafting an item? You can fork out cash too. You get the picture.
There are some saving graces for the obstinately tight fisted. You can watch game movie trailers to access to some freebies though this is limited to a couple of times a day at most. Inevitably, you’ll get stonewalled early on by gear requirements that demand you to grind for hours though you can, again, bypass them all with – you guessed it – money. Getting in on the game isn’t cheap either as in-game currency costs about RM13 or so for a basic starter pack of ingame goods to get you started. Once you’re done with the campaign missions and, assuming you’ve had the patience to grind your way to get there, you’ll likely have seen and experienced everything that Freeblade has to offer. There’s not much of a storyline nor are there any memorable characters in the game so you’re only in this for the action. Seeing as this is a freemium game to begin with, you can’t go wrong giving it a whirl to see the fantastic graphics and moderately entertaining gameplay but the host of pay-to-play limitations means you’ll likely be deterred a few missions in.