Fight or Kite: Classic Robocraft is a mashup of a Minecraftian block-builder and arena brawler

    
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Robocraft – now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time. Back in those days, we played things fast and loose. You could walk into a restaurant, shake someone’s hand, and then start eating with that same hand all without worrying about pandemics or any number of the current insanities we’re all dealing with today. Back then, if you had a chip dipped in salsa with just the right amount of guac and queso poured over the top that then happened to fall on the table or even the floor, well, there was still a chance this boy was going to grab it up and toss it back in his blabber hole. Oh yes, those were the easy days.

All that aside, Robocraft is still around and kicking. It seems to be far and away from its once mighty counts of over 9.5 million players, but it’s still alive nonetheless. The gameplay is really just a basic third-person shooter. However, the cool angle Robocraft offers is the ability to enter a builder mode where you drop blocks and pieces (a la Minecraft) to design your mech. As someone who didn’t play the game back then but was marginally interested, I figured why not see how the game fares by today’s standards – and given our overabundance of arena brawlers.

New players will need to go looking for the tutorial

The first thing that gave me a little bit of pause was the apparent lack of a tutorial. The game loaded up, and I was simply at the lobby screen looking at a mech-style robot and a whole bunch of different menus and options. So I clicked around.

Apparently, you start the game with three garage bays, each with a different pre-built robot. I moved around each of them and saw there were some experience bars for the weapons and some that showed your robot’s stats. You could click to edit the robot right away, but I was a bit hesitant to do that first thing, so I looked through the other menu options.

Of course, there is a store for buying cosmetics, including more paint options for your robot. At this point, it’s pretty par for the course to find this kind of shop in games. There were some double experience buffs on offer, but most everything else was cosmetic.

As someone who doesn’t particularly love getting rekt in a match, I tend to look for any training or PvE modes first to get a feel for a game’s controls and general combat. So, in going to the Play menu and selecting the single player mode, I finally found the tutorial and let it rip.

The tutorial was actually fairly good. The gameplay itself isn’t that complicated. If you’ve played any first- or third-person shooter, then you’ve got it down. Aim with your mouse, shoot with your clicker, switch weapons with your hotbar, and enjoy.

The build mode is immediately familiar to Minecraft players, though. It’s totally an FPS mode, and you click and drop blocks to build a robot. It doesn’t actually have to be a mech-style robot, either. Depending on the blocks, you can build little tanks or insectoid bots or whatever you want. There are even some flying drone-style options.

The game limits the build mode by how much power your blocks and weapons require, so it is able to put players in general strength categories by how much power their bots use. Actually, while I was playing I got some serious Crossout vibes; from the building to even the combat modes, the games are actually quite similar. Where Crossout is going for a gritty, Mad Max style game world, Robocraft is aiming more toward Minecraft and LEGO. But if you strip all that style down, you’ve actually got very similar games.

Gameplay includes several PvP and PvE modes in addition to the builder mode

Of course, a huge part of the appeal and uniqueness of Robocraft is the build mode. Outside of the energy limits placed on the bots, the only other limit is your imagination. Honestly, I saw some genuinely neat robot builds.

One of the best features of the game is probably the Factory, which includes player-designed and -submitted robots that you can then buy with the currency earned in-game. Of course, the developers at Freejam Games let players buy this with real money too, but it isn’t a requirement, so you’re able to scroll through dozens and dozens of different designs to then buy and use them yourself. The Factory shows you a good amount of info about the robot, even how many times each design has been purchased. On top of that, players whose designs are bought earn 25% of the price the design was purchased for. In other words, the Factory acts as a bit of a gold-sink as well as a way for creative players to earn extra coin.

As for combat modes, they run the whole gamut. After playing the tutorial, I wanted to check out the other PvE modes. There is a rotating PvE arena, which is fine for a quick and dirty match, but where you’ll actually get some fun in is with the Challenges. As a little level 1 baby boy, I wasn’t able to play with the higher-tiered levels, so I’m not sure how those differed from the Target Practice version. I’m assuming they are harder, but I couldn’t be sure. Regardless, even with just the T1 mode, there were different difficulty levels where you fight off five waves of enemies with a set amount of lives. It was a fun little challenge to compete with myself to see if I could do better than the time before.

The PvP modes appear to consist of only quick random arenas or custom matches if you’ve got enough people to play with. The quick matches seem to rotate on a 30-minute timer. The matches were fairly quick, the queues were short, and overall, I found them fun. At the end of each match, you get to see each player’s score and vote for the MVP and even the best-looking bot!

Unfortunately, I don’t think there are too many players still logging in daily, so I’m pretty sure the matches were still mostly filled with bots. It was disappointing, but I don’t hate it. Honestly, I’d rather fill up a queue quickly with a handful of bots mixed in with players than wait around for ages. Heck, in Guild Wars 2, the queues are 2.5x as long and still filled with bots! So they may as well make it a feature. Looking through some old wiki pages, I understand there used to be more game modes that were easily accessible, but I guess with the low population it’s been reduced to a single mode at a time. I don’t love it, but it does rotate, so it isn’t the worst.

Progression mechanics can help keep you interested in playing

As a new player, you’ll find that not all of the game’s build parts are accessible at first. The game actually includes a skill tree. I mean, they aren’t exactly skills, but for all intents and purposes they may as well be. As you play in matches, PvP or PvE, you’ll earn experience points that will gradually level you up. Points can then be spent in the skill tree to unlock new parts to build with.

When I was trying to buy some of the designs from the Factory, I noticed it wouldn’t let me select many of them because they used parts I hadn’t unlocked yet. I suppose they could be the carrot at the end of the stick to encourage you to play and level up. It makes sense, but it was still a bit annoying.

After all these years, I’d say the game holds up well. It played smooth, the fights were fun and fast, and I appeared to be leveling at a decent clip. It is unfortunate there aren’t more people still playing the game. I think if you enjoyed playing, you could probably have a good time with Robocraft for at least a month or so. The build mode, if that’s your thing, doesn’t have to ever get old.

For those of you who did play the game once upon a time or even those who are intrigued but won’t play a game with such a small playerbase, you might be interested to know that Freejam does appear to be working on another game. It’s called Techblox and looks like a nice spiritual successor to me. If the previous success of Robocraft and its continued polish and playablility are any indicator, I’d say keep your eye out for that one.

Every other week, Massively OP’s Sam Kash delivers Fight or Kite, our trip through the state of PvP across the MMORPG industry. Whether he’s sitting in a queue or rolling with the zerg, Sam’s all about the adrenaline rush of a good battle. Because when you boil it down, the whole reason we PvP (other than to pwn noobs) is to have fun fighting a new and unpredictable enemy!
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