One of these days I'll get a gold loadout card!
Within its very first moments, Dirty Bomb immediately establishes its identity. This is a game with no controller support and a heavy emphasis on teamwork, and players quickly learn the importance of those two aspects as they spend time with the game. Thus, it targets a specific audience, one that grew up with PC shooters and developed quick trigger fingers. It creates a sense of familiarity, but Dirty Bomb attempts to carve its own path with a free-to-play model and a heavy emphasis on objectives. Time to leave those kill/death ratios behind.
The main game mode in Dirty Bomb cycles through a series of objectives over the course of a single match. Go detonate bombs, go retrieve items and deliver them to spot on the map, the list goes on and on. The alternate stopwatch mode follows a similar path, though teams try to complete all objectives faster than their opponents. The constant shift from one objective to the next adds a dynamic element to each match and keeps players on their toes at all times. It also reinforces the importance of teamwork, as a group of players that work together will handily defeat a group of lone wolves that fail to interact with each other. Again, Dirty Bomb knows its audience and purposely creates an experience in which communication proves key.
As with most team-based shooters, Dirty Bomb features a class system. Instead of actual classes, players choose from a group of selectable characters called mercs. Each merc fits into a class subset, but abilities are unique to each one. For example, Skyhammer is one of the assault class mercs. He can throw out ammo packs and call in air strikes. Arty is another assault class merc who uses ammo packs, but he calls in artillery strikes. Players select their three favorite mercs to form a squad, and all three of those mercs can be swapped in and out during a single match.
There are currently 12 mercs in the game, but not all of them can be selected. Let's not forget this is a free-to-play game. Two of them are available right out of the gate, while the game cycles through a couple of free mercs every month. In order to unlock characters permanently, players must spend in-game credits or real money. The game includes some other microtransactions in the form of elite cases and boosters. Elite cases provide more loadout cards while boosters increase the credits earned over a period of time. Obviously all of this can be ignored, and I had no problem playing the game without spending a single dime. I was tempted by those elite cases, though...
Elite cases include the aforementioned loadout cards, which are randomized versions of existing characters. One Skyhammer loadout card may include a fancier-looking assault rifle, while the next touts an augment that increases maximum health with each death. The meta-game of loadout cards in Dirty Bomb is probably the most fun I had with the game. Each loadout card comes with its own rarity, and there's a certain rush to finally getting a silver or gold loadout card... at least I imagine that's the case. Sadly I only have a bunch of lead, iron, and bronze cards. Nevertheless, I constantly look forward to spending my credits on cases to see which loadout card I'll get next.
The loadout card system fits the free-to-play model well, and it looks like Dirty Bomb is on the right track with its distribution of content. It takes quite a few in-game credits to unlock other mercs, but it's entirely possible to jump in and play the game without spending any real money. On the other hand, there are enough enticing purchases that I'm sure fans of the game will spend a few extra bucks on additional content. Characters cost $5.99 or $9.99, while elite cases range from $4.99 for one to $34.99 for 10. Those numbers are a bit too rich for my blood, but there are people out there willing to spend that kind of money.
The free-to-play model also eases the process of introducing new players to the game, though I'm not sure Dirty Bomb has broad appeal. It's very much a game for fans of competitive PC shooters. That's a large audience though, and it'll be interesting to see how players respond to the game's free-to-play model and how that affects competition. Dirty Bomb hits open beta today on PC, so folks who are interested can download the game and give it a try.