CALIBER game review: the fantasy of being a Special Forces operator fulfilled / Beta versionBy Denis Marasanov ☆ 14.10.2019
Caliber is a realistic free-to-play class-based third-person tactical shooter developed by 1C Game Studios and published by Wargaming.net, known mainly for World of Tanks (as well as Warplanes and Warships). The game is scheduled for release in Russia and the CIS region on PC for market research and in the case of success – worldwide. I was lucky to participate in closed beta testing during a free weekend in mid-October 2019 and here are my first impressions or an early review as you please.
First of all, let’s consider the target audience of the game. From the 1C Game Studios’ perspective a tactical shooter is a game that’s not about fast reflexes and pixel hunting, but about tactics and teamwork. This means that teenagers will most certainly prefer fast-paced shooters like… hmm… almost any other title, actually. Whereas Caliber (EU/US) is more for adults with some experience in first-person shooters because the game still requires at least basic skill for aiming and shooting. Caliber is still a shooter after all.
Caliber official announcement trailer
Furthermore, I suspect the perfect player shall have a military background or at least unrealized fantasies of being a military man or operator. Caliber features realistic graphics with faint color palette. The game’s definitely the opposite of Overwatch in terms of fidelity and color palette. But at least it’s eyes friendly and good for spotting enemies on locations.
Though graphics are mediocre at the most, maybe the game’s advantage will be its low system requirements. But since the system requirements are not revealed yet that’s hard to tell.
Speaking of fantasies, the game fulfills a fantasy of being a Special Forces operator. All operators are divided into four classes: Assault, Support, Medic and Marksman. Each operator has five basic characteristics:
- Damage (this characteristic speaks for itself)
- Control (inflicting negative effects on enemies)
- Utility (healing and reinforcing allies)
- Mobility (operator’s speed)
- Toughness (this characteristic speaks for itself)
Each class has own strengths and weaknesses based on these characteristics. Let’s consider the low-tier Recruit operators:
- Recruit Assault has good Damage and Mobility, mediocre Toughness and low Control and Utility
- Recruit Support has good Toughness, mediocre Damage, Control and Utility, and low Mobility
- Recruit Medic has good Utility, not so good Mobility and Toughness and low Damage, and Control
- Recruit Marksman has great Damage, and mediocre to low all other parameters
Note that operators from different Special Forces may have different combinations of strengths and weaknesses.
Each operator has a unique combination of characteristics, weapons and an activated ability that can be used repeatedly during the battle. Operators of different classes are played differently, and different operators of the same class still feel different thanks to different combinations of strengths and weaknesses, abilities and weapons. They require a time investment to better make out how to play the operator the best way possible. This is not as straightforward as in Overwatch, where each character is a unique personality that is played absolutely differently. This is more like World of Tanks with hundreds of units that are similar at large, but each unit looks and feels a little bit different. That’s a different kind of diversity that proved its justifiability.
The test during the free weekend showed that players are biased towards the Assault class, meaning that joining a battle with Assault takes ages. On the contrary Medic and Marksman classes join battles within seconds. That’s a problem the developers should address before the release. The time of loading into a battle is minimal, bravo!
The third-person view helps to look from round the corners and using covers. And it gives an overall feeling you’re in a movie. However the game feels very close to a generic first-person shooter. Partially because aiming is implemented from the first-person perspective making the process of shooting very immersive. So if you have any doubt about the third-person perspective, there’s nothing to worry about.
The game doesn’t permit jumping in general and jumping off heights in particular because of the limitations, which feels strange at times. Even though there is a button (space bar by default) for leaping over (at least some) obstacles. This works much similar to Brink, though to my taste the latter game is better, granting the feeling that you are playing a dexterous character, a master of parkour. In Caliber you’re just a slow coach. Moving across the maps in Brink and Doom is intrinsically fun, whilst in Caliber it's not.
All important aspects of the game are controlled by a server, meaning that player movement and shooting are protected from being hacked by cheaters. As opposed to Fallout 76 this doesn’t affect the player’s experience when movement and shooting. Considering you’ve got a good ping to Wargaming servers all movements of players and bots are smooth and shooting feels OK without any noticeable delays. Unfortunately the feedback when doing headshots and killing enemies is poor. However making this aspec of the game engaging is rather easy, so I hope the developer will make an effort after all.
In battles, you only have four players in a team, all playing the operators of four different classes. This means that the contribution of each player to victory is enormous. And because Caliber is a tactical shooter any player that ignores his tactical role (Medic rushing enemy forces or Assault campering from behind the Marksman) may ruin your gaming experience. From what I saw during the free weekend, playing Caliber with friends is a much better experience, than playing the game alone teamed up with perfect strangers. Here at gamebangtheory.com I personally doubt Caliber will be OK for single persons, but if you’re a social type you still may find new buddies for regularly playing the game together as a team.
As for PvE battles, they are OK for familiarization with the game, that is 30 minutes. Nevertheless if considering Caliber as a single-player experience the PvE mode is poor and repetitive. Apparently, PvE has no solid story. It’s just a set of isolated battles with no connection whatsoever. I just have no cues why playing Caliber in PvE mode at all when there are so many high-quality single-player shooters on the market that surpass Caliber in all aspects.
Back on competitive PvP, this game mode is much better because of real players creating new game situation. The battle lasts until one team wins thrice, eliminating the factor of luck and giving the once defeated players the second chance. Every operator has only one life, but to kill an enemy operator irrevocably the player has to use a melee weapon (knife). Until then the shot down operator is considered disabled and could be revived by an ally.
Sadly enough the whole PvP mode doesn’t feel like a masterpiece. Current mode doesn’t look like the one that will bring gold and fame to its makers. Maybe the developers should experiment with different game modes, use such modes as Team Death Match, Capture the Flag, Control Points and Battle Royale as a basis. Just remember a not so popular Fortnite and how the new free-to-play Battle Royale mode became a game changer.
Progression and monetization
Just in the case you’re not familiar with free-to-play games published by Wargaming.net, these games are about progression and hence time-consumption. Though World of Warships that was released in 2015 is less time-consuming than World of Tanks that was released in 2010, which is a great sign, Caliber will surely trench upon time. But for $10 or so per month, you’ll surely be able to speed up the process to a reasonable pace by buying a subscription aka premium account.
In Caliber you need to earn credits in battles to obtain new operators and experience points to improve operator skills. This means that you get an operator in a stock condition and will be spending time playing with a suboptimal unit to get it to the top condition.
The question of whether or not there is going to be any pay-to-win mechanics remains open. From what I’d seen during the free weekend, the game has paid customization options. And premium operators. The latter is a sort of pay-to-win mechanic in my opinion because there’s always a chance that such an item may turn out to be overpowered. Blocked content, including content blocked by a paywall (i.e. premium operators), don’t adorn the game either. But I personally believe that’s still acceptable for a free-to-play game, provided the publisher doesn’t abuse the economics.
BTW, I didn’t see any loot boxes in the game, so if you’ve got a loot box phobia, Caliber looks safe for now.
Caliber doesn’t look like a game that will be a hit. There’re no rational cues why this game should be popular among teenagers, and in this regard, it will surely flop. There are many great shooters out there, both free-to-play and not.
The game’s target audience is small, but considering the audience is adults, it’s financially reliable. So the game doesn’t really need a large audience to recoup. But why playing Caliber in the first place?
What is so engaging about the game that players will notice Caliber at all? And the answer is really the fantasy of being a Special Forces operator. The game fulfills this fantasy to some extent, so if this is you fantasy Caliber is the game to try. But is it going to be enough for worldwide release or not only time will tell.