Exteel: We Dig Giant Robots

I make absolutely no secret of the fact that I love giant robots. I love Japanese giant robots – magical super robots like Gurren Lagann and more realistic robots from Mobile Suit Gundam both. I love American giant robots like Megas XLR. In my childhood, I spent hours playing with my friend’s Transformers and Power Rangers figures … so I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t a part of me that was excited to sit down and try out NCSoft’s mech-based online action game Exteel purely on the basis of the subject matter.

The premise in Exteel is roughly as straightforward as it gets: you have your giant robot and must fight and blow up other giant robots in order to win fame and fortune (well, not so much fame), with which you upgrade your giant robot so it can blow up other giant robots more effectively. There’s no plot whatsoever – which is nice, as it means that there is nothing to really get in the way of me and my monstrous mechanical mayhem.

Emblem 5 Found!

Emblem 5 Found!

Exteel‘s controls are equally straightforward and simple: keyboard and mouse. Your Mechanaught can hold a weapon in each hand (excepting large two-handed weapons), used with the respective left and right mouse buttons. Every Mechanaught has two different weapon sets that you can quickly swap between. For the most part, the controls are sleek and intuitive – however, the application of these controls is slightly less so.

It’s worth mentioning that simple movement in Exteel is surprisingly fun. Doubletapping the movement keys (or jump) will activate the equipped booster, allowing your Mechanaught to quickly glide across the ground or boost into the air and draining a gauge that refills extremely quickly when not in use. It’s hard to explain precisely what is so entertaining about the movement, but the intuitive, slick use of the booster was possibly what first drew me into the game.

Exteel‘s combat, unfortunately, isn’t quite as intuitive. My biggest gripe is that with the exception of swords and rockets, every gun in the game requires you to lock on to an enemy in order to do damage. While this certainly makes sense and feels natural when using long-range cannon weapons, it’s jarring to fire two submachine guns at a foe, see the bullets connect yet not do any damage. To be fair, locking on requires nothing more complex than briefly holding one’s target reticule on the enemy and it’s something one eventually becomes accustomed to doing. Even so, it still occasionally breaks immersion during dogfights.

This isn’t to say that the combat is bad per se. Despite some flaws and the lack of any real depth to the system, it’s genuinely entertaining. Something I particularly liked was the overheating – weapons don’t require ammunition, but using them too often will cause overheating, rendering them useless … and you defenseless for several seconds as you either swap weapons or wait for them to cool down. It adds much-appreciated intensity to duels and dogfights.

Exteel has a variety of gametypes, none of which really break new ground. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, CTF, and Territory Control should all be reasonably familiar to fans of online action games. The fifth gametype, Last Stand, pits players against computer-controlled opponents, requiring them to defend their base until the time limit runs out. While this is a decent alternative to the PvP gametypes for players trying to afford new equipment, it was my least favorite mode – the waves of enemies swarm with potential targets, but the AI is rudimentary at best and it becomes an exercise in tedium more than anything else.

After every battle, participants are awarded credits based on their performance, win or lose. In team games, the award is split evenly between team members (depending on how long they’d been in the game) rather than awarded on individual performance. Since points are shared regardless of your role in battle, this encourages people to defend the flag or repair a teammate instead of just racking up as many personal kills as possible. These credits are currency in Exteel, allowing players to buy weaponry and parts to repair, upgrade and customize their Mechanaught.

There is also NCCoin, a secondary currency available through microtransactions (with $1 USD = 100 NCCoin). Exteel is completely free to play – sign up, download, and you’re in – so financially there’s no reason not to give it a try if you’re intrigued. The wallet-based question then becomes: how important is NCCoin? Is it worth it, and is someone who plays for free a “second-class citizen” compared to someone who pays? There’s no question that NCCoin is certainly much quicker than earning the credits oneself. It might take upwards of a hundred games to afford a shiny new Mechanaught let alone kit it out with top-of-the-line weaponry, whereas someone with $15 to spend can upgrade instantly.

It is, however, completely possible to simply play the game free and never bother with microtransactions – and do well. Weapons and equipment require either NCCoin or credits, never both: the high-end Mechanaughts and weaponry bought by credits are virtually identical in power (and just as cool-looking) as those purchased via NCCoin. Goodies like paint, repairs and attack skills can be purchased by both, and people who buy NCCoin will be more freely able to spend the credits they do earn on these instead of equipment – there is an undeniable advantage there. Even so, some of the most successful players I’ve met in Exteel have been piloting giant robots built with their own hard-earned credits.

Either way, I found Exteel to be an entertaining if flawed game that did an exceptional job of tapping into the part of me that yearns to fly around and create havoc in my very own giant robot. It’s completely free to play if you’d rather, so if you’ve got a little Optimus Prime or Char Aznable inside there’s absolutely no reason not to give it a shot.

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