Most games shown at E3 are brand new. They aren’t out, they aren’t available, and generally release anywhere from a month to two years after the show. The only exceptions are recent releases that need an extra marketing push. Not so with Warface, the latest title from Crytek and Trion, the latter company specializing in free-to-play titles. Yes, that’s right; a Crytek game is F2P, and it’s available right now.

Well, at least if you live in Russia or don’t mind playing on Russian servers.

Warface is a simple first person shooter running on Crytek’s CryEngine 3, the same engine that powers Crysis 2 and the upcoming Crysis 3, making it the best looking F2P game there is. Warface has no campaign; it’s all competitive player vs player multiplayer and cooperative missions. Even then, most anyone will be able to run the game because the title has been developed to run on an Nvidia 8600 or higher, which is already a five year old GPU. For those curious, that’s roughly equivalent to the power of the Xbox 360.

Essentially this makes Warface a very consumer-friendly FPS; it looks stunning, it offers gameplay similar to what we’ve seen in Crysis 2 (sans powers), makes it free and easily accessible to players, and offers enough play modes to accommodate any sort of FPS gamer. The big-budget game not only includes a large number of playable maps, everything is also point-based to earn players new gear, guns, and armor. These items can all, of course, be purchased through microtransactions, but one reoccurring theme of E3 2012 is that there won’t be any horse armor. Buyers can put down hard cash on items, but with hard work, skill, and enough time spent, even better items can be earned without spending a single dollar, more powerful items than even those that can be purchased.

Inventory selections available in-game

Franchise Producer Michael Krach walked me through the game and explained this whole sale process, and also the ways that Crytek and Trion are setting their title apart from the mass of F2P titles. Not only can hard work and time spent playing compete against players who pay for the best guns, armor and gear, there is also a lottery system when leveling up that enables a small percentage of players to “earn” excellent hardware to employ immediately. So just like real life, there’s a factor of luck, and there’s no limit to what can be earned. After just a day of gameplay, it’s possible for someone to win the best weapon in the game; but like lightning, it’s not likely that the same person will win twice.

There are also three different point systems: traditional XP, currency earned, and crown points. XP and currency are obvious (for leveling up and purchasing equipment), but crown points are entirely skill based. If you earn plenty of double and triple kills, get lots of assists, and just play well, you’ll earn crown points, which unlocks the best items in the game for use. These prized possessions are hard to come by, and otherwise cost money for similar but slightly weaker gear.

Customization plays a key role in Warface. Not only are there hundreds of weapons arrangements, guns are also completely customizable in-game just like in Crysis. Loadouts can be set at any time. There are also different types of ammo, armor, and equipment, from pistols to sun machine guns, ballistic armor to blast shields, and C4 to stun grenades. The beauty of this system is that as players earn more crown points, they can spend those points on weapons, armor, and equipment with multiple customizations to enhance their gameplay. It becomes an arms race against the best players; he who plays well earns the spoils.

Along with standard item customization are the character classes, which includes a rifleman, medic, engineer, and sniper. Each has their own magic, which is pretty obvious; the rifleman hands over ammo to teammates, medic revives downed friendlies, etc.

A few additional notes. The first is instantly jumping into a training area to play with new weapons. Because the game is, in many respects, in the cloud, when in the store players can try out any gun right there, instantly loading a training level to shoot in. The second involves co-op: teams of up to five can play one of three levels every day, each with a particular difficulty setting, to achieve some goal against AI. This can be anything from defending a specific area of a map to planting a bomb. Everything is scored, and the best team daily will earn crown points which, again, can be spent on high-end equipment. And all of those points are combined with whatever is earned in PVP, so there’s no break in what you can earn.

I’m genuinely excited about Warface for three reasons: first, because of how Crytek and Trion has developed their F2P system: good players will never need to spend a dollar, but anyone looking for a quick boost can put down some quick cash. And according to Krach, there are some Russian players who put down hundreds of dollars individually, and this is only after a month of play. The second reason is the level of complexity offered without making it a liability on the hardware side. CryEngine 3 is extremely robust; it can be scaled for very low-end PCs and a $3,000 gaming rig. That way anyone can enjoy it, so there’s no trouble to bring friends in. They can play for free, so long as they aren’t using an old laptop or current-gen Ultrabook. And third, because the gameplay is exactly what we had in Crysis 1 & 2, except without powers. This means a very strong focus on gunplay, weapons selection, and more importantly than ever teamwork, tactics, and intelligent use of equipment.

Warface is already out in Russia, and can be played on Russian servers today. Doing so will prove to be a laggy experience, but it’s definitely doable (Krach told me that they even have one North Korean player on their servers). The company is hoping to release the game in China, Europe, and the US this year.

James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.