It’s a good time to be a free game. Giants like League of Legends thrive in the free-to-play formula, while zanier titles like Rocket League launch into stardom after spending a single month without a price tag. As I sat down with Games of Glory, a free-to-play competitive shooter coming to PlayStation 4 and PC early next year, it was clear this game looks to its predecessors with reverence, while hoping to grow a spirit all its own.
Its top-down gameplay consists of 3v3 and 5v5 matches across a variety of maps and modes; these are the Games of Glory, a gladiator-style series meant to give actionable voices to the conflicting factions of a far-future galaxy. In reality, they’re a tool of subversion — a way for the universe’s leader, The Synarch, to distract and dishearten his subjects. The dour concept rings with the same political tones as The Hunger Games, though this intriguingly unhappy backstory didn’t surface much during my play.
I spent my time on the Svandia map, where one member of each team was randomly marked as the Star. Victory goes to the side that kills the opposing team’s Star first, and then a new round begins, marking a new Star player. Should the round’s timer reach zero while both Stars survive, the win goes to the Star standing closest to the center of the map. The matches are short and sweet, the losses feel disappointing but not crushing, and in the closing seconds of the game, a careful tactical standoff flips into a hectic midfield game of bumper cars. It’s all pleasingly light-hearted. The brief, jovial, competitive bursts feel reminiscent of Rocket League’s most addictive qualities.
I had spent my training sessions carefully learning the strategies of a handful of characters, but as I browsed the champion select of a competitive match, I had to restrain myself from choosing someone entirely new. Each member’s design is endearingly lively, inviting despite their unfamiliarity. The roster of challengers is vibrant and varied, representing their own, storied faction and mining for the same vein of personality dug by the beloved heroes of Overwatch. They come in alternate skins — or “clones” — and players looking to team up permanently will be able to create Clubs with each other and don their custom-colored team skins into battle.
It likely won’t surprise you that each character comes with their own abilities: a set of unlockable skills and one ultimate ability, all based around said character’s combat role and background. More intriguing are the 50 non-character specific weapons, purchasable and upgradeable at the beginning of each round in CS: GO fashion. While you may pick a close-combat assassin, that won’t stop you from handing her a long-range sniper rifle. I happened to adorn my tank with a giant sword, fitting until I was marked as the Star, and needed to spend far less time waving a blade right in front of enemy faces. The next round, I used my allotted funds on a flamethrower and defensive components that would help me stay alive a few precious seconds longer.
Happily outfitted, I sprinted across the map with my agility-raising battlecry, button-mashed my sword around enemy backs, and swapped to my ranged weapon now and then to spew fire in circles around me. Along the way, my less belligerent team members laid out healing shrubs and followed up on my stuns with their own burst abilities. After a couple of minutes, we returned to spawn, and I sprinted out again with equal fervor. Skills are colorful and full of movement, though my melee attacks lack a certain tactile oomph that’s difficult to translate at this scale; you can’t easily toss recoiling enemies or screen shake into such frantic battles. Perhaps some animation tweaks would resolve the feeling and make physical contact feel more physical.
By now, I’ve compared Games of Glory to four other games — and a teen fiction novel — though I don’t mind, and certainly didn’t while I had my hands on it. This title draws from a number of recent successes, but its own strength comes from an absorbing fighter lineup and fast-paced, customizable action. The two would best complement each other, and give Games of Glory its own legacy, in well-executed battlefield gameplay. I would love to see character builds equipping these interesting faces with hearty, exciting combos both for and between teammates. This, in combination with the cooperative ease of Clubs, could be a fantastic source of ingenuity for players.
Games of Glory’s cast and pacing is on the right path. The game has borrowed from the best of its peers, and I hope its gameplay can carve footprints alongside them, rather than fill their already deep impressions.