STAFF REVIEW of Raiders of the Broken Planet (Xbox One)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Raiders of the Broken Planet Box art Raiders of the Broken Planet is an intriguing title. What, you haven't heard of it? That’s ok, neither had I until this fell into my lap to review. Developed by MercurySteam, best known for Clive Barker’s Jericho and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (along with its sequel), they are a small developer, but they have a solid pedigree, so it was my assumption that there was little concern about how Raiders of the Broken Planet would turn out. Well, I guess I should have been a little more cautious in my expectations.

In an interesting business model, you’re actually able to download the tutorial and first mission for free. This will give you taste of the gameplay. Should this entice you, it then offers new episodic content for purchase separately should you desire more time with it. Normally I would really be impressed with a pay model like this, as it’s not a simple demo of the best part, but it is the actual beginning of the game where your progress carries over should you purchase the episodes.

That being said, you’re going to absolutely need 3 to 4 friends to fully enjoy this title, as it’s heavily suggested you play online, as doing it with random people is an absolute nightmare if you can even find other players to begin with. Even if you manage to have the perfect group of friends, there’s a lot of design choices and mechanics that raise flags and concern, as you will struggle to figure out the most basic premises as well as what the handful of currencies entail and how to get them. Luckily for you I’ve put in more hours than I wanted to, but I believe I finally have a grasp on the game as a whole.

First, let’s begin with the narrative that takes place on a literal broken planet, dubbed, the Broken Planet. This planet has a massive crack in it and is split in half, but there’s a mysterious substance inside, Aleph, that everyone seems to covet. This substance has attracted many different factions, including your gang, the Raiders. When soldiers take Aleph, it turns them into super soldiers, so think of it like steroids mixed with Energon in a sense, so that’s why it’s so valuable. Of course the shady factions and bandits want it for nefarious reasons, trying to stockpile as much as possible.

Your group is led by Harec, and he only has a small team to thwart humans off of the Broken Planet and send them back to Earth. Harec and company are essentially trying to bring peace to this shattered world, but they meet mass resistance along the way. Each of The Raiders in this rag-tag group is an anti-hero in their own right, and each possess a very distinct personality (and gameplay).

As for the setting, the backdrop has a Mad Max/Borderlands feel to it, mixed with some Gears of War hulking brute archetypes and cover based gameplay. Sure, the story is a bit cliché, and these are overused tropes, but the characters are interesting, even if the voice acting is a little mismatched at times. It’s as if they had a checklist of accents they wanted in the game and they gave each character a different one just for the sake of being well rounded, so it’s a little odd at times, especially with the amount of swearing that comes out of their mouths. I’m not opposed to foul language by any means, but it just seems a little forced and out of place at times, making for a more intolerable character instead of one you want to rally behind. While the premise is interesting, there’s numerous issues in gameplay and design choices that drag this down further than it should.

The core gameplay is a cover based third person shooter where you can choose from a handful of different characters, each with their own weapons and abilities. I’d like to say gameplay is much like what you’d expect from Gear of War, given that much of your time will be behind cover, but don’t expect anything near that quality, as there are a lot of odd design decisions that bog down the experience, and the shooting mechanics even feel weak.

Missions task you with varying objectives, from holding off an attack, shooting down air support, planting bombs, and of course, boss fights. What I did enjoy was the varied objectives, as each mission feels distinctly different in its own right, but the endless respawning of grunts and enemies means you’re constantly having to move and work without much time to assess what to do next, so you should make sure to simply focus on your objective as best as possible. Playing solo on normal isn’t too challenging, though that depends on the mission, as some are very challenging to do alone. Play with people online and the number of enemies and difficulty will scale based on how many Raiders are in the match. While you can technically play Raiders of the Broken Planet offline and solo, it’s not the same experience, and you earn better rewards for playing with others.

Where Raiders begins to falter early on is in explaining its mechanics and objectives. For example, in the first mission you’re tasked with shutting down some reactors, but when you’re beside them you don’t have a prompt to do so, nor can you shoot them. Regular grunts are simply distractions and don’t pose much threat, but every so often, usually in phases, there will be more challenging enemies that are buffed from Aleph. What wasn’t explained very well, and had me scratching my head on what to do, was that you need to kill these elites to gain their Aleph, which is then used for the objectives, like shutting down the reactors.

Oh, you shot down the Elite and didn’t get any Aleph? That’s because you’re forced to melee them to absorb it. In a terrible design decision, this is also how you replenish your ammunition. Yes, shooting enemies in a cover based shooter won’t make enemies drop ammo, but instead, you’re obligated to run into melee range and defeat them that way, even if you’re a sniper. It wasn’t explained very well that I had to not only absorb Aleph from elites, but also melee to get it, so while I was doing that portion of the objective, I was confused why I was facing endless enemies over and over again.

Another core mechanic that the majority of gameplay is based upon is your character’s stress meter. Yes, giant hulking anti-heroes apparently become stressed from shooting, dodging, and even running. If your meter fills up past a certain point, enemies will be able to sense your heartbeat and zero in on your location. You can also see enemies through walls due to their heartbeat too, and this is important since there’s no map at all. Every so often you’ll see an enemy with a blue heartbeat, and they are weak but generally simply there to stop you from your objective. In the example above, the engineers simply try and cancel your objective meter from filling, which means you need to absorb more Aleph from an elite and start over. You can start to see how this becomes frustrating, especially if you’re playing solo and can’t cover each objective efficiently on your own.

As you progress through the campaign, you’ll unlock new characters. Most of these join Harec’s team through some sort of rescue mission, and while they are all unique and interesting, you can’t go back to older levels and use them on stages they weren’t meant for. It’s an odd decision, as focusing on a certain character’s abilities and customizing them seems almost a moot point if you’re not playing the missions they aren’t allowed to enter.

You’ve got different characters that use different such as snipers, shot guns, energy weapons and my personal favorite, a gatling gun. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses while filling in a specific style of gameplay for your squad. Players cannot choose the same character when online, so if you get stuck with someone you’ve never played before, or don’t enjoy, well too bad. There’s a real world money option should you want to purchase new characters, but after doing the math conversion, paying over $30 for character access is just atrocious.

This is another area that’s not explained at all, as you can upgrade your character in specific ways, but you’ll need to sift through and figure out what character points, faction points, gold, and coins do. There’s a card based system that determines what abilities your character currently uses, but I’ve still yet to figure out how to get new ones, or if it’s completely random. You can add more perks, but that costs character and faction points, a currency you earn for completing online missions. Yes, you don’t earn these from solo play, so if you’re not planning on playing online, well, good luck. So much here isn’t explained, and the only reason I took the time to try and figure it all out is because of trying to do this review justice; your average player won’t have a clue what to do or how.

This is where the multiplayer comes in. As noted above, you’re essentially forced to play online if you want to make any meaningful character progress. There’s an option in the top right menu to play solo or online, so of course I went online to be paired up with other Raiders. After sitting for literally 15 minutes I finally got a lobby match and hit ready. Well, it seems someone else didn’t press ready and when all four players don’t accept, it boots you back to the level select menu, only to start the search all over again. Yes, you’re going to be waiting a long time for a match, and praying that everyone is there and ready to go.

If you manage to find people attentive enough to start a match you’ll begin with four of you, working towards a common co-op goal. Since there’s more human players, the difficulty ramps up, which then makes apparent another terrible design choice: shared lives. Yes, you and your team share a set number of lives, so if you have even one person not pulling their weight, or simply not that good, your mission will be over real quick. Lives can replenish after a set time, but this is arduous and adds more unneeded difficulty since the challenge has been boosted to compensate for the amount of players.

Yay, you finally completed a match and get to see your rewards for completion! Wait, you have to choose what reward you want? Ok, so do you choose faction points, character points, or gold? Character points? Awesome, wait, others are choosing the same reward. So now instead of earning the 2000 character points that I chose, me and the other player both had to split it, each only taking 1000. Yes, you not only share lives, but the spoils at the end as well, regardless of performance. With a group of friends this shouldn’t be a big deal, but with random people, you can see where the frustration starts to come in, especially when you may have carried the team.

To top it all off, after each match you’ll notice that the team gets broken up and everyone gets put back into their own games. Yes, you get disconnected from the server every time you manage to complete a match. I hope you wrote down the gamertags of those other players, you know, since it takes a good 10 minutes or more to find a match, because you’ll need to search all over again once completed. Design choices like these simply baffle me and should not be present in a final state game.

If you’re unfortunate enough, you’ll begin your match online with a notice that a certain player is the antagonist. This turns the game into a 4v1 match, where the Raiders still need to complete their objectives, but there is also a real player on the enemy team to have to fight against. There’s absolutely no option anywhere to turn off this option, so any match you find will be open to those that choose to be an antagonist. The enemy antagonist plays solo alongside the grunts and other AI to try and prevent Raiders from completing their objectives. Because of the fundamental mechanics, like melee kills, antagonists can easily one-shot you and kill you with minimal problems. Factor in the shared lives for the Raiders and you can see how the game can turn into griefing other players. We had one match where the antagonist decided to quit, making us win the match instantly even though we were only half way through the mission, so if that’s a bug, I’m not sure.

For all of the poor design choices and mechanics listed above, I will say that I really enjoyed the art and visual style of the game. It has a gritty Mad Max-like tone to it, characters look strong and beefy, and the cutscenes have some amazing camera work. It’s a shame that the rest of the game comes with it and isn't explained in any way. With a team of four friends, each specializing in a certain character, I could see Raiders of the Broken Planet being a lot of fun, as you need constant communication.

Having tried the newest DLC campaign, Wardog Fury, this adds four more missions to compete in, allowing you to recruit new characters as well. When the core experience isn’t much fun, adding more missions doesn’t solve the inherent problems. Raiders of the Broken Planet needs a massive overhaul of many issues, the most important being that the player actually needs to know what and how to do what they are supposed to do. Sadly, even after completing missions online after the massive wait and restarts, there’s little to no sense of reward. I’ve done missions numerous times to work on my character points, but it’s a long grind if you want to earn everything.

Something that I will admit, I found myself continuing to try to find another match, but it’s just a shame that it takes literally 10 minutes or more to find one each time. I’m not sure if this is due to server issues or low player population, but it doesn’t matter, as not many will put in that amount of time doing nothing, especially when it doesn’t feel rewarding in the end.

There’s a ton of potential in Raiders of the Broken Planet, but it feels like a game that shouldn’t have been released without more QA testing and all of the campaigns available. There’s only so many times you can repeat the same four missions, eight if you buy the Wardog Fury DLC, unless you’re a true glutton for punishment or simply have an obscene amount of time to wait for matches to be found. Sadly, potential doesn’t equate to an enjoyable experience, as the game in its current state, even with the second campaign DLC, is nearly void of this completely.

Overall: 5.0 / 10
Gameplay: 2.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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