Dead Frontier — A trailblazing game that overstayed its welcome

Last week, the “Dead Frontier” franchise announced that its long awaited-sequel to its first game, fittingly named “Dead Frontier 2”, will be released very soon, and even released a trailer offering a glimpse at the highly-anticipated game.

Before it comes out, though, it would be impossible to ignore its predecessor. Despite the headline of this review, I didn’t by any means dislike DF1. DF1, when was a revolutionary game for tis time that filled every zombie lover’s biggest wishes: Take the very tried-and-true zombie formula and backdrop, and make a MMORPG with it, filled with thousands of players taking on their own custom-built personas to survive in it, either with or against each other.

While the game isn’t first person, it’s the next closest thing to “if this was in real life, would I have the wits to survive, or maybe to even thrive?” Yet, it wasn’t perfect by any means. In fact, it was truly anything but. As the game grew older and less “fresh,” its imperfections shone in a brighter and brighter, and this was not helped by a less-than-perfect developing crew.

That said, it’s time to weigh the good with the bad, in lieu of DF2’s recent reveal, starting with the good:

1. The game was extremely user friendly

Whether you’re the type who plays an hour a week, or the type who plays nonstop each day, this game was made for you. The game is extremely immersive, conducive to any playstyle that could be thought up, and can be played with friends, or by yourself. The game’s tutorial is very deep, helpful, and generally useful to getting a player down whatever path they want to pick.

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Create your survivor!

While the difficulty of certain areas is well documented, a level 1 player who created a character minutes ago could, if they wanted to, travel to the hardest part of the city and try their luck against the ravenous undead. On the opposite spectrum, an end game character who wants to, say, help their new friends, or score free kills on low level zombies, could return to the beginning of the map and do so. In other words, the parkour, choose-your-own-adventure aspects of the game make it extremely immersive, and leave it so a player always has something to do. A helpful map means that, even though the city is extremely big, and can take a long time to travel through, the player should be able to navigate their way through the city pretty easily.

As a lasting note, its weapon choices also support this notion; there are realistic guns for those who want an even realer, more immersive feel, and there are weapons the game has invented, not all of which are better than the real weapons, but offer aid to the “suspense of disbelief” element or the “I need the best gear” type player. In short, this game offers high customizability for just about any playstyle that could be conceived, and this was a huge factor in the game’s long lasting shelf life, and helped reel players back in day in, day out.

2. The map was extremely well done

No block of the city, regardless of where you were, was ever the same. No two buildings were alike, and the 3D graphics were absolutely stellar. Whether you were picking apart individual houses for loot, or you were hunting down the biggest, baddest zombies in the area for the promising drops of useful weapons, armor, or more, the incredible map designs contributed to the immersive feel of whatever you happened to be doing.

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The game’s map.

Aiding this aspect was the helpful albeit fittingly dreary and sometimes action-packed soundtrack that accompanied the background of the game. After all, who doesn’t love listening to the roar of a fully automatic weapon, huge handgun or shotgun, or even better, the booming explosive launcher combined with some metal in the background? Every detail that could be imagined was done up perfectly, to the tiny things like the stairs in a house or the TV/Cabinets you couldn’t even loot, to the bigger things like your own weapon or the zombies, the map and general graphics were amazing.

3. There’s no bullshitting in this game; everything comes as advertised

With MMORPGs, usually there’s some type of element of randomness or vague general detail. Whether this is found in the describing of a particular trait of the game, it’s found in “drop rates” of something you may be after, or whether it’s found in some random lootbox of some sort, this fairly negative trait is much less prominent in “Dead Frontier” than other MMORPGs.

Don’t get me wrong, RNG Jesus didn’t forget to “bless” this game entirely; drop rates are still a thing. So, don’t go and hunt a Black Titan and file a lawsuit against me because it didn’t drop exactly what you wanted, but if you do insist on tackling the biggest baddy in the game, take solace in the fact that if it somehow doesn’t rip you into two square pieces immediately, that you’ll definitely at least walk away with something nice, if you miraculously are able to actually kill it. On a serious note, this element of the game, or the lack thereof, actually gives value to a player’s investment, both in time and, of course, money.

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Looting in the game.

In the game’s farthest corners of the city, there are these things called “Squares.” In Squares, the loot is significantly better than it is closer to whichever city the Square is closest to. Not having to worry about it being a “good” or “bad” luck day helps, because if you visit the Southeast Square, the one closest to Fort Pastor or, the one with the best loot in the game, you won’t walk away with your hands empty. Unless, of course, the best loot in the game which also spawns the toughest zombies to kill in the game proves to be a bit too much for you.

4. The game has its own economy

Now, depending on who you talk to, this could potentially be viewed as a bad thing. However, I felt that it added to the immersive feel of the game. Virtually anything that could be found in the game had its own market. While the market on beginner level pistols and knives was certainly not the most profitable one to engage with, the market on end game weapons and general gear was one where capitalism truly came to life (ironically, in a world full of undead things).

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The game’s economy was free from fixed prices established by CPUs.

That level 120 pistol that costs a ton of money now won’t cost so much when the level 130 one comes out. But wait, the 120 pistol got updated to fill a newly found niche, and now it costs more. A week later, that niche doesn’t matter so much, and its market isn’t so high anymore. You get the idea. Prices are set by players who wish to sell their gear, and are firmly “established” when they find buyers, who set a gamewide precedent that certain stuff costs certain amounts. Wait, why is something that already exists in the real world existing in a video game something notable? Well, in most MMORPGs and games in general, usually gear is bought by computerized characters the developers set up. You can’t negotiate price with a CPU, so that tends to take away player agency.

Not here. More player freedom than most other games is definitely a good thing, especially for the immersion.

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Madness in the apocalypse.

5. You write your own story

Kinda discussed in #1, but if you’re the type who likes to join clans, gangs, clubs, or whatever you like to call it, this game is for you. If you’re the type who doesn’t want to ally with anyone, great. Go your own way. If you’re the type who wants to be a mercenary, or maybe an outspoken support of the ABC group who rivals the, in your mind, evil XYZ group, go for it. To illustrate what I mean, when I was more into the game, we literally had a clan that was named the Capulets. We warred almost daily with an opposing clan called the Montagues. I’m not kidding, this type of thing was normal (except for the Shakespeare element of our little rivalry, that wasn’t so common, but you get the idea). Anytime we saw a player we recognized to be a Montague, our fingers would hit the “P” button, a button which triggered the ability to enter Player-vs-Player mode after a thirty second wait period, and when both us and the Montague entered PvP, our guns went a-blazing. This type of stuff followed you all around the game. Whether you’re hanging out at an outpost, whether you’re at a Square looking for loot, or whether you’re doing something different, you write your own story, dictate what kind of character you want to be, and who you stuck with or supported, if anyone at all.

As previously mentioned, Dead Frontier was far from perfect. To go more in detail on what I mean:

1. The game was almost totally hidden by a humongous paywall

Let’s address the elephant in the room. Okay yes, in theory, you could have fun with the game and never pay a single cent to the game. However, if you really, truly wanted to thrive at the endest of the end game, if you wanted to compete with the tippity top dogs in the game, you had to hit your wallet a good bit. As I’m sure you can imagine, if the Montague clan spotted a member of the Capulets, and both sides entered PvP, if Lord Capulet is rocking the new $50 super bad-ass minigun, and Lord Montague has the free-to-play, good-but-not-great shotgun… Well, Lord Montague’s gonna end up lying ass-backwards on the ground pretty quickly.

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Not somebody you want to mess with.

As you can imagine, this created a bit of an imbalance in the game. Those who had deep pockets dominated, whereas those who were a bit money crunched fell pretty far behind. Remember the Black Titan I mentioned earlier? Lord Capulet owns that guy, despite being the most vicious, menacing, albeit rewarding and thrilling challenge in the game. Lord Montague? Not so much. Lord Montague’s gonna need a small force of about half a dozen or more other pals to go kill the Black Titan, and could still lose to the Black Titan and its many zombie cronies if none of them paid for the particularly hot weapons. Lord Capulet could probably kill the Black Titan with his eyes closed and hand tied behind his back. The cronies wouldn’t mess with Capulet, as he would kill the BT too quickly for them to be a notable factor.

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The GAU-19, as seen in a spinoff title.

To further convey my point, the GAU-19 is the best weapon in the game. A pseudo-mythical weapon, only five people in a community of several hundred thousand ever actually got this weapon, at least as of now. How did one manage to get ahold of it? Well, there was a period of time where the game sold the GAU-19 in its credit store. How much did it cost? About $683 in real life money worth of credits. One of the five people who obtained the weapon actually put it on the in-game market at one point in time. In a game where the best, most easily accessible weapons cost roughly $3-5 million of in game money, the GAU-19 was priced at roughly $260 million. When you consider that nobody in the game’s history has ever actually had that type of in-game money, and when you consider that the GAU-19 has completely infallible traits, dominating every single matchup, zombie, and player who doesn’t have one, you can now see what I mean when I talk about the game having a paywall.

2. The game’s development crew was completely incompetent

Aaaaaaand here’s the other elephant in the room. With many overhauls of developing talent, “Dead Frontier,” despite being a pretty good game, never reached its full potential with how often it saw new and often opposing creative and mechanical minds take control. What’s worse is how poorly the team interacted with players. Anytime a player had an in-game glitch or bug occur, it would often take weeks for them to receive a reply. When such replies came, they were often baseless, unhelpful, or even antagonistic at times.

Receiving an average of 2.6/10 on the team’s website for ratings conveys this point perfectly. But that isn’t even the worst part. For a long time, the team handed conflict between two players with a McCarthy-esque point of view: If a player said someone did something, then they must have been right. This really hurt in a few different facets. Sometimes, a player would get jealous of another player’s gear, tell the development team that player “stole” the gear from them, and it would be “returned” to that player with virtually no investigation. In the most egregious circumstances, sometimes the “offending” players, whose only real crime was being better than the reporting player, would receive disciplinary action from the development crew, which was sometimes even a permanent ban from the game as a whole!

While you couldn’t really ever get away with, say, someone having “stolen” your GAU-19 (on account of there being so few people to ever actually get one to begin with, with those having one being well renowned), aiming somewhat smaller actually became a viable, albeit extremely classless and honorless, way of “earning” end game gear and equipment. After not too long, this began to drive players away, whether they were banned wrongfully or simply fed up with the many boys who cried wolf, the horrible development crew really left an ugly mark on the game’s history, even if these problems were corrected towards the end of the game’s life.

3. AFKing encouraged players to be lazy

AFKing or, being Away From the Keyboard (using a game feature which allowed players’ characters to be standing still as the player was presumably away from the game, to use the bathroom or something), was a viable looting strategy for players whose characters weren’t too strong, or for players who wanted stuff the easy way. The Black Titan is the hardest zombies in the game to kill. Now, there are players capable of killing it, but there are also clearly players not so capable of killing it. If you go AFK, your character becomes invincible, albeit motionless. The only downside is that leaving AFK means that every zombie on your screen will immediately drop what they’re doing and come straight after you. That’s hardly a problem when they’re all dead, courtesy of another hard working player. If you caught wind of a Black Titan spotting close to you, but knew you weren’t strong enough, there’s a strategy AFKers will usually use: enter the block of the city with the BT, wait for the BT to notice you and subsequently charge after you. Once it reaches you, and right before it strikes you, select the option to enter the game’s AFK feature. The BT will be able to do little other than wander around you, circling you like a vulture, but being unable to actually attack you. Then, when some group of people comes to actually kill it, you stay AFK until the BT and its zombies die or, perhaps, until the group of people dies. When the BT dies, come out of AFK, loot the BT for its great, free, loot, and get out while the gettin’ out is good. This wouldn’t be so frustrating if there was a system which gave better rewards to players who contributed more to the kill, but all too often, AFKers would walk away with the good loot, while players who invested ammo, health items, and time would get the bottom of the barrel items. This helped to drive away the grinding, time spending players for sure. That said, when I played this game more, something I did to try to counteract this is, if I noticed an AFKer, I would sometimes attempt to lure the Black Titan away from the AFKer, into the zombie-infested middle of the block, I would kill it and loot the body. This wasn’t a foolproof deterrent though, the AFKers sometimes easily tracked me and the BT’s body down, did their thing while I was killing the other zombies, and left.

Overall grade: C+

A game with A+ potential, A+ qualities, but D- or even F downfalls. “Dead Frontier 2” looks a lot more promising than DF1. Thankfully, DF2 has its work cut out for it with regards to these improvements. Still, DF1 wasn’t a bad game. However, it really could have been a lot better.

 

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