Switchblade Early Access Impressions – Needs sharpening
Switchblade is an interesting idea. At its most basic, it’s a MOBA, and if I’m honest, a fairly generic one in terms of match goals and progression. However, there is one very important difference; the use of cars.
Yes, Switchblade is doing for MOBAs what Rocket League did for sports games, replacing characters with weaponised vehicles.
While it initially seems to be a strange decision, it really works in practice. The vehicles themselves have different functions; some are tanks, some are snipers, some support and so on.
While players aren’t able to switch between all vehicles in the game, they can choose between two vehicles upfront and can switch between these two at any point, allowing players to perform multiple roles as required.
Switchblade Early Access
This is a great idea, but it is a bit clunky in practice. Selecting to switch vehicles is a slow process, leaving the player vulnerable.
While this is clearly a deliberate mechanic (risk vs reward), I feel it was the wrong choice. A better option would have been to allow very swift vehicle changes, as this would allow for fast and fluid reactivity and for players to be positioned well.
At present, given the time it takes to switch vehicles, it is best done when well away from the fight, which all but ensures you are too far away to help in a crisis. As a result, I rarely (if ever) found myself switching vehicles, which is a shame.
In terms of the current arena (Iceland), it’s quite simple. It’s long, with team spawn points at each end. While there are technically three lanes, minion mobs only travel down the outer two, making the middle lane open to player movement.
There are several towers to take down, each with their own mini towers that need to be destroyed before the main towers can become vulnerable. The goal, of course, is to take down the opposing player’s main tower, and given it is a 5v5 affair and the map is symmetrical, it often comes down to a final race to take out the opposing tower before they take out yours.
Race to the Finish
However, it all moves along far too quickly for my liking. For one, either the map is too wide, or the vehicles move too slow to cover any significant distance.
I would often find myself not seeing enemies for quite a while only to discover that they were on the other side of the map destroying my towers. Perhaps this may have been less of an issue with more players in my team (most of the matches I played were with bots, as the playerbase is still growing), but I just found the map was too open to encourage direct confrontation.
As an extension of this, it’s also too easy to take out a tower; follow your minions, take out the mini towers, and you’re most of the way there. Unlike other MOBAs, there doesn’t seem to be any choke points that force players to battle in their lane, so you either both smash very quickly through to the final tower, or one team does while the other flounders.
Still, these issues aside, the game plays quite well. There is a lot of variation to the vehicles themselves, and the abilities were useful and seemed to be quite balanced. I don’t think I came across anything terribly over- or under-powered in my time.
Personally, I enjoyed Sniper or Artillery vehicles more than others, but as with all games of this type, preference tends to shift over time. Still, I think there needs to be some tinkering with speed. The vehicles control fantastically well (given the pedigree of the developer), but some. such as the healers, strangely move too slow to be of any real help.
A game of this type seems like it should be faced-paced and hectic.
What I did enjoy was the approach to powerups. Rather than providing a Jungle section for players to fight over, players have access to an in-match shop.
Here they can purchase deployable powerups and personal (match-long) vehicle upgrades. Upgrades come at a much higher cost, but deployable upgrades can also affect teammates, making the choice slightly more difficult. Should I be selfish, or should I share?
If I’m not selfish, will my comparably low armour be a problem? Still, it does also simplify the match progression as well, so this new approach does come at a cost.
At present, the game is in Early Access – it’s free-to-play, with purchasable packs that provide access to vehicles and in-game currency. However, given its current status, it’s also somewhat incomplete. There is only one map, with a second in development (titled “Monorail”), and although players can complete training, the only other game mode is Quick Play.
Both the Ranked playlist and the “co-op vs CPU” modes are currently blanked out. It’s not a major issue, it is Early Access, after all, and it’s great to see that these things are in the works, but it does leave the game feeling somewhat bare.
Still, the presentation is gorgeous. The menu is entirely interactive, with the player given a physical human avatar to run around a staging area, where they can interact with various options. There are vehicles with skins on display, and a large hologram of the current leading players looming above.
It all looks very cool, but the information isn’t yet populating, so it just says Player 1, Player 2, Player 3… Of course, it’s all a bit strange that you have an avatar in the first place, but it does mean more places to show off unlockable skins… I’m just not sure it works all that well. I’ll have to keep an eye on things as the game matures.
Pony Up the Dough
Lastly, there’s monetisation.
Everything in the game can be unlocked using credits gained by playing the game, or by a special currency gained through real-world purchases. This can also be earned in game but at a much slower rate. The currency is earned by playing matches, and completing daily and weekly challenges.
Still, while it’s likely players can unlock an initial vehicle after a few days of play, some items look as if they will take months of grinding. There may be a need for a balance pass on the pricing.
Strangely, there are no vehicles unlocked for new players, either. New players will only have access to a rotating selection of 10 vehicles. Given players can choose 2 vehicles and only one of each vehicle is allowed within each match, the minimum of 10 is a requirement.
However, this also means that players really need to use their initial currency to buy their favourite vehicles. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, it’s not terribly different to the way other games work (most will unlock a few characters and give rotating access to a few others), but it would be nice to have the option to buy skins upfront instead of being forced to unlock vehicles just to ensure you always have access to a specific unit.
Overall, while there are some issues that I’m hoping will be resolved and some changes that will hopefully be considered, but given the game is in Early Access, it’s still early days. In fact, it’s quite fun, it’s a really different approach to a genre that was becoming stale, and the vehicles themselves are quite well developed.
In addition, it’s free to play. As with many games of this type and in particular for titles in early access, the biggest problem new players will confront is that the player base is too small to evaluate properly. I really hope more people give the game a look-in, as it does show a lot of promise.
Clearly, the developers have a lot more planned for the game, and so much of what I’ve outlined above will improve and mature over time.
Switchblade was played on PS4 using a digital code provided to PowerUp! by Lucid Games.