When we shared our initial first impressions of Devil's Third it turned into a bit of a saga; your humble writer was surprised at the level of feeling that came out in response to an early look at the game. The focus was on the single player campaign at that point, with our general summary being that - while full of good intentions - it falls short in its early stages. Devil's Third wasn't giving us the revolution in action gaming that had been promised, ultimately, and it became a bit of an ongoing topic - with diverse opinions - all over the web.
While the single player campaign is a hefty experience, for some gamers shooters and action games like this are all about online action. To be fair to Devil's Third, this component really is shaping up to be rather substantial and impressive in its scope, so much so that a version of it will actually arrive on PC as a free-to-play game.
Of course, free-to-play makes money from microtransactions, and they caught us a little off guard when we saw them first-hand here in the Wii U game. At present pricing isn't available as the service isn't live, but real money can be used to buy Golden Eggs - whether that's a self-referential or accidental pointer to The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs, it's apt.
Upon booting up our pre-release build and going online for the first time we received a batch of these eggs (whether this will be standard in the final retail version is unclear, but we suspect it will), and they can be used for acquiring items or be traded in for a chunk of in-game currency. Some items, including projectiles and hugely destructive X-Type weapons, can only be bought with these eggs, in some cases costing a lot of them. Frivolous but cool accessories such as outfits can also only be bought with eggs, and small steps of progress would also reward us with one of these little blighters. As we've said though, some items need plenty of eggs to buy, so time will tell whether the balance of driving microtransactions and being fair to those happy to grind will be reasonable. Microtransactions are relatively common in retail games - especially shooters - but that doesn't mean they're a good thing.
That's a negative out of the way, but there are some real positives in the online mechanic. Our ability to test it thus far has been limited to specific - but poorly attended - online sessions, but it's clear that a lot of thought has gone into the structure of this multiplayer component.
The first step is to choose from a fairly limited batch of pre-created characters - with some minor customisation - for your fighter, and then you setup your first load-out. You can opt to be focused on Assault, Gunner or Sniper styles, though nothing's stopping you from buying weapons to support all options and having multiple loadouts. There's huge variety including machine guns, shotguns and sniper rifles, and finding a primary and sub-weapon loadout with both power and distance options can be key. You can also buy melee weapons, so just like the single player campaign there's a blend of shooting and melee that's essential to the action.
Initially you can only enter Drill events, which consist of the standard, wild and wacky modes that have been touted a great deal to date. With limited numbers playing online we've only been able to sample the self explanatory Battle Royal and Team Deathmatch modes, but there are some other fun - on paper - options. 'Chickens' involves catching the birds and holding onto them for points, Carnival necessitates grabbing fruit to hurl into mixers, while Close Quarters and Gladiator involve melee-only combat or a race to grab just one gun in a map.
With full rooms of 16 the 10 available modes in Drill are all promising, though sadly our experiences to date have topped out at 8 or 9 competitors in a room. Pleasingly, though, the performance issues we've encountered in the story mode are less prominent here, which is surprising considering the linearity of the campaign. Visuals are simple and performance is still not as optimal as it could be, but it's certainly playable and relatively reliable.
The blend of gunplay and melee can certainly be enjoyable, too. We still find the crosshair rather stiff when compared to more capable shooters rocking 60fps, but at least Devil's Third makes a 'strategy' of charging at enemies waving a sword around reasonably viable. Switching to a shotgun for close shots or engaging in slightly comedic but nevertheless frantic sword fights is certainly enjoyable; it still has a low-fi budget feel, but it's relatively fun nonsense in the multiplayer arena.
The pre-set stages we've encountered so far are decent, too, though some are naturally better than others. The worst stage was a night-time area where you could accidentally suicide by falling into water, but as it's hard to see with all the grey and night-time lighting there was the farce of seeing suicide notifications on an all-too-frequent basis from all involved. Some stages are excellent, though, with sniper points, buildings and trenches all around. Some thought has clearly gone into catering to observant players with multiple loadouts - the Grand Canyon is a sniper's paradise.
Around all of this is an impressive infrastructure, with the GamePad screen offering access to text chat, notifications, private messages and more. That PC announcement is less surprising in this context, as this infrastructure points to a development team well versed in the complexities that PC-centric shooters offer.
There's a lot we're yet to sample, too. We've levelled up a little, but due to limited time windows and the aforementioned poorly attended servers we haven't hit the point where we can unlock Siege Match. This is the area where you can create, defend and invade fortresses as a lone-dog mercenary (assigned to a team in matches) or as part of a clan. When hype was built about the substantial online mode and its customisation at E3 2014, Siege Match was a big part of that.
Rummaging around the e-manual it's certainly got huge amounts of potential. Whether setting up or applying for a clan you can establish communication to arrange missions, you pick a side of a broader conflict and you can - it seems - go to war with other clans in a meaningful way, such as wiping out their fortresses. Members of clans can even use in-game currency they've earned and put them towards bettering their group, and it's in this mode that powerful X-Type weapons can be activated by charging a gauge. On paper it sounds fantastic, and we're keen to put it to the test.
There are real positives to the online component of Devil's Third, though aside from a more stable framerate our previous complaints from our initial preview remain. Our references to a 'budget feel' regard the fact that this is still far from slick, and has a roughness to the physics and gameplay mechanics that belies a troubled development for Valhalla Game Studios. Yet it has potential to be fun when approached with a forgiving attitude - it's lacking the level of quality normally expected of a game published by Nintendo, but like with the solo campaign there are good intentions and passion on display from the developers.
So far the multiplayer component seems like the heart of Devil's Third, and does it more credit than the unremarkable and frustrating single player campaign. We need more time to assess its overall merits, but it is a bright spot in this most curious of Wii U releases.