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World War 3 is Battlefield 4 without the training wheels

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Early access title still has a long way to go

A russian soldier runs through Berlin in World War 3. The Farm 51

World War 3 had its big coming-out party earlier this year during Gamescom. The hardcore, team-based shooter went live on Steam’s Early Access platform last week, and after a few days spent playing casually, I’m pleasantly surprised. This combined-arms, tactical shooter feels a lot like Battlefield 4, but with bigger maps and all the training wheels taken off.

After watching the gameplay reveal trailer in August, I mentioned that it looked like the developers at The Farm 51 seemed to want to split the difference between simulations like Arma 3 and more arcade-like experiences like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Now that the game is live, I’m happy to say that my hunch was correct.

Gameplay in WW3 is extremely fast. The high rate of movement for both players and vehicles combined with the lethality of ballistic and explosive weapons means that lives are lost at an alarming rate. Of course, that makes holding out for just a few more kills all the more exciting. Even with just a few dozen players on a server, which can accommodate up to 64 players, the action feels intense.

Team play is key, especially since you can spawn in on your commander. You can mark targets for your squad, and commanders can issue orders. Squad members will be rewarded with experience points for following through on those commands. There’s also a point-buy system of perks that allows individual soldiers to call in special maneuvers like offensive drones and artillery strikes. The system is surprisingly generous, and even mediocre players can be assured of getting the chance to pop off some cool piece of tech every once in a while.

What excites me about the potential for WW3 is in the customization system. It seems to take the best parts of Escape From Tarkov, which has an almost obsessive level of detail to its gun models and weapons accessories, and streamlines them considerably. It’s more than just rearranging the furniture on your assault rifle, however, as you can see from a quick sizzle reel on YouTube.

When I play arcade shooters, I tend to favor semiautomatic assault rifles with medium range and holographic optics if I can get them. When my team is cornered, I’ll switch over to whatever stock heavy weapons class is available, usually something with a full-auto light machine gun, and then dig into a nice hide-y hole near a spawn point. That sort of strategy has always been easy for me to port over to whatever game I’m playing at the time, whether it’s a Call of Duty, a Battlefield or something else.

With tactical shooters and simulations like Arma 3, on the other hand, I tend to be a lot pickier about my rifle and my optics. WW3 gives me the kind of options that I expect from a tactical shooter, while also allowing me to use its various weapons systems to recreate the roles I commonly play in arcade shooters.

So far in WW3, I’m running with a high-powered Israeli assault rifle with a dynamic angled foregrip for added stability. On the top rail, I’ve got a slightly magnified, open red-dot sight, and on the right side rail, I’ve got a secondary, unmagnified optic for close quarters. A simple click of the mouse wheel allows me to switch between them, even while I’m aiming down sights. With that build, I’ve got my medium range dialed in and have an option for clearing rooms.

For added lethality, I’ve paired that with an RPG-7 grenade launcher for digging out campers plus a first-aid kit for when I get dinged. By paring down my body armor to lighter, less protective options I’ve been able to get just a little more speed to move faster from cover to cover. The only thing that’s missing, in my opinion, is a fire-select switch on rifles to allow me to toggle over to full-auto or burst fire when I need it, but I guess you can’t always have everything.

Suffice it to say that, now that I’ve got my medium-weight package dialed in, I’m looking forward to building out a light and a heavy package that meets my needs.

Most importantly, none of these customization options are hidden behind experience or paywalls. WW3 is incredibly generous with the options it allows players out of the box, and unlike Tarkov, players are never at risk of losing their kit when they die in-game. It really feels like the best of both worlds.

So far, the launch has been technically rocky. I’ve only been able to complete a handful of rounds without some kind of major hiccup, ranging from getting stuck toggling between crouched and prone or the game just grinding to a halt and crashing. The team at The Farm 51 certainly has its work cut out for them, but server populations remain fairly high. The game has been locked onto Steam’s top 10 best-sellers list for nearly a full week, meaning that there is continued interest, even in the lead-up to the busy holiday season.

I’m definitely excited to see the game grow. The next milestone will be the release of the Recon game mode next month, which, according to the developers, “allows players to cooperate within small reconnaissance squads left on their own to survive and capture high-value targets in hostile territory.”

I have no idea what that means, but from what I’ve seen so far, I’m excited to find out.

World War 3 will run you a flat $28 on Steam’s Early Access.