on software & life

First Impressions: Diabotical closed beta

Diabotical is the upcoming free-to-play, arena first-person shooter (AFPS) from The GD Studio. The GD Studio is headed by James “2GD” Harding, an ex-professional Quake 4 player who was involved in esports across various titles and organizations. Diabotical is a highly anticipated title in the AFPS community and has been in the making for nearly seven years.

The closed betas were schedule to happen on the 4 weekends of March 2020. The purpose is to progressively test features, game modes and help the developers get feedback on the game.

After a tantalizing, long wait, we finally got the chance to try out Diabotical. This was a closed beta and you needed a key in order to the play the game. Keys were handed out to a limited number of play testers on a first-come, first-serve basis with priority given to the game’s Kickstarter backers.

If you want a beta key, the easiest way is to signup using your email address on the Diabotical website. Keys are also handed out on various social media platforms such as Twitch streams, Twitter, Reddit and Facebook.

Diabotical - LG Battle
A screenshot of Diabotical from the beta trailer

I was lucky enough to get a key and I grudgingly installed the Epic Games Launcher (EGL) as Diabotical is exclusive to the Epic Games Store. Although I do not understand why a game launcher requires 350 MB, installation went smooth and redeeming the key was simple. The download size of the game was around 5.5 GB which by today’s standards isn’t very large.

I got to play the game for many hours (25 hours according to EGL) over the weekend. Here are my first impressions of the closed beta.

The Good

My experience with Diabotical (even the beta) has been overwhelmingly positive.

  • Loading time: Less than 10 seconds.
    One of my personal gripes with games these days are the painfully long load times. I was relieved that Diabotical doesn’t suffer from this problem. However, I’m uncertain if their anti-cheat solution was enabled for this beta and whether the loading time would drastically increase in the future.

  • Gameplay: Smooth as butter.
    The core focus of this game has been solely on the gameplay and in this regard it doesn’t disappoint. It handles as well as I expected barring a few performance issues which I mention in the next section. The movement system is fantastic, although I’m not a fan of the dodge mechanic but that’s probably because it’s new.

  • Game modes: Bite-sized portions of fun!
    Rocket Arena (1v1) and Arena (1v1, 2v2) were an absolute blast to play and were by far the best modes. Diabotical's 5v5 Wipeout mode puts a modern twist on Clan Arena with healing weeballs and more forgiving respawns. I despise Clan Arena and I’m not a huge fan of Wipeout either, but the respawn mechanic in Wipeout seems to make it a bit better than CA. The Weebow instagib (5v5) is a projectile based instagib mode featuring coin collection mechanics. You need to pick up coins that spawn on the corpse of your enemies in order to confirm the kill. I understand it’s introduced to prevent camping, but in hundred of games of classic instagib in Quake camping was never a problem.

  • Netcode and server locations: They’ve got you covered!
    There are 13 servers located across the world. Of course, US and EU have nothing to worry about. Lucky bastards! However, I’m immensely grateful there are 3 servers in Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo) and even ones in South America (Brazil) and South Africa (Johannesburg). I had absolutely no issues with netcode and connected with a ping of around 35. Server locations are subject to change post-release though, but I hope the Singapore server isn’t removed as it covers a wide range of regions and is the only one I can connect to with sub-150 ping.

  • Maps: Mostly a hit.
    Most of the maps in the game are done fairly well. Both from a visual standpoint and a gameplay standpoint. They flow well and instigate exciting combat. There are areas in certain maps where you needlessly get obstructed by terrain. This breaks the flow (like beneath and between the mini bridges in Heikam is awful). I hope these will be addressed in the future.

  • Performance: Good, could be better.
    This is something specific to my system and your experience is likely to be different. On Quake Champions at 1440p (Render scale: 75%, textures: High, everything else: Low) I get a constant frame rate of 155 FPS when limiting the frame rate using RTSS. In Diabotical at the same resolution and render scale, the frame rate was jumping between 90 – 145 using the in-game frame limiter set to 155 FPS. I didn’t try RTSS. I was told there was a bug if you start a game from the Practice Mode, so I’m hoping this will be fixed.

The average

Some aspects of the game are certainly average and could definitely use some improvements.

  • Weapon models: Some of the weapon models are uninspiring.
    The shotgun does not look or feel like a shotgun. In fact, its possibly the worst looking weapon among the bunch. The crossbow and grenade launcher also looks rather plain and should be spruced up. The rest of the weapons (not counting the goofy needle pen) look pretty good.

  • Weapon feedback and audio: Some of the sounds in the game are lacking.
    In particular, hit sounds feel like a notification you get on your mobile phone rather than the sound of damaging a metallic eggbot. The sound when an eggbot explodes upon death also doesn’t sound rewarding. Some of the weapon also sound weak, like the grenade launcher and shotgun.

  • Eggbot customization: Has Potential.
    The customization of your eggbot using stickers surpassed my expectations. But I would love to see proper skins for eggbots like those shown in the Kickstarter page. Those are have the potential to be a viable, sustainable monetization option for the developers.

Conclusion and concerns

I’m really happy with the time I had with the Diabotical beta. There were occasional crashes in-game and a few random glitches in the user interface. Such problems are expected and I’m confident will be addressed in subsequent releases.

However, my concern is more fundamental. Would the artstyle and hardcore nature of Diabotical attract a larger audience? The sound and feedback of weapons is possibly the worst aspect of this game. Limited market exposure via the Epic Game Store also will play a crucial part on the success of this game.

Nonetheless, the beta was met with mostly positive reactions on Twitch among the streamers that played it. But I think it’s unrealistic to expect this game to break out of the niche AFPS market.

As a hardcore AFPS fan, any improvement to the player base is a bonus and I look forward to it. My hope currently is Diabotical will become an indie title with a small, albeit dedicated player base. Something like Brawlhalla for AFPS games. One can dream. If Diabotical manages to sustain an average player count of 5000 players per month, it’s a smashing success in my opinion.

Diabotical has made looking forward for the weekends all the more compelling!