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Gundam Evolution’s Team Shooter Soul is Weighed Down by Monetization’s Gravity

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Gundam Evolution

It’s still the early days of Bandai Namco’s new team shooter Gundam Evolution – the game came out for PC about ten days ago as of this writing – but things are already looking up. The time it spent in testing wasn’t wasted, either: Already quite refined, the play experience is smooth almost to the point of feeling frictionless. Bandai Namco has learned, and learned well from the example of Overwatch and its many copycats, and landed the essentials with aplomb.

For those uninitiated, Gundam Evolution is Bandai Namco’s attempt to adapt one of the most iconic anime franchises of all time to the rigors of a free-to-play, team-based “hero shooter”. Rather than secret agents, superheroes, or elite soldiers, Evolution plumbs the decades of Gundam history for inspiration. As of launch, 17 mobile suit mecha from a wide range of Gundam series form the playable roster. Twelve are playable from the beginning, with five more unlockable by various means (more on that later).

Gundam Evolution

Every Mobile Suit (MS) is unique, with bespoke weapons, abilities, and tactics. Rather than Overwatch‘s role-based system, Gundam Evolution embraces a more freeform approach to team-building. There can’t be more than one of any given MS on a team, but there’s enough overlap in style that you’ll find something reasonably similar if you find your favorite suit taken. Even then, every unit is unique, and learning how to play as them and play against them is key to mastery.

Of course, each Mobile Suit does fall into a certain preferred style defined by its loadout and stats. Absolute units like Sazabi and the Unicorn Gundam love to mix it up in team fights, with Sazabi out front absorbing damage with its shield and closing in to use its beam shotgun. Unicorn suppresses enemies with its rapid-fire beam gatling, while helping its team just by being there through a passive heal and armor boost ability. Yet both are quite different. Sazabi can immediately jet to its thrown axe or a teammate, giving it surprising mobility and the ability to get right in an enemy’s face. Unicorn’s size and lack of a shield make it far more vulnerable in a stand-up fight, so it’s reliant on keeping in a crowd of friendlies and using its Shield Bits to tag faraway snipers lining up a bead. One of the new unlockable suits, the Mahiroo, is the only one in the game with a grenade launcher, and is quite valuable for its ability to spam areas with indirect fire.

Gunevo

Gundam Evolution is also surprisingly fast and deadly for the alleged size of its giant robot cast. Every unit has one or more boosts to quickly dodge out of the way, and many units have access to precision “hitscan” weapons that reward accurate aim (the GM Sniper II can outright down the more fragile suits in a single headshot). In other words, the time-to-kill can be brutally short. There are some mitigating measures in place to account for skill and coordination. Getting “killed” leaves your MS disabled for a few seconds, allowing a teammate a brief window to revive you (support suits like the Methus and GM Sniper can even do this from a distance). And swapping suits can change a strategy entirely, potentially letting you turn an oppressive situation around with bold offense.

There are, however, some balance concerns to be found. Though the relative dominance of the melee Mobile Suits (Barbatos in particular) has been toned down somewhat, the three have an extremely high skill ceiling and, in the hands of capable players, can utterly oppress an enemy team with few direct counterstrategies. Exia in particular seems a little too capable of jetting its way out of consequences when its pilot makes a mistake. The new melee suit, Zaku II (Melee), has nearly medium-range reach on the shockwaves from its axe, and even has a move that makes it invincible (if immobile). In a game with many sources of precision damage, melee suits need to feel high-risk; at the moment, they feel a bit too safe.

More concerning than any transient balance issue, though, is the way the Gundam Evolution executes its monetization model. The game is free-to-play, but those 12 initial suits are all a new player gets access to for a considerable period of time if they don’t want to pay up. Bandai Namco’s added the triple-threat of monetization methods to the game: A battle pass (with premium and free tiers), an item shop selling bundles of cosmetics and suit unlocks, and a gacha/loot box system that lets players roll the dice for cosmetics.

The game’s premium currency is Evo Coins, paid for with real money and earned in small amounts via the Battle Pass. Evo Coins can be used to buy things off the item store and roll the gacha. Freebies are few and relatively far between. Players can unlock a new suit by paying “Capital” (a.k.a. blue points), which is earned from completing Beginner’s Challenges and Battle Pass levels. But the current Battle Pass and Beginner Challenge slates only reward enough Capital to unlock two suits at the end of the grind. There are five unlockable suits. Worse still, ranked play is outright unavailable to players on the free tier without a considerable grind to get their player level up. Those who upgrade their Battle Pass to “Premium” unlock ranked play immediately. It’s a move in poor taste that also warps the landscape of available players for ranked mode because even at the bottom-tier bronze ranks you’ll have a mix of completely new players who chose to upgrade their Battle Passes and players that have tons of experience but couldn’t unlock Ranked Mode until they’d done their time in the casual playlist mines.

Even now, after some adjustments to the system, it can take quite a while to get into ranked matches above the first ranking tier. All in all, if you just downloaded Gundam Evolution and want to jump straight into ranked play with all the available suits, you’re looking at an outlay of about $60 USD (about $50 in Evo Coins to purchase the “Deluxe Pack” that unlocks the 5 locked suits, and $10 to upgrade to a premium Battle Pass).

I personally don’t think it’s unreasonable to pay something to a free-to-play game. At the moment, though, it feels like Gundam Evolution‘s potential is being hamstrung by its monetization. New players might be turned away by the notion they’re getting a second-class experience if they don’t pay up, and players who do pay don’t reap the benefits of the large audience a free-to-play game can attract.

With luck, Bandai Namco will rethink some of these moves and focus on Gundam Evolution as more of a long-term concern. The moment-to-moment play experience is simply too much fun to deserve to be weighed down by the gravity of business.

Josh Tolentino
Josh Tolentino is Senior Staff Writer at Siliconera. He previously helped run Japanator, prior to its merger with Siliconera. He's also got bylines at Destructoid, GameCritics, The Escapist, and far too many posts on Twitter.