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Deuterium Wars is a 2D multiplayer space shooter that makes a huge point of advertising that it’s “absolutely free” in their promotional material. So, is it actually free, and is it worth playing? I’m sure you can already guess the answer to both of those questions. It’s no. The answer is no.

As I mentioned, Deuterium Wars is a 2D multiplayer space shooter where you do battle in modes like team deathmatch and domination to gain crafting materials to build parts. It’s a simple gameplay loop that gets ruined pretty early on, but first let’s talk about the actual gameplay.

Visually, Deuterium Wars is unimpressive at best. If you’re old enough to remember Newgrounds, it resembles just about every flash game you’ve ever played on that platform. Ship parts look like puzzle pieces that have been glued together and lose any sense of cohesion once you start mixing and matching armor parts from different sets. The art style feels flat and uninspired. None of this is necessarily bad. Games that look like they could be flash games have impressed me before. Take Steambirds Alliance for example. That was a simple top-down shooter that I enjoyed because the rest of the game around the simple visual style was good. Deuterium Wars, on the other hand, falls short in a few key areas.

First, the gameplay itself feels sluggish. You move with WASD and aim with your mouse. There’s considerable lag as your gun turns to follow your mouse cursor though, which makes trying to hit targets more of a guessing game than an actual reaction. I get that this is supposed to simulate realistic turn times for guns, and that tanks and airplanes can’t instantly aim in another direction, but this is a 2D, arcade style shooter. The lack of mobility when it comes to aiming hurts the pace of the game. Combine this with the fact that there’s an auto aim assist that tries to do most of the work for you, and the combat becomes a complete mess. The ships themselves also feel slow and unresponsive. This is supposed to get better as you unlock new parts, but we’ll get into that in a minute.

Deuterium Wars features a campaign mode, but it doesn’t feel like it’s all there. A lot of the missions amount to little more than flying through a maze, shooting some destructible walls, and then fighting another ship in much the same way you would in Team Deathmatch. There’s added dialog that tries to build some semblance of a story around these missions, but in some cases, it feels stilted. It reads as though it was poorly translated from another language.

One thing the game does well is in trying to keep its game modes interesting; at least it does as far as team deathmatch is concerned. The point capture mode, in contrast, feels barebones. Rather than just have a mindless killing spree to reach the score cap, the developers have instituted an additional win condition for team deathmatch. If you and your team can reach the enemy’s base and steal their totem, you automatically win. This allows for teams that are behind to attempt a comeback if they can get some kills. This is somehow aided by another of the game’s drawbacks: the respawn timers start at around 10 seconds and get longer as a match progresses. I’ve had them in excess of 13 seconds in team deathmatch, which again breaks the flow of the game and allows for well-equipped teams to make easier totem captures.

This is where the second major falling off point for Deuterium Wars comes into play. The game is unbalanced. Players who have spent money or more time than you have better equipment, which means that getting paired against them puts you at a severe disadvantage. I’ve lost Team Deathmatch games in under a minute because a highly-geared team wiped us out and took our totem before we could all respawn to defend it. Just like that, the match was over before it started. Here’s the kicker: if you want better equipment so you can hold your own, you’ll have to rely on the game’s crafting system to get it. That’s where things really fall apart.

The crafting system is, without question, the worst thing about Deuterium Wars. You gain recipes from loot boxes and from leveling up, and you use them to learn to craft the items they represent. That’s all well and good. What isn’t well and good is that to craft items or to even open a loot box, you need a crafting station open and you need time. Yes, you need time to open loot boxes. Some of them can take as long as five minutes just to open. You only begin the game with one crafting station too, so you’re stuck waiting once you commit to an action unless you want to spend money to speed things along or buy more crafting stations.

That’s right! Deuterium Wars, the game that boasts that it is free, locks all its progression behind pay-gated wait periods. I knew as soon as I saw the promotional art that mentioned the words “Absolutely Free” that there would be a catch, and I was right. Free-to-wait games, as they’re colloquially known, are the absolute worst offenders in an industry that is loaded down with free games trying to nickel and dime people for progress. I know there will be defenders of the game who might say that you can just wait for the timers to expire and not spend money. To be fair, they are right. In another sense though, they’re not right. My time, much like your time, has value. It is worth something, and even if you’re doing something else to wait out these timers, you’re still paying time into the game that you can’t get back.

This wouldn’t even be the worst thing in the world if the crux of the core gameplay weren’t so reliant on you having good items on your ships. In fact, getting items is one of the major selling points of the game. Deuterium Wars boasts over 3000 obtainable items, not all of which are even worth having, and they’re all locked behind loot boxes, wait timers, and arbitrary grind. Now I’ve defended games that have used a similar crafting system in the past. I maintain that Warframe is an excellent free to play game despite having a similar crafting system because the game around it is playable and, most importantly, fun! Warframe’s base gameplay isn’t centered around the time-gated crafting. Here, there’s no such luck. The game feels like an unbalanced, cobbled together mini-game built with the sole purpose of facilitating the wait timers and paywalls.

The moral of this story is stay far away from Deuterium Wars. It’s a boring, poorly executed mess of a shooter hitched to some of the worst monetization practices I’ve seen in some time. If you’re looking for an arcade style shooter that’ll be fun to play and give you some real challenge, check out Steambirds Alliance instead.

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