by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
A game within a game...
When you begin Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet, you find that the protagonist a newbie in an online MMO known as Gun Gale Online (or GGO, for short). This game is a VR game that puts your character within a series of locations in what is supposed to be a VR environment... well, it’s a VR environment in the world of GGO... although to the eyes of those playing Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet, this appears as a standard online shooter. Confused? Well, yeah, I was too at first, but as the game progressed, it sort of made sense.
Early on, after a basic tutorial in which you secure a valuable prize, much to the chagrin of the other characters within the game, you begin to explore the local area and meet up with a number other GGO gamers. After the initial tutorial, you are forced to chat with these other characters as they talk about the game, but unfortunately the bulk of these characters are rather dull and the dialogue is uninspiring. You do have the opportunity to skip over these conversations, which I did on a number of occasions, but I fear that I may have skipped something important about the gameplay.
Once I waded through the initial meeting with these ‘important’ characters, I eventually worked my way to the game itself. And it starts off quite well, setting you inside a valley in a rocky landscape where you (and your couple of companions) use your skills and firepower to kill anything that moves. The game has a similar feel to Borderlands (albeit, in an anime setting), though it is not as user-friendly. Collecting various weapons and being able to upgrade or enhance them is quite enjoyable. Upon death (or completion of a main quest), your character is transported back to ‘real-life’.
Unfortunately, between quests, it is time for another gab-fest, and as mentioned earlier, the chat among the 'gamers' within the VR environment is dull. And this affects the pacing of the combat side of the game. Personally, I simply wanted to get on with completing the main and side quests and keep moving on through the story, but was again forced to wade through the dreary conversations. And although at times you get to choose from a couple of dialogue options, these options are generally the same, with different wording – giving the sense that there is no consequence to how you answer them.
Combat, experience and levelling up
The combat portion of the game is fairly solid and enjoyable. Upon entering the game world armed with your weapons and skills of choice (more on this later), you are greeted with some lovely landscapes and a plethora of creatures to destroy. But in GGO, you do not play alone, but as a pair. In your case, you are teamed up with an old friend named Kureha. But you are also ably helped by the prize you gained in the tutorial – an intelligent human-looking android known as ArFA-Sys. It definitely helps that you have your companions fighting with you, because at times they can take the focus from your avatar, allowing you to pummel the enemy unmolested. And like medics in online shooter games, each can revive fallen allies. This is never more evident than when fighting the boss creatures. The Boss enemies are fun to play against and I must admit most took me a couple of tries to defeat, as the first attempt was basically just a way to view the creatures movement and attack patterns. Having the ability to revive the companions (or them reviving your avatar) is a bonus as well, as these bosses can take a beating before they actually fall.
There isn’t a huge range of enemy characters, but as you progress, stronger versions of those enemies appear, each with their strengths and weaknesses. As you defeat the creatures, you gain XP and will collect treasures such as weapons, parts (which can later be used to enhance weapons), protective gear and ammunition. The weapons gained from looting (or from purchasing from the store) have a similar variation to those in Borderlands. You have the basic types, but each may have their various enhancements that make them different from the next. You can fast-switch between two at any time, but can access any of the weapons in your inventory.
But it is not just the weapons that you have at your disposal that can be used to take down an enemy. As you progress, you will gain skills and gadgets that can be used by any of the characters. Gadgets such as grenades and health kits can be used within combat, whilst skills such as accuracy boosters and temporary shields can aid both you and your companions. Each of these skills and gadgets has a varied cool-down period, so they must be used sparingly.
Upon completing a quest (or dying) within the combat arena, you are transported back to the game room. You are allocated a score based on the goals you’ve completed, kills made and objects collected within the combat arena. These points then go towards your bounty, giving you a rank within the game world. You also gain XP, which allows levelling up. Upon levelling up, your character gains points that can be allocated against the six stats that make up a character’s skills. These stats can determine which weapons or armour the character can use, how much they can carry, or how much standard damage they do to enemies. But, as well as looking after yourself, you must also keep an eye on the stats, skills and gadgets of the android companion.
The fact that you are transported back upon completing a quest, unfortunately does not allow you to complete other secondary missions that you may have had within the area. As this is the case, any minor quests you want to complete need to be completed before the main story quests. And every time you return to the arena, the same enemies within the area will return, resulting in repetitive gameplay. I did find that this did let me experiment with weapons early on and level up with reasonable safety, but continually having to fight the same enemies became monotonous and was a grind. Reaching certain points in the arena allows the use of a fast travel feature, but often the loading takes longer than actually travelling on foot to the locations.
The world of Sword Art Online, both inside the combat arena and in the ‘real-world’, is lovely. The real world does have somewhat of a clinical feel to the locations, but the characters met throughout the region add some colour to the area. The anime characters with their weird and wonderful hair styles and costumes give them an interesting look. As mentioned previously, their conversation skills need some work, though. And once you move into the combat phase, the locations are wonderfully designed, each area with a different feel. Having said that, the dungeon areas with their robotic enemies and factory-like environments did feel quite similar each time I entered a new one. But the rocky outcrops in one arena and sandy terrain in another look lovely, each providing their own scenarios despite many of the enemies being somewhat the same.
Anime Borderlands... but without the fun
Although Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is lovely to look at, and the core game mechanics work well, it is the repetition and the stale dialogue that quickly diminished any fun I was having with the game. At its heart, Sword Art Online plays like an anime Borderlands, but without the user-friendliness. The pacing issues due to spending time in the ‘real-world’ prevent any sort of continuity within the combat arena. If Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet was simply the shooting game within Gun Gale Online it would probably be a better game - as the story is superfluous to the gameplay in any event - and one that I would have had more fun playing.
Core online shooter mechanics work well. Lots of customisation.
No real story to speak of... and too much useless inane dialogue. Repetitive gameplay.