Block N Load hands-on preview: Minecraft plus guns

Block N Load

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There've been a lot of "Minecraft plus ___________" games over the years, as everyone tries to snag a piece of that massive DIY pie. Sony combined EverQuest with Minecraft to get Landmark. Terraria took the Minecraft formula and flattened it into two dimensions. Space Engineers turns you into an astronaut version of Bob the Builder. Eldritch smashed up voxels with H.P. Lovecraft. A few years back developer Jagex put out Ace of Spades, one of the first Minecraft-esque shooters. It was kind of a controversial disaster.

Now Jagex is taking a second go at it with a new first-person shooter dubbed Block N Load and...well, I think they might have figured it out this time.

Killing is easy

I got a chance to play some Block N Load earlier this week and had a damn good time not playing a shooter. Like Team Fortress 2 and Blizzard's upcoming Overwatch, Block N Load is a role-based shooter heavy on teamwork. The key difference, of course, is that Block N Load's roles balance between both Minecraft and typical FPS archetypes.

Block N Load

On the "mostly a shooter" end you have characters like Cogwheel, the mortar-friendly robot, while on the other end of the spectrum is Turreto, a stereotypically-Italian New York construction worker who's obsessed with turrets. As you can imagine from the "construction" background, Turreto's better in the rear where he can play defense and build structures.

So that's what I did. I played Turreto, every single time. And I had a ton of fun doing it.

The map we played was a small, symmetrical map with a base on either end. You're trying to push towards the other team's base and destroy their power generator. Larger maps have multiple intermediate objectives along the way, but it's largely the same idea.

When the round starts, there's a big gray curtain in the middle of the map. You've got five minutes to build whatever you want—be it a wall, a castle, an enormous immobile dragon, something not-safe-for-work, it doesn't matter. When that curtain goes up, that's the first time you get a glimpse of what the enemy's built, and then it's time to either push forward on offense or stay back and guard your base.

Block N Load

Thanks to the fact that the map is voxel-based, 90% of it is also destructible. We won our first round in less than two minutes because the team didn't expect us to tunnel underground, Great Escape-style. The second time, they were ready for us and as much fighting happened underground in enormous tunnel structures as it did aboveground.

What I'm most happy about with Block N Load though is that the defensive role can be just as important as playing offense—something most shooters fail at. Inhabiting my role as Turreto, I spent most of the prep period constructing an enormous brick wall across the front of our base with a force-field entryway that our team could pass through but the other team couldn't. I threw some turrets on top for good measure.

But that wasn't enough. Even though the prep period was over, I still had the ability to build whatever I wanted. I reinforced the brick wall until it was three bricks deep, threw three more turrets on it, and then constructed some turrets behind it for the occasional interloper. Then I placed some fire traps behind the initial entryway and built a second force-field behind—if anyone got through the initial force-field they'd get stuck on the second one while a dozen fire traps burned them alive.

And then, true to my name, I constructed two more turrets to fire into the force-field.

Block N Load

I'd built a dozen turrets, plus my horrific force-field trap, by the time the round was over. The other team put up a good fight on their end, but my Saw-like (or, since we're talking voxels, Cube-like) death labyrinth meant I only saw a handful of players in our base throughout the fight. I also had way more fun constructing said death labyrinth than I have with my typical multiplayer shooter nowadays—it felt great to have more to contribute than my reflexes, for once.

I don't know if Block N Load is going to be a smash hit. As I said, many have tried to make "Minecraft plus blank" games in the past, and this isn't even the first Minecraft-inspired shooter. Heck, Jagex itself already made a Minecraft-inspired shooter. This is their second go-round!

I had a blast with it though, and whether or not it has the sticking power of its inspiration I think it's well worth checking out. The beta launches in December, and you can sign up for that and snag more information about the game at the official website.

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