What is Diabotical?
Diabotical is a first person, arena shooter game which is free to download and play. Built on a proprietary game engine called Glitch Engine, the FPS will immediately ignite nostalgia in anyone who is familiar with Quake 3 Arena and other arena shooter classics. Players control colourful, egg-shaped robots called “Eggbots”, and must battle other players in arenas using a variety of weaponry.
The game has been developed from the ground up, and published, by The GD Studio, a small development studio based in Sweden. The studio was founded by Quake and competitive gaming professionals. Originally receiving successful funding from Kickstarter for developing their vision of a new arena shooter, The GD Studio then received further funding from Epic Games which, the team proclaims, will allow them to continue working on the game for at least 2 years after release, promote the game and fund the esports scene for Diabotical. Epic Games, with a long, entrenched history in Arena Shooters, obviously saw a lot of potential in the title.
Diabotical proudly leans on it’s influences, with gameplay very similar to Quake 3 Arena and arena shooters of old. The old favourites one would expect of an arena shooter are all here: jump pads, bunnyhopping, rocket jumping, power ups and more.
Everything in Diabotical is fast, fluid and without interruption. Running around the arenas is fast but why run when you can bunnyhop for extra speed? No stopping to examine and pick up weapons and armor, you simply run over them. Kill an enemy and move on to the next one. If you die, you immediately respawn (in most modes) and carry on.
In Diabotical, players can find and throw small, living creatures called “Weeballs” which explode on impact with different effects. Some of these effects include creating a temporary healing dome, slowing dome, create a non-damaging explosion which bounces everyone in the vicinity away or create a cloud of thick smoke. This is a nice addition to a tried and tested formula and in keeping with the comical appearance of the Eggbots.
Just like the classics, simplicity is what makes Diabotical so instantly appealing. It is just you, your movement, your aim and your enemies. Everyone begins on a level playing field. Weapons, ammo, health, armor and powerups and “weeballs” always spawn in the same location which removes luck from the equation. These types of shooter have always been about individual skill.
There are plenty of maps to rocket jump your way around in Diabotical. 30 Maps across 15 game modes provides a lot of variety. The map designs themselves adhere to the arena shooter level design tenets, with designs such as Arena, Circular and more being used. The designs do a good job of keeping everyone moving, with certain areas providing a focal point via power ups or open layouts. Items are evenly spread over each of the maps meaning there is always something useful nearby to keep the action flowing. A good mix of verticality is provided in the Diabotical maps, with multiple levels joined via staircases, elevators, jump pads and teleports. This stops maps feeling flat and boring.
As with any game, Diabotical has some strong maps and some weak ones, but overall there is a healthy mix of enjoyable designs on offer. Even a brand new player can jump in to the action and not feel lost or at a disadvantage because they have not yet learned the map. With any Arena Shooter, mastering the maps is definitely possible. Learning focal points, rotations for power up cooldowns and gaining muscle memory for map locations are all possible.
That said, maps are rarely memorable for any aesthetical reason. Particular locations stick in your mind only because of the functionality they offer, such as a jump pad, a rocket launcher or power up. There are very few, if any, locations which stand out from a visual perspective. Normally this would be an issue but when your Eggbot is jumping around so quickly, dodging rockets and gunfire from every direction, this point becomes null and void. Simple geometry and a lack of distractions actually aid the gameplay in Diabotical.
Visuals and Sound Effects
The Glitch Engine provides very smooth, crisp visuals with low requirements. While it still looks modern, there is a simplicity to the visuals and geometry of Diabotical that never lets the game look impressive. This does ensure you can see the chaos with very little in the way of distraction. The developers have taken care to prevent textures, effects and other visual noise which could hinder you being able to follow every step of the action.
The Eggbots themselves continue this principle. Why have a selection of overly complicated characters with different hitboxes when everyone could be the same simple shape? An egg with arms and legs. The Eggbots and Weeballs are nicely animated, avoiding any jarring movements and keeping the feel of the game nice and smooth.
As with the map designs, the simplicity is a double edged sword. The more shallow gamer might decry Diabotical for its lack of awe inspiring effects but because Diabotical has kept the visuals simple but modern, it is a game design decision that is a benefit for a such a fast moving arena shooter.
Weapon sound effects are decent and reminiscent of older Arena Shooters, and Weeballs give satisfying squeals when you throw them. Audio is the weak point of Diabotical however, which is typical of a small development studio.
There is no background music except when a power up is in use. Instead, every game has faint, ambient noise along with 3 typical sound sources to be heard over the duration of every match – The weapons, the robotical noise of Eggbots running and a very dry announcer. Other noises will punctuate the game every now and then but these are the most common. This prevents both a lack of excitement and thematic variety, from an audio perspective.
The noise of the Eggbots is a good indicator of where enemies are coming from so it can be excused. The announcer voice could be more enthusiastic however, and offer more flamboyant announcements which we hear in other Arena Shooter games.
Again, this is a matter of perspective. Simplicity and functionality is the core of Diabotical, and audio could be a part of that.
As easy as it is to praise the gameplay in Diabotical, the User Interface deserves equal credit. The mantra of simplicity and functionality is immediately introduced to the player when they start the game up. Without ever seeing the UI before, it must be possible to launch the game and join a game mode of your choice within 30 seconds. No complications, fancy menu effects, Battlepass unlocks, chest drops or notifications causing an annoyance. It sounds trivial but not bombarding your players with what are essentially adverts upon startup is a lost art in modern gaming..
With just a couple of clicks however, the player has access to an extreme level of customisation. Aim sensitivity can be adjusted for every weapon, custom crosshairs can designed per weapon or edit the Heads Up Display (HUD) with ease via a drag and drop editor. The personal favourite has to be the character editor which lets you place stickers on your Eggbot to design how you want it to look in game. The level of customisation is impressive but never overwhelming.
Statistics are broken down by map, mode, weapon and time frame. This lets you analyse your own performance or just show off your big numbers to your friends, both of which are very useful.
Network & Anti-Cheat
As one would expect from a game with esports ambition, Diabotical runs on a Peer to Server (P2S) network configuration for optimal performance. I3d.net, a Ubisoft partner, is used to provide up to 125-tick servers across 13 locations for public servers.
There have been certain netcode issues reported such as hit registration issues and “ghost rockets” passing through players and walls, but at time of testing, all seemed to be working smoothly. Gameplay has remained fast and responsive without issue or downtime.
The development team of Diabotical have been very transparent about their process for selecting an Anti-Cheat solution. “EQU8” anti-cheat was chosen, with The GD Studio justifying the choice because of it being lightweight, unobtrusive and provided by a highly communicative team. Often, one would expect a popular product to be taken from the shelf, such as Epic’s EasyAntiCheat (EAC) but the desire for low loading times and a tailored fit for Diabotical saw the developers go with EQU8.
While it is difficult to judge the capability of an anticheat system on such a new game built on a proprietary engine; there have been no obvious cheaters encountered on Diabotical to date.
The shop offers timed deals on cosmetic items which can be bought with coins. These cosmetic items range from stickers to place on your Eggbot, weapon skin bundles, sprays and more. The shop itself takes the time to emphasise that all items are purely cosmetic and offer no gameplay advantages with a message along the bottom. Diabotical makes the commendable choice of not putting loot boxes in the store, instead opting for a model of, you know, getting what you pay for.
At time of writing, there are 4 coins bundles on offer:
- Starter Pack – 500 coins – £4
- Standard Pack – 1700 coins – £12
- Big Pack – 3750 coins – £24
- Fan Pack – 8100 coins – £48
Some examples are the cost of a spray requires a Starter Pack which doesn’t seem appealing. A weapon skin bundle (a skin for every weapon) required the Standard Pack which seemed like a better deal.
A Battlepass is used in Diabotical. Through experience, the player unlocks levels in their Battlepass. Most of these levels require the Paid Battlepass which costs 1200 coins (Standard Pack) but some levels are unlockable for free, gaining you a cosmetic item.
Overall, the pricing seems good with the exception of Sprays. The designs of Eggbot, Weevil and Weapon skins are appealing enough to attract people to spend some money and support the game. Unfortunately, a lack of things to buy is a downside just now but hopefully this changes soon.
So, is Diabotical good?
Absolutely. The free to play shooter market has always followed the trend of copying whichever genre is big at the time – Call of Duty clones, Hero Shooters and, currently, Battle Royale games. When developers do not run with the herd and instead create their own vision which they are passionate about, and create it so well, the result is a game which shines above the competition.
Diabotical takes an old, tried and tested idea which we have seen many times before over the decades, and makes it feel like an exciting breath of fresh air where “fun” is at the forefront of the game. Those seeking longevity in the form of character progression or unlockables may find it disappointing however.