Developer: Small Impact Games
Release Date: 03 October, 2022 (EA)
By Chris Picone, 03 October 2022
I’m always a bit iffy about multiplayer first person shooters. I loved Team Fortress, Quake 3, and Unreal Tournament but since then the only multiplayer FPS games that I really enjoyed were Battlefield Vietnam and, more recently, Mechwarrior Online, Mordhau, and Star Wars Battlefront 2. I’m just not a huge fan of “die and respawn” gaming (except where it’s been handled well, like in Mordhau and BF2), and I absolutely can’t stand all that jumping around nonsense that comes part and parcel with Call of Duty and similar franchises. So where does Marauders stand? It’s none of those things and I like it, although with several caveats. Before I start I want to make it clear that, as of right now, Marauders is in Early Access and only opened up to reviewers a day or so ago. I expect the majority of my “complaints” will very likely be fixed by the time it releases.
Just the expected pseudo-story. Mankind moved into deep space and continued to exploit resources and fight wars against each other. Those who are left get by as marauders, raiding abandoned space stations for salvage and attacking each other for loot.
I’d love to see more detail added to the first person shooter part of the game – small things like different items on shelves – but suspect it’s deliberately been minimised to help frame and ping rates. And besides, Marauders is a shooter with exploration elements rather than the other way around, and what is in the game looks good, so it’s fine. The space scenes, though! Exquisite.
There are three core elements to the game: Base, space, and the raid. Base is the pre-raid hub where you sell or scrap the loot from your last raid, craft or purchase new gear, and equip your character. It’s also where you pick up contracts, which is Marauders’ version of daily bonuses; objectives you can complete during your raids that then provide you with additional loot and xp. There’s also a “zero to hero” section which provides you with a string of quests to complete, supposed to give you a sort of cohesive progression map. It’s a fantastic idea as a sort of loose way to guide you through the early learning stages of the game but the execution is currently terrible. For example, the first quest has you scrapping some of your extra starting gear, which I thought was a nice way to prompt me to check out the crafting section. But the very next quest, instead of then having me use that scrap to make something, has me hunting for some random unidentified piece of space equipment, which only appears in a particular room on a particular space station (except that you don’t get to choose where you go when you raid so you just have to wait for that to come up), and then to get to it you need to unlock a door with a lockpick which don’t seem to appear in the shop and you can’t craft until you’ve hit level 3 (which requires quite a lot of raiding to reach). It’s one area that definitely needs some more attention and I hope they fix it with the full release.
Once you’re equipped, you need to go on a raid. This involves a match-maker which at the moment doesn’t seem to work terribly well, although I’m hoping that’s just because the player base is currently very limited as it’s not open to the public yet. You’ll quickly find yourself dominated over and over again. In one run I found myself in a firefight with a marauder that I unloaded burst after burst into and he just stood there and took it – armour, I assume? Then he fired back at me and I died instantly. Next run I was shot and killed by a camper the moment I stepped off my ship. On another run I never even made it to the station to start the raid because an enemy ship was shooting at me from above and wiped me out before I could even manoeuvre them into my sights to shoot back. During one of my best early runs I managed to sneak up and kill a marauder only to be quickly overwhelmed because I was on my own and he was part of a squad. That’s fine, I thought, I’ll join a squad too. So I hit the “join a crew” button, and while most squads were password protected, several weren’t. I went from crew to crew to crew trying to find a game except that they were either all lurking (or crafting, or something?) and none of them would ready up to start a raid. I’ll never know what they were doing because there’s no lobby chat, although I heard it did exist in previous builds so maybe it will come back. I finally found one crew who was ready to go but when the game loaded up, one of the players (my own team mate) killed me immediately. 16 seconds into the game, before our ship had even started moving. So I gave up and returned to solo play. As you can see, there’s a few issues here, but this is the sort of stuff I expect the developers will iron out prior to the full release.
When you actually do go on a raid, there is a “space” section before you make it to the station to start the actual raid which allows for some potentially gnarly dog fights between ships. Ship-to-ship combat is designed Guns of Icarus-style, with one squad member flying the ship, others manning the turret guns, and another frantically trying to put out engine fires. The idea’s great but I never got to see any; once you spawn into the game, it’s only a short trip to the station and it’s exceptionally rare that you ever even encounter another ship on the way. And while ships are docked at the station they aren't visible so the only other way to provoke an encounter would be to camp out for potentially 20 minutes waiting for survivors to flee the station. I’m really hoping they either add another game mode that promotes dog fighting or else add in some other incentive to give a reason for ships to be flying around. Maybe some space junk could be scavenged or something, I don’t know. Maybe this is a problem that will solve itself when there are more players after the game is made available to the public.
The core of the game now, the raids! There are a range of different space stations to raid; some industrial, some research, and so on. And they’re all massive, so there’s plenty to explore as you go looking for loot. It also means the arenas you fight in can include gyms and libraries as well as machinery pits and engineering corridors. The levels are designed brilliantly, with plenty of large open spaces, rat maze corridors, suspended walkways, there’s scope for open firefights, close quarters SMG or shotgun battles, even genuine scope to sneak up and stab somebody from behind. This is one of very few games that really had me creeping around jumping at shadows. The sound of your own footsteps will terrify you and hearing fire fights in the distance are a constant reminder that you aren’t alone. Battles are short and intense. Combat’s primarily stealth-based due to the fact that the weapons are lethal, with only a hit or two required to kill (depending on armour). There’s no hiding around the corner and healing and if you die you’re booted back to base having lost your ship and any equipped items so you really don’t want to get hit. The game also naturally lends itself to squad-based combat, where tactical manoeuvring might allow you to move around an enemy’s defensive position, a scout could be sent out front to protect the group, or your team mates could guard access/egress routes while you search a room for loot.
Fun Factor / Replayability
Runs are sensibly limited to ~20 minutes with the excuse that you can only carry so much oxygen. While that probably sounds like a long time, that includes the time it takes to step off your ship and find your bearings, explore a massive space station, go looting, get in a shoot-out or two, and then try to find your way back to your ship. And the game’s pretty damn lethal so it’s unlikely you’ll actually last the whole 20 minutes very often. This also means it’ll probably take several runs before you ever manage to fully explore any of the stations and none of the fights ever feel the same so every run feels different. I’ve only been playing for a few hours so far but there’s been no sense of monotony yet.
Marauders won’t be for everyone. I don’t think it’s a very friendly game for casual gamers because of the persistent nature of your equipment – if you die you lose everything but also every time you survive you can sell or scrap your gear and buy or craft improvements; weapon modifications, ship upgrades, etc., so I think the game really wants you to be invested to properly enjoy it. At its core Marauders is a multiplayer stealth shooter that I think is really aimed at players like me who prefer their shooters to be a little slower, gritty, and requiring some forethought, resource management, and tactics. If that sounds like you and you aren’t scared of a challenge, go for it.