Warpath really teaches a valuable lesson about the value of innovation. While it might seem that its developers at Digital Extremes set out to create more of a good thing, its result begs the question if anything has been created at all. Warpath is a by-the-numbers online frag-fest that neither succeeds nor fails, but its lack of ambition renders it thoroughly unremarkable.
It's not that Warpath is a bad game. It isn't. At least it isn't broken or fatally flawed in design or execution. In fact, I'll admit that you can have plenty of fun playing it. But in a sub-genre where players don't burn through or get sick of content the way they do in story-oriented single player games, you have to wonder if more of the same will be enough to entice a community to adopt this for their online blasting thrills.
On paper things look like a sweet deal. Warpath offers fully-featured online multiplayer shooting with your basic Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag modes, along with a vaguely Day of Defeat-style Frontline Assault mode for up to 32 players. There's eight weapons, three vehicles, and 25 maps to wreak havoc on. The graphics, powered by a now-obsolete version of the Unreal Engine, look plenty good (if a bit too similar to Halo) for a title that shares a release with the original Xbox. Sounds like a good deal for $20, doesn't it? You'd think so, anyway.
In the vein of Unreal Tournament and Quake III the single player experience is a repackaging of the multiplayer modes. In this case, players conquer a map Risk-style by competing with bots on the various multiplayer stages. Unfortunately the bots are not very smart, nor engaging to play against, sometimes huddling up in masses and getting stuck together, and other times running right by as if they don't notice you.
So the real fun is, of course, to be had online. After spending the last few weeks playing the barebones eight-player, deathmatch-only multiplayer of Prey, I felt ready to dive into some big arenas and take on a more robust multiplayer experience. To my disappointment I found little competition available, and ended up playing with a handful of real players and a whole lot of those bots. Warpath affords players two weapons of their choosing before each patch. All of these are big two-fisted guns, and are reasonably well balanced, with nothing standing out as unfair. Unfortunately, nothing stands out as particularly interesting or new either. The vehicles are a nice thought, but most of the maps don't seem to be built to take advantage of them.
And after some hours of playing this I realized I'd rather be playing Prey, because, even with its limited options, at least when I played Prey there were unique features that reminded me why I wasn't just playing another game. The really frustrating thing about Warpath is that you can tell that its creators knew what they were doing. It's a balanced, plays smooth, looks good, and by all measures should be a good game, especially at the modest asking price.
But with nothing new to offer, lousy single-player, and virtually no one to play against, there's not much really being offered here at all. Admittedly the multiplayer-focused FPS has been a declining sub-genre as first-person storytelling has taken great strides in recent years. But even when compared with aging games like Unreal Tournament 2004, there's not much incentive to choose Warpath. Ultimately I would rather play an ambitious game that only half succeeds than one than generic one which hopes only not to stumble. But for those craving something new that isn't quite, this is still at least a solid product. If some people actually start playing, there could be hope for it yet.