The main conceptThe main concept doesn't differ too much from your average battle royale game. You drop a bunch of people into a big map and the last one standing wins. You can choose to play solo, in duos, or in a team of four people. Of course, if your friends have the game installed then you can play with them instead of queuing with randoms.
Core gameplay and controlsThe first thing that we noticed with Free Fire from Garena is that it has a rather fancy main menu/theme and that you're playing with 50 people instead of 100. Other than that, you also have the choice to play a ranked game - meaning that you'll be matched with people who are about at the same skill level with you. More on that later. Gameplay, for the most part, is rather fun. First of all, there's plenty of loot everywhere no matter where you drop. It's hard to fall anywhere else than the middle of nowhere and not get a single gun. Speaking of guns, you'll find the classic options here. SMGs like the UMP, assault rifles like the AK 47, sniper rifles, shotguns, and pistols. There are also grenades but people rarely use them anyway. The shooting mechanics are very simple with very little spread and recoil when you're spraying. Tap shooting is almost fully accurate and the slight-auto aim makes it even easier. Don't get too scared with the whole auto-aim thing. It's almost a necessity when you're aiming with a touch-screen and everyone has it anyway which means that you won't get into an unfair situation. If there's one thing that bothered us is that players can climb up to some crazy places and you'll never see the shot coming unless you are very familiar with the maps. As for the controls, well, they are strikingly similar with those of PUBG - same style more or less. You won't really have to fiddle with anything. Getting used to the controls is a piece of cake.
Ranked gamesHow much of a difference does the ranked system make in Garena Free Fire anyway? Well, first of all, ranked matches are all about balance. You're supposed to get a decent challenge - killing your opponents shouldn't be too easy or too hard. That most certainly wasn't the case for our first ranked match. We got 11 kills and the 2nd place without breaking a sweat. Not to brag but that most certainly wasn't a challenge and we would've also got the first place if it wasn't for the tiny mistake of pulling out an SMG instead of the AK at the last moment. Due to the reasons mentioned above, we decided to go for another ranked match. Maybe now the system calibrated that we're on a higher skill group and maybe we'll get a bigger challenge - and so it did. On our second ranked match, we died on the first encounter leaving the opponent with 15 hp. Now that's what we call an equal fight. Third match, again, about 10 kills but they weren't easy. Our opponents were clearly better than the last ones and the tension was high. Overall, after just playing 3 games on the ranked mode, it seems like it's working. The better that you perform, the higher the rank that you'll get and sooner or later you should be getting a decent challenge.
Graphics and optimizationIn our opinion, the graphics are not bad at all. Especially if you consider that this is an open world game that's running on a phone with 50 people playing at the same time. The landscapes, buildings, and vehicles weren't all that better looking compared to other battle royale games like PUBG. However, the character models were somewhat nice. There's no denying that the character models do look a bit teeny if that's the right word for it, but that's a topic for another time. Not to mention that liking such characters or not is mostly a matter of personal preference than something objective. What's truly impressive with Garena Free Fire is its optimization. The game runs buttery smooth even on our budget smartphone. The same thing can't be said for PUBG which had a few lag spikes even on the lowest settings. So, when it comes to optimization, Free Fire wins over PUBG and ESPECIALLY over Fortnite, which, at the moment, struggles to run even on high-end phones. Overall, the graphics are nothing mindblowing for sure. But, the game is optimized so well that you should be able to run it with any phone that came out in the last couple of years.
Characters and perksThis is where things get a bit good and bad at the same time. In Garena Free Fire, you have the choice of playing with a variety of different characters - which is awesome. You need to pay for the extra characters but that's not the issue. Free to play games need to somehow make money and we understand that purely cosmetic things do necessarily come at a price. And here's where things get nasty. The paid characters are not purely cosmetical - each one of them has different perks and skills that the free characters don't have. In the PC gaming world, this is what we call a "pay to win" game and everyone despises that mechanic. Hopefully, Free Fire doesn't have that. But, at first glance, it sure seems like it does. We've got a total of 13 characters with most of them having some sort of unique perk/advantage over the others. As mentioned above, this excludes the two characters that you get for free. These perks include anything from faster reloading times and faster sprinting speeds to extra carrying capacity and extra health. At the moment of writing this article, these advantages are rather small. But, even the smallest advantage can separate the winner from the loser.
Rewards and in-game purchasesNot gonna lie - the amount of content in Garena Free Fire is a bit overwhelming. You've got plenty of skins for pretty much everything. You name it. From character costumes and weapon skins to even surfboard appearances. Overall, if you're willing to spend a few bucks on this, there is a lot of content waiting for you. The reward system isn't all that rewarding. You do get maybe a nice drop once in a while. But, if you really want to get a few skins without paying, then prepare to grind a lot. To put matters into perspective, we got a couple of jeans and a rare backpack by playing a couple of games every day for 3 days in a row. It goes without saying that even if you grind all day long, there are lots of items that you can get only by paying with in-game currency. Again, that's not necessarily a bad thing because free to play games do need to make money somehow. But, you know what's a bad thing? The pay-to-win mechanics. As mentioned before, the characters that you can purchase offer perks that you can't get with the free characters. To Garena's defense, we did get a paid character for free as very rare reward. But, to our understanding, only a limited number of people will get such a thing.
ConclusionOverall, here's what we like and don't like about Free Fire from Garena:
What we like:
- Great optimization
- Pleasant graphics
- Matches are not too lengthy
- Nice controls
- Lots of loot
- The ranking system is nice and needs to be adopted by more games
- File size is considerably smaller than your average battle royale game
What we don't like:
- The "premium" characters are making the game a bit pay-to-win
- The overall UI could be a bit more original as it seems to copy PUBG - but maybe it's just us
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