by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Sword Art Online and I have a sort of rocky history with one another. I think the anime is a less-engaging .hack//sign, and that’s okay. We like what we like! However, most of the games have been mediocre at best to me. Most of them get put down and set aside, never to be touched again. But I recently sat down with the PC version of Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet, which certainly has a feel that’s different from any of the others I have played. It’s still set in a Virtual World, but this time it’s a shooter MMO. Think Destiny/Destiny 2. The major difference is, we’re not going to have a lot of real-world controversy packaged with Fatal Bullet, like having the exp curve shifted and shafting players, or offering lots of “lootboxes” with “cosmetics” that you “totally don’t have to buy with real money but you can if you’d like to!” sort of crap going on in it. This isn’t a “real” virtual world.
Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is an action-RPG set in the world of GGO (Gun Gale Online), and you make your own custom character to enter into the SAO Universe. Most of the SAO cast is here in the game with you, and you interact with them, and they inflict themselves on your story. Of course, Kirito is basically the best player in this game too, but your inserted character is also terribly amazing and comes across an insanely rare AI unit to help them on their adventures. This AI is where a lot of people really love the game it seems, because you can, as the kids say, build your own Waifu/Husbando. It’s pretty progressive in that it lets you build a male AI to help you if you’d like. I won’t lie, I kind of got tired of being called “Master” after about forty-five minutes; but they are helpful, will res you in battle, and fight with you. You can give them an allowance, let them get haircuts, and give them stats/skills that pair well with whatever you’re doing.
This is an action MMO at its core, and as the name suggests, it has a variety of guns you can use. Pistols, Assault Rifles, Rockets, Sub-Machine Guns, Sniper Rifles, or you can do what Kirito does, and wield a laser sword plus pistol. I cannot imagine anyone wanting to use a sword though, because once a target has locked onto you, you’re getting hit. The dodge mechanic is pretty frustrating, even though I found myself killing enemies 10-20 levels higher than me without too much difficulty. Once you master dodging, it’s not that awful. That was with my assault rifle though. As long as your best friend and your AI are there, very little will be an issue to deal with. The game has an aim-assist that you can turn on and off, and while the gunplay is very solid once you get used to it… you have to get used to it. That’s the problem. You have to know when to turn it on when to turn it off again. You also have skills you can equip, but they’re clumsy to use at best. Useful when you can activate them, but clumsy for sure. Trust your guns instead.
You can equip two different weapons at once, with various stats, rarities, etc, like you’d see in any other MMO. You don’t get unlimited ammo, however; you have to purchase it at the in-game shops. Not a big deal, since it’s not terribly expensive, but man, the guns are! The shops are so inflated, again, like any other MMO, so I’m not upset at that. You can, however, go farm unique/elites in the world once you find them, going into a map, killing them for unidentified items and leaving. You can identify them through one of Kirito’s friends. As it turns out, his friends can do everything: upgrade/transform weapons, craft new costumes, identify gear, et cetera. It’s very convenient how useful they are.
The plot starts off pretty unclear plot, and pretty slow to boot. There are so many cutscenes and huge chunks of dialogue with the main cast of the game before the grind begins. Of course you’ll have to grind a lot; it’s a looter-shooter after all, so you have to expect it. Which is sort of unfortunate, because the game itself is not insanely long. I don’t believe the story is more than 20-25 hours, and the online multiplayer has been barren. I don’t PVP in games like this, because I’m not ready to play against people with incredible gear that just shoot me to bits because I don’t play all the time. The PVE is a boss-rush style mode, which is kind of cool. The multiplayer doesn’t really stand out to me and I ultimately found far more enjoyment in the regular single-player experience. You have a few allies to go kill stuff with you, and while I’d rather play this online in the open world with friends, that’s not what’s available, at least not yet. It could be a fun addition to the game somewhere down the line.
The gameplay itself is very good. It takes a little getting used to, and it can feel insanely repetitive, with the same old dungeons, the same color palette, the same robot enemies and occasional “PCs” to fight, all for loot and more credits to buy stuff, but it still manages to be enjoyable. I appreciate that the game does not funnel you down a particular skill or weapon path. You might find yourself using a gun with better stats, but you can play the game your way, and that matters a lot in a shooter. As you play, you’ll gain levels, which give you stat points and points for skills. Stats are incredibly important for equipping new gear, and you’re also tasked with statting up your AI helper. The skills range from passives to active abilities, and there’s a lot of cross-over in the passive abilities. Thankfully, if you get a skill that appears in another tree, you still have it. However, the AI is dumb; fearfully dumb. I’ve watched my AI just stand there taking shots from a sniper while I lay dead in a heap. They roll forward to try and resurrect me, only to die in one hit. However, it’s not a game over if your team wipes. You tally up whatever you made while out in the world, and go back to town. In that, the game is very easy. It’s relaxing though, and not as stressful to play.
Best In Its Class: Good (3/5)
This is far and away the best Sword Art Online game I’ve played ever, quite frankly. It’s still mediocre at best. It’s also one of the better Shooter-Looter style games I’ve played in a long time, and that is with Destiny 2 on the table. Destiny 2 is beautiful and was enjoyable, but all of the drama, lies, and the behind-the-scenes garbage won’t happen here because this is only the illusion of an online MMO shooter. You don’t really have to spend lots of time doing stuff with the important NPCs, but it is worth it, as you gain some pretty amazing costumes, gear, et cetera doing stuff for them. It’s how you upgrade, enhance and transform weapons, which is another fantastic option (that again, you really don’t have to do). It’s a fun game to just log in, shoot a bunch of robots and stuff, get some exp, and then go do something else. Visually it’s appealing, the gameplay is sharp and solid, but it will likely feel incredibly repetitive after playing for too long.
One thing that really bothered me is that sometimes I would log in, and would immediately be thrown into a cutscene. I didn’t log off in the middle of anything. I signed off the game in the middle of town, and when I logged back in, I was in my room (which I guess makes sense) and was tossed into a side-quest or cutscene. There’s lots of side content to do though, and it does extend what you can do in-game. While it can feel tedious, it is still pretty fun. It’s gratifying to run around these abandoned areas and shoot stuff! You can build your ideal waifu/husbando to adventure with you, and that’s pretty damn cool. None of the choices feel important, the areas feel kind of blase’, but the game is still, at its core, a very good game. This is all stuff I think could be fixed with patches or DLC somewhere down the line. Still, if you want to immerse yourself back into the world of Sword Art Online, I’d argue this is one of the best games to jump in.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.