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Shrapnel, one of Web3’s most-anticipated first-person shooters, is nearing launch.
At the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, developers from game studio Neon wore black t-shirts and huddled around two rows of computers in a small, subterranean room with fluorescent lighting. Players, meanwhile, sat in front of high-end curved Alienware monitors with wireless Razer headphones and black PC towers next to each seat, all while Shrapnel’s Creative Director (and Xbox alum) Clint Bundrick gave players a rundown of the extraction-based shooter.
I could immediately tell that this was going to be a game for hardcore PC players.
As the pre-alpha playtest began, the room retained its serious tone. The player next to me pointed out a bug or two to the developers matter-of-factly on his screen as my game rebooted a few times. Unfortunately, I got the one computer that was struggling to load the game. But I was eventually able to get in—and immediately wowed by the game’s graphics.
Shrapnel has a realistic and highly cinematic look. The game is set in the year 2044, on a future Earth where crashing meteors are commonplace. Pervasive steam, ambient neon lighting, and other visual elements that make the game feel as if it was designed by a filmmaker.
As I explored the industrial rooms, it felt strangely beautiful and much more visually appealing than a Call of Duty game. It didn’t feel gritty or dull, but rather futuristic. And it's built in the same high-end Unreal Engine 5 used by many massive game studios.
As I made my way around the Abandoned Calloway Compound map—where players loot up and look for meteor resources to extract while taking out anyone they see—the audio also proved quite intense. The high-pitched sirens intermittently rose and fell, and the rumblings of bass spiked my heart rate and made me feel like I really was inside some kind of high-stakes military base, where my life could be taken at any moment.
It was sometimes difficult to figure out exactly where I was being shot from. I didn’t see a directional indicator as in the popular free-to-play shooter Apex Legends, so opponents were challenging to spot.
Some good @playSHRAPNEL gameplay dev clips coming in hot.
— Jonah 🎮 (@RealJonahBlake) March 16, 2023
I made my way to the roof to see if I could take some mid- to long-range shots with my simple loadout, which consisted of a CA-MR84 “Special” assault rifle and a CA-HGS1 “Leo” pistol. The AR had quite a bit of recoil, but it felt realistic and satisfying to shoot.
Fall damage in Shrapnel is a big deal and your stamina is limited, so you can’t run forever. There’s some strategy to be had here—both with character loadouts and play styles. You can play aggressively, or you can emphasize stealth. You’ll see your bodily injuries divided by area (arm, torso, etc.) with a handy icon in the bottom left corner, next to your stamina bar that slowly regenerates over time. You can pick up medkits too, and the lack of an onscreen time meter for healing in the midst of battle gives Shrapnel a more realistic, but admittedly stressful vibe.
After playing a game of poke-damage with a few players from the roof while admiring the dystopian sci-fi surroundings, I descended the brutalist warehouse and continued to explore. Every moment felt intense, and my footsteps were loud. I wondered where all the other players were.
There were only three of us left.
Minutes later, the sirens returned. This time, I was supposed to go to the extraction point. I rushed down the stairs, worried that I wouldn’t make it in time or that I'd run into another player unprepared. I made my way outside and encountered a rival—the last one—and immediately exchanged shots.
I emptied an entire clip of my AR into his torso, but he didn’t fall. That surprised me, but he damaged me badly as well. My lower-left injury icon was flashing red. I darted left behind cover to reload and realized I’d run out of ammo in my best gun. The pistol would have to do.
The Leo pistol felt satisfying to wield at short range. I was getting shot badly, but was aiming for my opponent’s head. I wasn’t sure which one of us was going to fall first. Movement in Shrapnel is slower and the time-to-kill is much longer than in a game like Apex, where players can strafe and duck more easily. But my handgun shots landed again and again, and the final opponent fell.
I’d won! The game developers were standing around me now, telling me I didn’t have much time left. Through the noise-canceling headphones, I’d been completely immersed in the game and had no sense of what was happening in the fluorescent playtest room around me.
Beat all the guys at the video game.
Took out the final player in a 1v1 with my pistol and made it to the extraction point within an inch of my life 😂
— Kate Irwin (@pixiekate13) March 20, 2023
I ran partway to the extraction point, heart racing from the thrill of killing the last player. My stamina gave out and I was forced to walk, bleeding all the way with my injuries flashing red. I had no med kits and no ammo, and was gravely injured.
But I made it out alive.
And all the while, there were no transactions or mentions of NFTs as I was playing. It felt like a true, traditional AAA-quality game, albeit with external Web3 augmentations.
Shrapnel’s Head of Blockchain Marc Mercuri explained afterwards that the game will have a very intricate and expansive NFT economy built on the Avalanche blockchain. Every part of every gun and every item your character can wear will be an NFT, and Shrapnel plans to give gamers the ability to create their own content and use it in the game—they’ll also own the rights to the IP they create.
And it’s not just being built on Avalanche, either. Shrapnel has launched operator characters as Ethereum NFTs, as well as redeemable “Sigma Container Unit” NFTs on Ethereum scaling network Polygon that will yield in-game items for holders. The studio is reaching into multiple Web3 communities without overtly foregrounding the NFT aspect in the game, at least from what I played.
The game will also offer multiple different types of matchmaking lobbies for players. For those looking to play without NFTs, that will be an option. But for those with NFTs, know that Shrapnel plans to make each game high-stakes—where losing your NFTs upon death is definitely on the table.
The satisfying, cinematic playtest convinced me that Shrapnel’s experienced team is leading the charge in innovating Web3 game development. Overall, the pre-alpha trial was an intense, heart-racing PVP experience with immediate appeal. From audio, visual, and gameplay standpoints, Shrapnel is well-positioned to compete with the biggest traditional shooters in the video game market.