Decrypt’s Art, Fashion, and Entertainment Hub.
Game studio Midnight Society was the product of gaming personality Dr. Disrespect's frustrations with the current state of shooters. The larger-than-life content creator (a.k.a. Guy Beahm) co-founded the team with veterans from franchises like Call of Duty and Halo, all with the goal of creating a competitive shooter that could rival Call of Duty Warzone and Apex Legends.
Given that pedigree, it’s no surprise that Deadrop quickly became one of the most anticipated Web3 games ahead, as the PC-based “vertical extraction shooter” sold out 10,000 Founders Pass NFTs in March 2022. Anyone who minted the pass has been able to play test builds of the game as it takes shape.
One year later, Deadrop’s Snapshot V pre-alpha build was showcased in front of thousands of viewers at the Esports Stadium in Arlington, Texas last month, and Midnight Society dropped $25 “Tower Key” non-NFT access passes to let in an even larger potential audience.
With an access key provided courtesy of Midnight Society, I booted up my PC and jumped in-game to see what all of the buzz was about—and whether Deadrop already shows signs of being one of the first Web3 games to live up to the hype.
You're dropped into a cyberpunk-style map called Cold Storage with the goal of grabbing loot from the ground, out of boxes, or off of dead players' bodies before extracting back to safety.
As time moves forwards, the freeze rises from the bottom of the map—this is comparable to the “gas” or “storm” in other hit battle royale games that force players towards a certain part of the world (and ultimately closer together). In this case, players are nudged up the skyscraper in Cold Storage before they can extract, hence the "vertical extraction shooter" tag.
There are four ways to extract from the level and make it out alive: a zipline, a helicopter, a dynamically-spawned gate, or the super lift—where every surviving player can team up and extract together, or otherwise choose to fight to the death. Only the last player standing will be rewarded with an item of their choice.
You have three lives in Deadrop; after your first death, you respawn as a "SYN." Currently, there is no gameplay difference when playing as a SYN other than a glitchy overlay. However, co-founder and studio head Robert Bowling said at the Snapshot V event that SYNs “are relevant and deep in the lore,” but for now, they’re a “really great respawn mechanic."
Once returned home, you can store your loot in your stash and then redeploy, either with no equipment or with that loot that you've extracted. Remember, though: if you don't extract with your stuff, it's gone forever.
Tarkov meets Apex Legends
Given that Deadrop is an extraction shooter, it's natural to compare it to Escape From Tarkov—but in reality, it's much less tactical than that. Instead, I think a more natural comparison is popular battle royale shooter Apex Legends, with fluid movement at the core of the gameplay.
You’re given a breadth of options to move across the map. You can slide, bunny-hop, use ziplines, and climb pipes and ladders, as well as holster your weapon for additional speed. Players have started to weave these elements together creatively, resulting in parkour-like gameplay feats that even John Wick would be proud of.
In gunfights, you’ll find yourself relying on agile movement to help get a power position or to creatively rush your opponent—rarely do you need to solely rely on gun skill.
There’s a good variety of weapons in the game currently, including a handful of shotguns and pistols, an LMG, SMG, DMR, assault rifle, and sniper. Each of these weapons can be modified with barrels, magazines, stocks, gadgets, sights, and weapon mods—a very rare item that will upgrade your weapon.
Unfortunately, the gunplay is where Deadrop lacks bite at this point; the weapons lack heft, and landing shots currently feels largely unfulfilling.
One of the reasons for this may be due to the lack of recoil that each weapon has as of now, making shooting feel unrealistic and unresponsive at times. Another issue is the sound design for the weapons. Shooting a firearm should feel powerful—they're literal death machines, after all. But in Deadrop, so far at least, they lack pop.
What about Web3?
Despite being widely known as a Web3 game, there are no blockchain-based elements currently within the game. The Founders Pass NFTs are the only current Web3 element, and those Polygon-based NFTs offer access to the preview builds and other in-game perks. They currently start at about $580 worth of ETH on secondary marketplaces.
Keep in mind, however, that Deadrop is in pre-alpha, and Midnight Society may not want to put the cart before the horse and implement NFT or token elements before polishing the core game. The studio declined to comment about its future plans on the Web3 front, but a recent viral tweet from Dr. Disrespect suggests that loot may come in the form of NFTs in the future.
"Imagine trying to ‘extract’ with an item you discovered worth $100,000 on the chain," he tweeted in early March, ahead of the Snapshot V release.
Imagine trying to ‘extract’ with an item you discovered worth $100,000 on the chain.
Think about entertainment value as a viewer let alone player.
A new pvp experience is upon us…
— Dr Disrespect (@DrDisrespect) March 5, 2023
That would add a lot more weight to Deadrop, which currently has a slightly unrewarding gameplay loop. Right now, it’s certainly sad to lose your fully kitted-out weapons, but it feels like you can get everything back with enough time—aside from the weapon mods.
But if you knew that you'd just looted an item that was ultra-rare and expensive on a secondary marketplace, then safely extracting from the world would gain some seriously major stakes.
Imagine that you're in a 1v1 shootout, you've got an expensive item in your backpack, and you're low on health. You have a power position over the enemy and a sniper rifle in hand. Just hit your shot. Your heart would be pumping out of your chest!
That said, if such NFT functionality is incorporated, then there will have to be strong anti-cheat measures as well as a way to revert any damage hackers cause. Also, even if security was airtight, would you ever want to play a game with such high stakes? Imagine the heartbreak if you lost an item worth $100,000. Some crypto degens may find it irresistible, however.
You’d also hope that items valued so high wouldn't be extremely overpowered in-game, otherwise Deadrop would become pay-to-win and lose its competitive edge.
Dr. Disrespect may be speaking in hyperbole right now, which he is known to do—but on the other hand, non-NFT gun skins in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) have sold for nearly $400,000. It’s easy to see how a proper tokenized model could replicate such demand, but there’s no certainty at this point that Deadrop will become a CS:GO-like phenomenon.
Worth dropping in?
Every six weeks, a new in-development Deadrop snapshot is scheduled to roll out with new features, tweaks, and upgrades to the game. Currently, the game is in the "proxy" art phase—the second of a four-part phase system—and is an unpolished product by Midnight Society’s own admission.
For a game in pre-alpha, there are some promising ingredients that could cook up a great game in the future. The movement and vertical design are really fun, and the possibility of tradable and potentially valuable NFTs being added to this only makes things more exciting.
But in this still-early state, the unsatisfying gunplay remains the weakest part of the experience. If Midnight Society can get the weapons to a good place—alongside the broader improvement of the game as it goes from snapshot to snapshot—then Deadrop may well match the over-the-top energy of its brash and boastful progenitor.