The game's being developed by Edge of Reality, an Austin-based developer that has been making ports (including console versions of Dragon Age: Origins) and doing contract work for over ten years now. Loadout is the studio's first original title, which means the team is finally applying its knowledge and experience to something it directly owns.
It shows in the game's current polish, even before the full beta launch: The graphics are fun and flashy, with really excellent touches in the controls and animation. It shows in team balance and mode choices, which are generally similar to Team Fortress 2 and other team-based shooters, but with some nice original flairs. And it shows most in the core mechanic, a custom weapon-building system that offers a lot of impressive possibilities for creating a gun that's entirely your own.
Loadout doesn't offer a lot of new thinking in the core gameplay: It's a third-person team-based online shooter, which means you run around a lot and kill other people. There are only two maps at the moment: one built for 3v3 play; and one for 6v6, using a cartoony desert aesthetic that's very similar to Valve's very popular Team Fortress 2.
The game modes are all based on standard shooter fare, though Edge of Reality has smartly tweaked each one for its own nefarious ends. Jackhammer, for example, is a Capture-the-Flag style game, but the flags are huge hammers that you can wield against the enemy team. DeathSnatch is a Kill Confirmed-style game (where you have to pick up items to confirm kills), and Blitz is similar to King of the Hill modes in other games. Extraction is probably the most original mode, giving one player VIP status, and then tasking them with grabbing minerals dropped on the levels, and delivering them to dropoffs to earn points without getting killed.
But where Loadout really excels isn't even in the matches themselves, even when the action is at its most fun and frantic. Where Loadout excels is its weapon creation system. Each weapon starts with a chassis, classified by standard weapon types like shotgun, assault rifle, or rocket launcher. From there you can specify a few different parts, like magazine type or handle grip, that will tweak the weapon's accuracy or damage. But the real customization comes in the weapon's "payload" slot, where you can not only change the weapon's damage type (or even equip the weapon to work as a healing or a buff gun), but also change the way in which the weapon itself fires.
This creates a ton of possibilities - in just a few short minutes, you can tweak a rocket launcher, so that instead of one rocket it sends out a spread of rockets, or a rocket that splits at a certain time. You can tweak the rocket so it lobs across a certain arc, more like a grenade launcher, or change it to a "sticky" rocket that explodes only when you hit a detonator. You can change it to a rocket that scuttles through the ground, exploding only after it reaches a certain point. Add a laser scope on the same gun, and that rocket will chase your laser sight, turning it into a guided underground missile.
Or maybe you want to control the rocket remotely, like Unreal's old Redeemer rocket. Tweak the settings a bit, and Loadout lets you create just that. Change the payload to health, set the guided rocket to spread after a few seconds, and you can go from a straightforward rocket launcher to a guided AoE healing bomb with just a bit of tweaking. Loadout has even provided an easy and quick-running testing map right off the weapon configuration screen, and it was fun to just tweak a weapon in question, hit Test to see how it worked, and then hit Escape right back to the config screen, getting a weapon's dozens of options just right.
In the end, I landed on a high-capacity assault rifle that sprayed incendiary bullets in a wide radius. I called it the FlameSprayer, and took it back to the Extraction gametype to find it worked pretty well. Loadout allows you to save a series of loadouts that you can change in between respawns, and you carry two weapons at a time, so there are lots of opportunities to use your created guns in the game itself.
Loadout shows a lot of potential – the core gametypes are interesting, but they're really a blank canvas on which to paint with your created weapon masterpiece. The game is completely free-to-play, and Edge of Reality says the microtransaction system will be centered around cosmetic and convenience items (like character customization and the ability to save more loadouts), though weapon parts and tweaks will probably be earned as you play.
Loadout is in closed beta now, and Edge of Reality's team of 20 hopes to have it out in open beta very soon. There's a crowded field of free-to-play games coming along in the next few months, but Loadout is definitely one to watch.