Free-to-Play Shooter Playtest Intro: The Old Pond Regulars Ride Again

Four men, three F2P shooters, one hectic Christmas as an excuse to shoot people in the face. The Old Pond Regulars ride again.
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Video games, like any hobby, are better enjoyed with friends. Even before the internet, I have fond memories of eagerly awaiting my turn on a friend’s Atari console, crowding around a single computer to help solve a point-and-click adventure puzzle, or taking part in the old-fashioned pen-and-paper RPGs.

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I am fortunate then, that twenty-five years later, I am still in contact with those same friends. The games have changed, and so have our lives, but there is still the rare occasion when we make arrangements to meet up, virtually or physically, for a shared gaming endeavour.

Christmas is a great time for just such an online gathering. Finding the excuse to sneak away from seasonal obligations to play games is an art-form akin to being an online Christmas ninja. For a few hours over the holiday period, me and three of my friends managed to do just that. In reference to our old local pub, we once again became the Old Pond Regulars.

After the traditional poking fun at each other’s spreading waistlines and greying hair, we hatched a plan to leverage our decades of gaming experience to deliver some insightful critique of a selection of free-to-play shooters.

It was a great plan. We targeted Planetside 2, World of Tanks and Mechwarrior Online for the first round of free shooter goodness to compare and contrast.

We could claim we were mature, professional gamers with a keen eye and decades of experience, but a more honest description would be perennially casual gamers with barely a clue despite playing for years.

But decide for yourselves, here’s our team of comically inept playtest commandos…


The Old Pond Regulars



Gaming Style: Measured and competent with occasional “Vic 20” brainfarts.

SingingBush is arguably our virtual leader, insofar as he buys a game then, after getting the hang of it, insists we all join him so he can show us how to play it. We still remind him of the Everquest era when he used to lead us across Norrath then abandon us in an unfamiliar zone none of us were a high enough level to survive. Bastard!

Notable Gaming Achievement: Introducing the rest of us to the effectiveness of mouse targeting in first-person shooters. I’m still scarred by a networked Unreal game in the early 90s which saw SingingBush gleefully head-shotting everyone with ruthless efficiency whilst we all clumsily pawed at the keyboard controls and fumed with impotent frustration.

Currently Playing: World of Tanks, Empire: Total War, MechWarrior Online, Planetside 2 and The Secret World.

All-time Favourites: Elite, Sword of Aragon, Lords of Chaos, Laser Squad and Battlefield 1942.


Gaming Style: Sneaky and well-oriented, like a sat-nav designed by Gollum.

Toenailgoblin is a serial MMORPG player and loves nothing more than flouncing around in fairy-filled cartoon lands like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars. He’s probably played more MMOs than any of us, but he’s still searching for the perfect soloist’s MMO experience. Because clearly that’s what MMOs are designed for. Historically fond of the Thief series, any game which allows for backstabbing and/or sniping will gain Toenailgoblin’s attention. He once described himself as “so laid back he needs a wheel on the back of his head.

Notable Gaming Achievement: Getting to level 80 without communicating with anyone in World of Warcraft, a game played by more than 10 million people.

Currently Playing: Guild Wars 2 and MechWarrior Online.

All-time Favourites: Elite, Secret of Monkey Island, Thief, Mechwarrior 2 and Battlefield 1942.


Gaming Style: Gung-ho and chaotic, like an aggressive Forrest Gump.

Bootneck is so-called in reference to his former military career. As a trained soldier, you’d think that he’d bring discipline, organisation and efficiency to any gaming group, However, despite also being good at chess, Bootneck approaches first-person shooters with the gusto of a one-man tank-rush and it is often the case that poor judgement and awful direction-sense cause him to become separated and in dire need of assistance. He is sometimes confused by complex games and/or control systems.

Notable Gaming Achievement: Learning to type with more than one finger. Singing Bush said, “When Bootneck could write a brief response in a game chat window in under five minutes, angels chorused ‘hallelujah’.”

Currently Playing: Planetside 2, Blood Bowl, Guild Wars 2, MechWarrior Online, World of Tanks and Star Wars: The Old Republic.

All-time Favourites: Blood Bowl (the original tabletop game and the “buggy”* online version).

* By “buggy” I think he means he is unable to manipulate the rules and/or dice rolls to his advantage as per his usual methods.


This is me. I wouldn’t have written anything about myself, but Singing Bush insisted I include the following:

“Pyromedik’s in-built desire to play the medic frees up the real men to brave the fighting up front. A good shot and supportive wingman when not being distracted by the dead and dying. Strategically not as clued-up as Bootneck and myself, which means he avoids playing games he’ll get stuffed at.”

Notable Gaming Achievement: Blogging more than three average sized novel’s-worth of words about a single game.

Currently Playing: EVE Online, Planetside 2, The Secret World, X-COM: Enemy Unknown and FTL.

All-time Favourites: Elite, Duke Nuke ‘Em 3D, Command & Conquer, Battlefield 1942 and EVE Online.


So, like the gaming equivalent of a group of embarrassing disco-dancing Dads, we were misguided enough to think we could show the youngsters how it was done. Here’s what happened…

Next: Planetside 2 (Part 1)


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Image of Mat Westhorpe
Mat Westhorpe
Broken paramedic and coffee-drinking Englishman whose favourite dumb animal is an oxymoron. After over a decade of humping and dumping the fat and the dead, my lower spine did things normally reserved for Rubik's cubes, bringing my career as a medical clinician to an unexpectedly early end. Fortunately, my real passion is in writing and given that I'm now highly qualified in the art of sitting down, I have the time to pursue it. Having blogged about video games (well, mostly EVE Online) for years, I hope to channel my enjoyment of wordcraft and my hobby of gaming into one handy new career that doesn't involve other people's vomit.