Foxhole Review (Early Access)

Learning to Love the Slow War

15 April 2020
Played on Windows

Foxhole is in early access right now, as of 16 April 2020, but make no mistake, this is a very playable game with a lively community. Whereas other games throw you into the front lines right away, sometimes a few seconds from the enemy, Foxhole plays things a lot more slowly, and there's a whole game here for those who just want to support the fighting, rather than plunge themselves into a bullet storm.

The Good

  • Strategic gameplay rewarding the long game and thoughtful co-operative play
  • Supportive community willing to help guide new players
  • Surprisingly functional for this stage of Early Access
  • Decent tutorial map with time to learn the basics

The Bad

  • Steep learning curve for new players
  • Clunky UI with confusing interactions
  • Suffers from occasional lag and server crashes
  • Not the most graphically advanced thing ever

TL;DR

If you don't mind the occasional bit of lag and a steep learning curve, this is an excellent war game. The clever game design really shines through, where the side with the more effective and organised teamwork will win out, and it's impossible to solo your way to victory.

A game where everything, from guns, ammunition and shovels, to bunkers and landing craft, has to be built from scratch by players, before being sent to the front lines to be used by other players in combat.

There is a huge amount of enjoyment to be had here, and a choice between frantic balls-to-the-wall front-line combat, and a more sedate but equally as important logistics role behind the scenes.

Foxhole: A resource field ready to be collected and transported to a refinery

The Premise

Here's the gist: every item in the game is made by the players. If you pick up a gun and load it with ammunition, that gun and ammo has been created by another player in Foxhole. If you see a pillbox or a bunker, that too has been created by players by transporting the required resources and placing them on the map.

This game takes place in a persistent world. There are a number of different servers, and you can probably expect more to be added if the game increases in popularity, but a war on a particular server can and will last for months. Any changes to the map such as buildings, vehicles, and equipment are permanent, so if you build a bunker today, unless it is destroyed by the enemy or dismantled by your team, it will still be there when you log in tomorrow.

The objective is not much different from other war games: defeat the enemy. It's the going about this business that makes Foxhole stand out as one-of-a-kind and wholly refreshing.

The Learning Curve

Foxhole is in Early Access, so you can understand that Clapfoot have not spent as much time on tutorials as they have on fleshing out and balancing the gameplay at this early stage. When entering the game, you are placed into the "starter" island, a safe zone for your faction where you can do whatever you like.

There are signposts everywhere, chock full of information on how the game works, from basic movement and shooting, to transportation and construction. This is all static text, however, and beyond telling you the names of the buttons to press in the UI, there isn't much help.

However, a number of times, I encountered a friendly experienced player just hanging around on the starter island, waiting to help people out. The community really is here to help. Nobody's paid or rewarded in any way for helping new players. It just sort of happens as a consequence of people's love for this game, and it got me started much more quickly than scratching my head on my own.

Foxhole: Landing craft and construction vehicles make their way to the shore through shallow water

Deployment

Once you're happy to leave the starter island, you can choose to deploy, which will teleport you into the server for real, and onto the single world map. Unlike other war games, every player exists on the same map, in the same world. There are multiple servers, so there's multiple "copies" of the same game, but once you choose your faction and deploy, you will be sticking to the same server, war, and faction, until the war ends. Which could be months of real time.

You're free to choose a place to deploy, either right at the front lines, or further back, away from the action. Unfortunately, the initial deployment screen doesn't currently show the amount of resources available at each place on the map, so there's no way to know whether there's actually any weapons or equipment waiting for you before you deploy.

More of an issue, you cannot see if there's any vehicles available before deployment either, so you might deploy to a town with no vehicles and no resources to build any.

Distances on the map are really huge in this game. Running consumes stamina, slowly if you're lightly encumbered, and much more quickly if you're carrying a lot. Walking takes... a very... long... time. Even walking across a large town might take a minute or two, while walking to the next town might take you 15 minutes. Hence, vehicles are really important in Foxhole!

Foxhole: Part of the Foxhole world map

Hex-based Instances

The world map is split into a number of equally sized hexagons, and transitioning between each one will cause a short loading screen. This is clearly to prevent the need for every player's system to communicate with that of every other player, and keeps things manageable. It's a bit jarring and annoying to have to wait for things to load, but this will rarely affect you if you're into the front-line combat, and still only be a minor annoyance if you're transporting supplies.

The Two Roles of Foxhole

Since everything is made by players, that means players are making things. You can't win a war without people doing the pew-pew, but you need the guns and ammunition to give them, too. This leads to two distinct roles emerging in Foxhole: the fighter, and the so-called "logi" (logistics).

There's no official divide between these two roles, and you're free to do whatever you like at whatever time, but you can see in the way that the players communicate with one another that there is a very distinct relationship between these two roles.

In order to gain territory, the enemy must be pushed back. In order to push the enemy back, your faction needs enough supplies at the front lines, from rifles to mortars and armored cars. In order to get enough supplies to the front lines, someone has to deliver them. This is where the logi player comes in.

These players will often dedicate an entire play session to simply shifting supplies from point A to point B, whichever point B happens to need things at that moment. You will see the chat fill up with messages like "need more shirts at Mercy's Vale" or "need howitzer shells at Mara". Often, a logi will pick up this unofficial mission and deliver those supplies, often getting heaped with text chat praise from grateful combatants who can then use it to make the push they need.

Foxhole: A set of foxholes and sandbags

From Raw Resource to the Front Line

To give you an example of the effort that might be required to fuel the front line of a war in Foxhole, we can take a look at a resource called "Soldier Supplies". Often nicknamed "shirts" by players, due to the icon for these supplies, they are required to spawn at any location. If a spawn point has no shirts, no players can spawn. Each time there's a player spawn, one shirt is consumed.

There are a number of locations on the map where raw resources can be found. These are fixed points, and can't be moved or created by players, and there's also a limited number of raw resources at each one per day. For example, scrap can be collected from one type of raw resource location.

The slow and arduous way is to grab a hammer and whack on pieces of scrap metal until you have a bunch of scrap in your inventory. Scrap weighs a lot though, and you're likely to need to take it quite far across the map, so better turn up with some kind of transport vehicle!

The lowly truck is cheap to build, and can carry a versatile but limited load. Just park up any truck near the scrap, hammer away until it's full, and drive it off. Then there's the flatbed. These can carry shipping containers, and they can hold a lot more of each material, but there's a catch! The shipping container needs to be unloaded from the flatbed onto the ground, ideally near to the scrap. You're going to need a crane to do this, and, you guessed it, you have to build one and drive it over there too!

While the flatbed is clearly the superior choice for carrying capacity, it's slower than the truck and therefore much more vulnerable. It also needs special equipment to load and unload the shipping containers, so it's impossible to unload one in the middle of a field, unless you happen to drive a crane over there as well.

Foxhole: A flatbed truck

So you've loaded up your truck or your flatbed with scrap. Now it's off to the refinery. Refineries are buildings that are in fixed locations on the map, and cannot be moved or created by players. It might be quite a drive from the scrap resource site to the refinery! It'll be worth it though, the boys at the front are counting on you!

Arriving at the refinery, you're able to take the scrap and load it in there. Scrap can be turned into a few different resources, but the one we are going to need is basic materials, or "bmats" as the players say. This takes real-world time. Once you set up a build order at the refinery, it can be anything from a few seconds to a few hours to construct the materials, although you don't have to stick around; the refinery will be able to continue working on its own.

For now, we've got our basic materials ready to leave the refinery. As before, you can choose a regular truck for speed, or a flatbed truck for capacity. You'll get more than twice as many basic materials in a single flatbed, but the loading and unloading process is much longer.

The factory is another map building that exists in fixed places. Conveniently (sarcasm), they're never near to any of the refineries, so you'll be driving your load of "bmats" across the map to a factory and unloading.

Once at the factory, you have a choice of resources to create, using the basic materials. In our case, we want to produce soldier supplies, and again, we can queue these for production, but it will take a certain amount of real-world time before the supplies are ready. Once they are, load them up onto your transport of choice, and get them to the front lines so that players can use them to spawn!

This is just one example of the supply chain that goes into making one of the huge variety of resource types in the game. And this is the brilliance of game design in Foxhole. Wars are won or lost not only by the skill of the guy with the rifle, but also by the meticulous planning and organisation of the guys making the rifles.

Foxhole: A convoy of trucks roll along an urban street past a wrecked tram

Natural Teamwork

Here's the clever bit, then: it's certainly possible to do everything by yourself in Foxhole. You could take a truck to a raw resource location, pick up resources, drive to a refinery, refine, drive to a factory...

But pretty soon it becomes really obvious this is incredibly inefficient. What if we had a player who was organising transport of materials into the refinery, requesting raw resources from other players, and organising their shipment out to the various factories? That would be way more efficient and we'd get far more done!

Foxhole cleverly leaves it up to the players to realise that this is the case, and the community can and will self-organise. Of course, we're all human, and this is still a video game, not a job, so the level of organisation is sometimes... wobbly... but it's truly fantastic to be part of such a huge scale operation where any player is technically free to do whatever they like, but the vast majority are self-organising into one cohesive fighting and manufacturing force.

The Jank

There's going to be a bit of jank in an Early Access game like this. The most common thing is the "elastic band" effect of lag in heavily populated areas, where you will seemingly drive forward a bit, then the server will "catch up" and you'll micro-warp to a nearby location when it finally agrees where you actually should be. This has been rare in my experience, but when it happens, it is highly frustrating.

To combat this, Clapfoot have introduced queuing in certain map hexes. If there's a lot of activity in one particular hex, you will need to wait in line before you can spawn there again. This is the same player limit on both sides of the war, so it shouldn't create unfair advantages, but, if there's quite a queue, the side whose players decide to wait in the queue, rather than spawn elsewhere and help the supply effort, will be at a disadvantage overall.

Bridges and vehicles don't exactly get on very well in Foxhole as it currently stands. There are a few wonky asset placements on the map where certain vehicles can't get over the bridge. It's like they hit some kind of invisible wall (I'm looking at you bridge between Mercy's Vale and Tomb of the First!) and won't go any further. It's not all vehicles, but you can pretty much guarantee that if you see a graveyard of trucks that have fallen off the side of a bridge into the water below, it's a janky one.

There's also the issue of equipment degradation and player "messiness". Unless items are stored in a supply depot or other container, they will degrade slowly over time. This is a good mechanic, because it stops the map getting littered with useless junk and overloading the servers, but it does cause issues due to the way the game currently handles this.

For example, if you see a shipping container that is blocking a road, you can attempt to move it with a crane. However, shipping containers can only be moved if they are at 100% repair. This means you will need to grab a hammer and some basic materials in order to repair it, just so you can move it out of the road. Your couple-of-minutes attempt to help other players by clearing a road suddenly turns into a quest to find the nearest basic materials, and you'll need more than you can comfortably carry on your person, so you'll need a vehicle as well.

This means there's a lot of wastefulness in the game, where players are motivated to simply abandon vehicles, supplies and other carefully manufactured equipment, just because it's too much of a hassle to put your toys back in the box! I think a tweak here would go a long way, such as having a new resource item, just for performing repairs, that is much lighter and easier to carry around.

Where's the Damn Keys?!

There's also the issue of OMG FUCKING DON'T LEAVE YOUR LOCKED VEHICLE AND LOG OFF! When you first enter the game, you're on foot. You'll most likely need to find a truck or other vehicle. There's usually a lot of them lying around, because people will use them and then log off later. They're supposed to park them back in a storage depot, but we're all human and not many players bother.

The issue is that the player controls whether the vehicle is locked or a not. A locked vehicle can only be entered by the player who controls it. More often than not, people will either forget to unlock vehicles, or deliberately not unlock them, and log off, leaving them abandoned.

To combat this, Clapfoot have introduced a lock picking mechanic, which means that any player with a wrench can spend a little time unlocking any vehicle. However, finding a wrench is another story!

So the end result is that you will log into the server, spawn, and find yourself surrounded by locked vehicles, and the nearest wrench is in the next town over, a good 15-minute walk. If any of the vehicles had been left unlocked, you could have started playing right away, or even driven to get the wrench and unlocked the rest of them, but until there's a way to automatically unlock vehicles owned by disconnected players, all too often it becomes a matter of team sabotage when a player inevitably logs off leaving behind a locked vehicle.

Teamwork and Rewards

Unlike many other games, Foxhole has no player unlockables or levels. You have a rank, but this is only to determine minor things like whether you're allowed to leave notes on the map screen. You receive no "money" or "game bucks" for your play time, and there isn't even a kill counter or score table. It's just all out war, all the time, and everyone is a fleshy bag of mostly water.

This is great because it stops players from going on "kill sprees" (also known as suicide runs) and wasting valuable equipment. There really is no tangible gain to heroic solo actions in Foxhole. The only feeling of satisfaction you'll get is when you see the enemy part of the map turn to your faction's colour. Needless to say then, this is not the game for showboaters or stat hunters.

This also might not be for everyone. You might spend a 2-hour play session doing nothing but appeasing the yells for "NEAD MOAR BMATS PLZ" from the chat, transporting a seemingly endless supply of goods, and see nothing in the way of "level up" or "achievement earned" rewards.

There is, however, a commendation system. You will, over time, gain a number of "commendation points" that you can dish out to friendlies whenever you like, but they're deliberately quite sparse. Therefore, there's a warm fuzzy feeling of kinship when you receive a valuable commendation from a player after you deliver a whole load of supplies to the front lines.

Tech and Research

Foxhole starts with only very basic technology available, and, as the real-world days elapse, research can be carried out to unlock further equipment and vehicles, in an effort to turn the technological tide in your favour. That said, this is a slow process. It might be days before you see the next unlock, and even longer before you can create the thing your faction just unlocked.

From a tactical point of view, this makes for excellent planning opportunities for the cohesive, communicative team, because you can predict when the research is likely to complete, and begin hoarding resources ahead of time, so that production can begin as soon as the unlock happens.

For example, at the start of the game, you will be hammering away on rough bits of metal on the ground to collect salvage, very slowly. As your faction progresses, you will unlock harvesters, which are expensive driveable machines that make the process of collecting salvage much faster. Assuming you can make enough of them, and you deliver them to the right places. It's always a push-pull between whether it's quicker to move a harvester halfway across the map, or leave it where it is and use the low-tech method of gathering resources.

Is It For Me?

Foxhole definitely isn't for everyone. It's often a slow game, and you can legitimately spend hours online without ever seeing a single enemy or hearing a gunshot.

But, remember, there is that choice: you can join the front lines of battle any time you like, spend all your time there, some of it, or none of it, depending on your mood or what your faction needs.

Since teamwork is key, it's definitely not a game for the solo player, and it really helps if you have a microphone and you're willing to use it with the in-game voice chat. Cleverly, in-game voice is limited to a range around your player, so you won't be able to hear voice chat from players who are far away from you. Text communication can be done from anywhere, to anyone, or just within your local hex, or your vicinity, as you see fit.

What I really find enjoyable about Foxhole is the feeling of genuine teamwork. It's hard to be a "star player" who clearly rises above everyone else, because there's no pay-to-win mechanics, and no player "abilities". All players have the same stats all the time, and if equipped the same way, are identical except for their own skills. Yet it's much more about skill of command and organisation, where twitch shooting just doesn't help, and clever flanking tactics are much more likely to win the day.

Did I mention Foxhole is slow? It's a slow game. Not fast, just very slow. After a 2-hour play session, it's often the case that no territory has changed hands, and no major battles have taken place. Because, after every major battle, both sides are very low on supplies, and both hang back to focus on resupply instead of throwing what few resources they have at the enemy.

Depending on the kind of gamer you are, you might have been totally put off by the lack of action I've described above. Or, you might be like me: you see the action, the potential for enjoyment, the potential for real teamwork in Foxhole, and think it's worth a punt at $10-15. I hope you're the latter, and if you are, I'll see you on the front line!