Uncasual: War Commander and Empires & Allies
Posted by Jordan
A wise man once said that War is Hell. If war games on Facebook are any indication, hell is the most boring place that anyone could possibly imagine. This week on Uncasual we’re taking a look at Zynga game Empires and Allies, and at Kixeye’s War Commander.
When I was younger, I used to play strategy games like they were going out of style (it turns out, they were). Some of my favorites included Warcraft II, Starcraft, Civilization II, and Sid Meir’s Alpha Centauri. As I ventured into the world of Facebook War games, I was hoping that I would find a game that at least echoed those games of yore.
While there are a vast number of war games out there, some undoubtedly better than others, I chose Empires and Allies (E&A) and War Commander (WC) for just a couple simple reasons. First, I chose E&A because of my previous experience with Zynga games. Honestly, I was hoping for Farmville 2 with guns. I chose War Commander because Kixeye is opening a studio in my hometown, and I would love to pour accolades on local talent. And while WC is a valiant effort, it also leaves much to be desired.
Casual free-to-play games must walk a very fine line in order to hold the interest of the masses. Offer up too much content up front, and the player will quickly lose interest – after all, these games are all about the journey. With no narrative and no ‘end’, the journey must remain interesting for as long a period as possible. There should always be something new to discover so that the player always wants to come back.On the other side of the coin, offering too little content up front can leave the player feeling nonplussed and un-involved.Moreover, not only can there not be too much content or too little, the content must be revealed at a constant rate throughout the entire length of the game. It’s a crowded marketplace, and if the player feels that the new cool stuff is too unobtainable, he or she will simply leave.
War Commander starts out well. The tutorial is good, and walks one through the basics of starting an army base and creating units. The normal resource collection is there, although it has been radically streamlined when compared to the Zynga model – rather than hundreds of different types of collectibles and resources, War Commander has only two – metal and oil. You collect both at a steady rate, which is tied to the number of smelters and oil pumps you have. The progress of play goes like this: collect oil and metal, build units, upgrade your base, and then attack a nearby base (some of which are other players, while others are computer-controlled).
Wash, rinse, repeat. This worked splendidly for the first nine levels. At level nine though, something went sideways. Suddenly, the enemies became too hard for me to beat. I started to upgrade my units, but found that the cost of upgrading far surpassed the amount of resources I could produce in a reasonable amount of time. My resource buildings can only hold around 10,000 each of either metal or oil before they must be emptied, and I can only have two of each until I upgrade my command center. I can’t upgrade my command center because it costs 300,000 of each resource. See my problem? Probably not.
Here it is in a nutshell: it seems that if I am to progress in War Commander, I need to be checking in on my base once every hour and 15 minutes. If I were to do this, I would probably be able to gather enough resources to upgrade within a couple days. I sit at a desk for eight hours every night, and even I don’t have the time or patience to do this. And so my base sits at level nine, and I have to force myself to play it. It feels like work, rather than either joy or addiction. Of course, I could pay for more resources, as the game reminds me.
And herein lies the problem of these games: They need to make money, and none of them thus far have found a way to do so and still provide a deep and satisfying play experience. War Commander is not a game I would spend money on. The colours are drab, the gameplay not my cup of tea – although your mileage may vary. Perhaps the idea of having your own personal army with which to slaughter your friends sounds grand to you – if it does, more power to you. But for me, War Commander became a chore. I kept waiting for it to get fun, and it just never did.
There is an easy way to fix WC: make the resource buildings produce faster, and let them hold more of their resource before they need to be emptied. Also, let me upgrade more than one building at a time. Of course, this may give people less incentive to pay up, however.
Empires & Allies has the same issue, but for different reasons. E&A follows the Zynga model of having a bajillion different types of collectibles. Rather than being able to build most of these collectibles in-game, however, E&A requires you to ask your friends… for nearly everything. Missles, backpacks, chemical compounds, staff for your buildings, etc, etc, etc…. everything you do seems to require half a dozen collectibles, and each of those collectibles requires you to spam your friends. The actual gameplay of E&A is actually rather fun, once you get to it – a kind of turn-based battle system that is quite satisfying. But to get to the point where one can enter battle is maddeningly tedious.
I want to enjoy these games, I really do. I’m a fan of the genre. If anyone knows of a better wargame out there that I did not stumble across, please let me know!
Next time: I spy with my little eye…: Hidden Object Games!