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AD2460 Review

Overall Rating: B

Pros: Massively in-depth and feature rich, strong social element, no pay to win

Cons: Initially overwhelming, visuals are somewhat dated and very busy

AD 2460 is a fascinating, independently developed online browser based 4X strategy game, that has actually been around for quite a while whilst still remaining under the mainstream radar to a large extent. Developed by Fifth Season, a small Norwegian studio not really known for anything, it’s clear a lot of thought and time has gone into this surprisingly deep F2P game, and continues to go into it to this day, with regular updates happening every few months to keep the game fresh and the community engaged. Whilst it’s a million miles away from the 4X heavyweights Paradox Interactive and Firaxis Games, there’s undoubtedly a lot on offer here, and worth a look for devotees of the genre.

First off, the amount of depth to this game is truly astonishing when you compare it to traditional F2P fare. Whilst most games in this genre are content to be simple city builders, with extremely limited PvP raid elements, AD2460 has gone adopted the 4X approach whole hog, with seemingly endless bars, sections, upgrades and menus. Right from the very beginning, the main menu features 6 different options, with 9 graphical buttons, and within each of them sits a whole bevy of options, trees and number boxes. The sheer scale here is impressive, and the game feels more like an amalgam of Stellaris and EVE, rather than more basic F2P and mobile options. This is a real credit for such a small developer working within this model. There are a whole host of ways to play the game and build up your empire, and the mid and late game is far more diverse. Explore, expand, exploit and exterminate are all present and accounted for, in a manner that is really central to the game and its progression, and this really really reflects well on AD2460.

Another refreshing change the AD2460 offers is in its implementation of micro-transactions. Absolutely none of the resources locked behind a pay wall make an impact on gameplay and progression. All upgrades, building and resources are developed within the F2P environment, and cannot be rushed or enhanced with the use of real world money. Instead Fifth Season have chosen to use the system to provide visual flourishes and creative touches that don’t actually impact gameplay. This is not a new idea, it’s everywhere in the MOBA world, and in titles like Overwatch. What Fifth Season lacks in comparison here though is the mass appeal of games like DotA and LoL, or the upfront purchase cost of Overwatch. That they’re happy to use the same model is a real credit to the developers, and the fact that they remain profitable is a credit to the game. The social element of AD 2460 is also significant, with a number of alliances available to the player and a permanent chat bar.

Sadly AD2460 becomes a bit too much of a halfway house to really satisfy either party. The depth that is on offer is great, but far too overwhelming for the average casual F2P MMO player. The relatively barebones approach to tutorials and introduction compounds this, and it is all too easy to get lost in the opening moments for anyone who’s new to the format. Similarly veterans of games like Europa Universalis and Civilisation will be underwhelmed by the long-term scale of the game. The nature of the game just means there are far less options for progression, which gives the game diminishing returns to a much larger extent.

It is also somewhat dated in appearance, looking like a much more limited version of Stellaris. Given that the running of the game, like many 4X entries, is essentially akin to a full running spreadsheet simulation, it’s not too impactful when you’re in the main interface. When it comes to the battle screens (fully automated, with no player interaction and limited tactical input) this becomes incredibly evident, and really impacts the enjoyment and the suspension of disbelief necessary for this kind of game. If 4X games are your thing, and you’ve either already burned through your steam library or are a bit cash-strapped, there’s a lot of potential enjoyment in AD2460, If this isn’t you however, be aware that there are some high entry bars to get past, although these don’t include the classic financial bar which the developer should be praised for.

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Elvenar Review

Overall Rating: B-

Pros: Combat is available via gameplay, charming hand-drawn art style

Cons: Rather simplistic and one-dimensional gameplay, lots of grind only negated by spending actual money

Elvenar is a classic example of the evergreen 2D city-building strategy game. One of the most popular genres around at the minute, across browser and F2P mobile games, Elvenar shares a lot of similarities with many of them. The instinctive clicking to collect resources is present and accounted for, as well as gradual build up of cities and grind for resources that this usually entails. Inno Games has made a number of successful entries into this genre before, with well loved games like Grepolis, and Forge of Empires, and a lot of the identity of Elvenar as a unique game comes from the colourful humans-vs-elves fantasy element of the world.

This visual and thematic identity really works in the game’s favour. By playing in this particular sand-box the art direction has really been allowed to embrace the fantastical elements of the setting, and the graphics and aesthetics of the both the game itself and the world inside it are a real joy to experience. The visuals have a hand-drawn element to them that is really charming and a nice distinction from some of the more gritty fantasy games that have clearly been taking their inspiration from Game of Thrones and the like. It makes unlocking new buildings and units more enjoyable as you can delve more into what the creative team put together, and thus negates the grindy nature of these kind of games somewhat. This is the case regardless of which race you choose and continues on to all elements of the game, and is definitely an area in which the developers are to be praised.

An additional bonus is the ability to actually get involved in the combat elements of the game. Typically these are auto-simulated by the system in many city-builders but Elvenar offers the player a direct hand in how these play out. These battles aren’t particular complex or difficult, with a simple turn-based battle system propping up a small variety of troops. Their actual presence though is refreshing and offers a nice bit of variety to the main elements of the game.

This variety is sorely needed however, as the game itself is very slow paced, and it takes a long time to make any significant progress. The initial tutorial speeds you through the set-up with a decent but fairly perfunctory overview of the inherent systems, but getting particularly far beyond this will require either a lot of time, a lot of patience, or a lot of money. Maybe even a combination of them all. This is the main problem with Elvenar: there’s just not enough to do. Those who want to avoid the paywall are able to, but getting the resources to do so will take a lot of time, very little of which can actively be spent in the game. Elvenar feels like it was developed with the mobile generation in mind, and dropping in and out of this game improves the experience a lot.

Those who are happy to pay will obviously progress much faster, but the financial outlay is quite high, and the actual interaction with the game doesn’t change massively. There is an extremely large and deep technology tree, and whilst visually many of the developments are engaging and interesting, in terms of gameplay the impact is minimal. This is to be expected to a large extent in this kind of game, but the diversity feels much more negligible here than it does in many others. The lack of PvP will also be a big downer to many people, although this is very much down to personal taste. All in all if you’re prepared to really commit to the grind, and take a lot of joy in the style and aesthetic that Elvenar offers, then you will definitely be able to progress and enjoy what the game has to offer. If not, then the paywall is more obstructive than some others and the pace will likely be far too slow for you to enjoy.

Drakensang Online – A Re-Review

Overall Rating: B+

Pros: Excellent presentation, intuitive UI, classic combat

Cons: Visuals starting to look dated, limited long-term value

On it’s release in 2012 Drakensang was widely hailed as a breakthrough in quality for browser based games, RPGS especially. High quality graphics, an intuitive UI and a fine polish on many genre classics pushed it to the forefront of many players minds and it has, to a large extent, retained it’s popularity over the past 5 years. According to reports from developer BigPoint, there are over 35 million registered accounts, although numbers for live users weren’t available… How does it hold up today then, in the face of the F2P explosion across desktop and mobile, and the regeneration of indie gaming on the back of Kickstart and Indiegogo?

Anyone who’s played Diablo knows how this kinda of game play. An isometric camera oversees progression across a number of fairly linear dungeons, populated with numerous monsters to be felled, quests to be completed and loot to be collected.  Arguably it is games like Diablo and their consistent ping of a loot drop that started us on the road to micro-transactions and loot boxes in massive games like DotA, LoL and Overwatch so there’s a certain sense of poetry in freemium model on show. In my experience of the game so far however, I’ve rarely had to dip into my actual wallet, getting a long way with resources gifted out at the start. Indeed, anyone who is fairly well experienced with this type of game is unlikely to struggle with Drakensang, as the combat and strategy is more simplistic than the typical game, although no more satisfying to click through.

The UI is very clear and easy to navigate, and there’s a good choice of customisation options available early on. Graphics are good but not spectacular for a Freemium game in 2017, and fans of Guild Wars will find everything satisfyingly familiar. Quests are easily navigable, and the initial dungeon which serves as an extended tutorial of sorts touches on practically everything you’ll need for the rest of the game. Greater complexity does rear it’s welcome head after a while, but it doesn’t ever really kick on into something more substantial, and longevity is actually one of the most disappointing areas of the fame. You can return to pre-visited dungeons later with levelled up enemies, chase the final end boss, and engage in PvP escapades with your companions. However, none of them feel quite as engaging or enjoyable as your opening hours in the game, and the gameplay does start to become over-familiar before the end.

The recent resurgence of AAA-esque indie titles does put Drakensang out in the cold a little bit. It doesn’t compare well against recent heavy hitters like Divinity: Original Sin or Wasteland II, but these are full price games, backed with Kickstarter money and lots of community goodwill. Although the actual gameplay is remarkably similar, the nature of the game changes greatly. The more relaxed and casual player will still find a lot to enjoy in Drakensang, and the fact that it can be played entirely within a browser is a great boon for a game with such high-production values. There are deeper and more extensive diversions available to people in the way of the Diablo clone, but none of the Freemium ones match the accessibility, depth and polish of Drakensang.

Drakensang was nothing new on release, and if anything the genre has become more diluted over the past five years, but it’s hard to fault a game that’s so endearingly polished, and has survived with various upgrades so well after the past few years. If you’re after a deeper and more complex experience then Drakensang may not be for you, but at the cost of waiting for a download/log-in there’s still not a lot to lose in giving it a try.

Vikings: War of Clans Review

Overall Rating: A-

Pros: Strong aesthetic, classic gameplay, surprisingly deep

Cons: Similar to older Plarium games, some early grind

Plarium games certainly have their formula down. Having developed genre classics like Sparta: War of Empires and Stormfall: Age of War, they have perfected the art of F2P strategic MMOs. Building on lessons learned from previous efforts, with a seemingly larger budget and more reliable game engine, Vikings: War of Clans represents the play for the golden crown of the genre.

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Medieval/fantasy is a really prime subject area at the minute, with the popularity of TV shows like Game of Thrones and Vikings continuing to rise, making this is a great choice of aesthetic for War of Clans. The weaponry, armour and style of the characters is an obvious but perfect fit for gameplay based principally around raiding and city-building: two things that the historical Vikings excelled at. The game makes you a Jarl, in charge of your own village, tasked with raising it and yourself to the heights of glory and greatness. Getting there is the fun part!

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Fundamentally Vikings is a real-time strategy game of old, streamlined to fit into the new style of F2P game that is so popular at the minute. Base management and warfare occurs in real-time like Age of Empires and other genre classics, but the diplomacy and planning elements sit well within the MMO nature of mobile gaming and allow the game to be slower and more considered. In essence you build your city up either as a fast paced warrior and builder, smashing into PvP fights and levelling up quickly, or alternatively you can play the long, slow game, building yourself up over time. This flexibility is what makes Vikings so easy to  become lost in.

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Micro-transactions are obviously a part of a game like this and you get yourself a good push at the beginning with some help like this, and maybe even the necessary final push at higher levels as well. They are far from essential however, and even if you go about things the natural way you’ll soon find yourself progressing nicely. Playing the game solo is also perfectly fine, but the best experience is definitely as part of a clan. From practical benefits, increased game modes, to the camaraderie, Vikings is definitely an MMO that is best whilst embracing the social side of the games.

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Whilst not re-inventing the mobile gaming wheel, Vikings is a great example of the genre, with a fantastic aesthetic and some truly robust gameplay it’s definitely worth a look for the casual strategy fan looking for their mobile fix.