The names in the notebook belong to six other characters that you will meet as the story progresses. The story advances through special objects you find in certain scenes as well as dialogue between scenes. The characters are terribly crafted and highly stereotypical. You’ve got your rocker chick friend who dons a torn-up anarchy tee and extremely heavy eye makeup right along with the extremely dreamy, tall, muscular boy that is described as “a dreamer”. Everything about their character descriptions are superficial and the dialogue is trite. The whole set-up, especially the characters, feels like it was designed based on what 6waves thinks boy-crazy, mall-obsessed, twelve-year-old girls are into. For the record, that’s a slash against the developer, not preteen girls.
The casual market is chock full of hidden object games, and for good reason. They are popular, easy to play, and cheap to make. There’s only so many ways to do the actual hidden objects side of hidden object games, so more often than not the real distinguishing factor between each hidden object game is how well it does other stuff — the story, mini-games, and other special game modes. Mystery Epic is weak on all fronts. The promise of a story might be interesting enough to keep you hooked for an hour or two, but each scene costs 10 energy to play. Once you completely run out of energy for the first time, you’ll be forced to wait for more or pay up. I game simply isn’t interesting enough to come back for a second play session.
Mystery Epic has six characters to interact with and each one has about seven chapters and several bonus scenes to contribute to the overall package. The game takes place across several map locations, which each have six scenes. You can replay each scene endlessly, with your cumulative score contributing to five hearts that can be earned at each location. Hearts can then be spent to unlock new scenes. These specifics don’t really matter, my point is that Mystery Epic has lots of apparent content that can span hours of actual gameplay, ignoring the hours of wait time you’ll stack up waiting for your energy to recharge.
I say apparent content because there is a ton of recycling. You’ll have to replay each scene many times. That’s to be expected in any hidden object game, but Mystery Epic doesn’t shuffle the location of hidden items. It does shuffle which items it asks you to find, but once you’ve found all the items in that rotation at least once, you can literally clear a scene in 10 seconds flat. Besides the fact that not needing to search for hidden objects removes the point of a hidden object game, this is a huge problem because you’ll blaze through your energy when you can knock out a scene so quickly. Each scene pulls from the same set of objects too. It’s uncanny seeing the exact same paper fan four different locations around the city… or maybe the epic mystery is actually “why are there so many identical fans all over the place”?
I beg you to skip this one. The story is slow and silly. The annoying jazz music falls within the elevator category, at best. The character portraits are unnerving during dialogue. They do these minor animations like raising their eyebrows, tapping their fingers, are puffing out their chest, but they are hacky animations all done with a single stationary image… the body parts just kind of wiggle or stretch — it’s creepy! Worst of all, the part of the game where you actually find hidden objects isn’t executed well at all. What fun is it to play the same scene over and over if the objects are in the exact same place every time? Nobody expects hidden object games to have triple-A production values, but Mystery Epic is rubbish.]]>
King’s development process involves pumping out a ton of games on their own website. The most popular games there get promoted into Facebook games, and then the most successful of their Facebook games make it to mobile platforms. King’s latest game to make it to the Facebook stage is Pepper Panic Saga, another match-three game that is equal parts flashy and charming.
Pepper Panic is a King game through and through. Its structure is familiar — levels are spread out on in a linear path on a map. Each level has a different objective that is basically to do something X times within Y moves. A failed level costs one of your five extra lives. Even more than Candy Crush, the game is completely charming. The music is bright and peppy, the brightly colored peppers all bounce around full of life, and the explosions are exciting — especially when you achieve the eponymous Pepper Panic, which is a chain of 10 explosions.
It’s not exactly like Candy Crush, though. The same mechanic is still swapping gems around to make matches of three or more, but this time, whenever you make a match, the pepper you moved absorbs the others in the match to grow in size. Peppers can grow up to five times, with the final growth triggering an explosion. Pepper explosions cause every like-colored pepper on the board to rank up once. As you can imagine, if you have a bunch of high-level peppers, it only takes one explosion to trigger a huge chain of explosions. For example, a red pepper could explode, causing two level 5 peppers to explode, which would then cause two level 4 peppers to explode. At that point, you’ve exploded five peppers and even the red peppers that are level 1 will have reached level 6 and exploded. 10 explosions in a single chain triggers Pepper Panic, which causes every pepper that is level 2 or higher, regardless of color, to be destroyed — essentially yielding a ton of points and resetting the board.
It’s a minor change, but the fact that one pepper from every match gets left on the board changes everything. The ability to move gems around the board without destroying them means you can be very intentional about setting up big matches (4-in-a-row, 5-in-a-row, L-shapes, and T-shapes). Each of these big matches cause every pepper in their row and/or column to grow by one stage, with the 5-in-a-row also causing every same-colored pepper on the board to grow by a stage. Between big matches and pepper explosions, matches in one part of the board can have a huge effect on the rest of the board. Like I said, Pepper Panic’s twists to the traditional match-three mechanics are minor, but they dramatically change the way it works and the way you have to think about it. I really like the changes, as they make the game feel much more strategic than predecessors like Candy Crush and Bejeweled.
Don’t get me wrong, the game isn’t heavy by any stretch of the imagination. The extra room for strategic play doesn’t bog Pepper Panic down at all. It still totally elicits that super-fun, just-one-more-time feeling you’ll find in other match-three games. If you’ve played any of King’s other games, you’re well aware of how good they are at perfectly balancing the difficulty. Most of the time, whether you win or lose, it will be barely. This keeps things nice and intense, you’ll have to actually pay a little bit of attention to succeed, but if you fail, you were close enough that it feels like you could totally do it with one more try. There are exceptions of course, you’ll occasionally annihilate a level on your first try, and other levels will have you pulling your hair out as they keep eating every single life you throw at them.
Running out of lives means one of three things. Waiting 30 minutes per life for them to regenerate on their own, begging your Facebook friends to send you some lives, or spending gold bars on them. Gold bars are the premium currency, of course, and you can get them in exchange for your hard-earned money. Gold bars are also good for buying consumable boosts or extra moves. That is, when you’re stuck on a really hard level, you can always drop some dough to make it a bit easier.
Pepper Panic is a great entry in the Saga series — I personally enjoyed it more than all the others (Papa Pear being a close second). Sure, it’s got some free-to-play limitations, but as long as you’re okay with waiting for your lives to return, you should have no problem eventually beating every level without coughing up any cash. I’ve already mentioned that I’m a fan of the extra layer of strategy, but it’s also nice that Pepper Panic feels like you’re playing something new. There have been a ton of match-threes since Bejeweled’s wild success in 2001, but few of them do enough to make them feel fresh. Leaving gems behind and making them gradually level up feels new though, and most importantly, it’s just fun. Without a doubt, Pepper Panic is hard to put down. If match-three is your thing at all, Pepper Panic is almost certainly worth the time it would take for you to try it out.]]>
Honestly, Blood Crown’s biggest distinguishing factor is its theme. Its premise starts with a chaotic war between three factions that erupted in 1351. During that time, a leader arose and the game follows the legend of that leader. It’s then your choice which faction that leader came from: Vampires, Werewolves, or Humans? The differences are mostly aesthetic, but each excels at producing a certain type of combat unit (riders, ground troops, and ranged troops, respectively). Once you’ve made your selection, you’re shown your starting encampment.
Each city you own has a bunch of plots within its walls for the construction of most of your buildings. A smaller group of plots outside the city walls are reserved for resource generating structures like farms and sawmills. Of course, you’ll be stuck with just your starting city for a while, but with sufficient progress (or money) you can gain access to a second one (the game will eventually allow up to four cities per player). Every building you plant in your city contributes in different ways. Cottages boost your city’s population and generate gold through taxes. Barracks help train troops, and having more barracks means you can finish your trainings that much faster. The Heroes’ Hall houses special hero units that can lead armies, go on adventures, or grant various boosts to your city.
Like Kabam’s previous empire builders, everything happens on a pretty grand scale. Your units and resources are measured in the thousands. You’re raising a civilization. Enemy cities are far enough away that you need surviving troops to bring the spoils of war back home. The game is very much about management more than anything else. Battles are resolved through number crunching instead of individual units swapping blows and taking advantage of optimal placement on the battlefield. It’s fun, you just have to know what you’re getting into. You get a week of protection as a new player. You can start attacking any time you get the itch to battle, but you’re better off taking advantage of the full week. You’ll need the time to build up a resource infrastructure, a population to raise an army from, offensive and defensive forces, and a stable of heroes.
It’s worth mentioning that Kabam monetizes Blood Crown through the sale of premium currency. They let you buy an extra building queue, skip timers, play chance mini-games, buy more resources, buy protection from other players, boost production, upgrade buildings to level 10 (they max at 9 otherwise), buy your second city, recruit rare heroes, and more. There’s so much to do with gems and every gem-bought benefit will give you an edge on other players. There’s an endless stream of goals to pursue, and some will reward you with gems, but for the most part, gems are only attainable through purchase.
The game is good, but it doesn’t stand apart from its predecessors at all. In fact, it’s basically just a reskin of Kingdoms of Camelot and Kingdoms of Middle-Earth. If you have experience with either of the Kingdoms games, there’s really no reason to get into this one unless you really geek out over vampires and werewolves. Then again, all three are solid enough games that they’re worth checking out. Blood Crown offers a lot more depth than most timer-laden free-to-play games. It leans much more strategic than tactical, which at least makes Kabam’s games feel quite different from the endless stream of Clash of Clans-style games. That is to say, the decisions you make tend toward the long-term. Which nearby wilds do you occupy and defend from other players? How do you optimize each of your cities (perhaps one for production and one for training troops)? What do you use your heroes for? How do you balance your army between a defensive force and an offensive force? How much do you tax your people? Decisions like these are representative of the game’s strategic depth. However, it’s still free-to-play, and the amount of time and money you pour into the game are by far the number one factor in your success. It’s an interesting middle ground between pure strategy and free-to-play. It’s got the edge of being free, but sacrifices some depth in exchange for timers and premium currency. Whether it’s right for you really comes down to how you like to play games. If you’d rather sit down for intense multi-hour sessions, this certainly isn’t for you. On the flipside, If you’re fine with the kind of game where you check in two or three times daily, this and its Kingdoms brethren offer more depth than most. If you’re interested in a timekiller that incorporates a long-term overarching progression instead of pure mindlessness, Blood Crown should be one of your candidates.]]>
I found Ultimate Naruto (the first game) to be a cookie-cutter MMORPG, mechanically just like all the other free-to-play, browser-based games out there. That included a weak narrative, automatic pathing between every quest, automated combat, paid VIP status, and all kinds of regular rewards and events. Unfortunately, nearly all of my review for Ultimate Naruto could be recycled for Naruto Saga (you can find the original review here). Even more unfortunately, my few praises for Ultimate Naruto — the great music and combat animations — don’t carry over into Naruto Saga.
The only major differences between the games are their art style and combat mechanics. Ultimate Naruto used a cool 2D style that emulated the original anime. It really shined during combat because the special effects were explosive and the animations were incredibly smooth. Naruto Saga uses 3D models for its characters instead. It’s important to note that they’ve been flattened into 2D sprites instead of being rendered in real-time 3D. I understand the decision not to render the 3D in-browser, as it would significantly increase the computer power needed to run the game at all. However, IceGames didn’t use nearly as many frames of animation this time, and the results are clunky animations, especially when you compare the games side by side. The slower animation rate and a lack of flashy special effects means attacks look way less powerful and exciting. The clunky animation hurts everything, even stuff as simple as running from quest to quest.
So far, Naruto Saga is bested by its predecessor in every way. The one exception is the combat mechanics. Automated combat is back, but at least this time you can take control if you want to. That’s not to say the combat is impressive, per se, but it’s undoubtedly an improvement. Ultimate Naruto gave players no option to make strategic decisions mid-battle, all that mattered was who was on your team and what their equipment, skills, and stats were. Once battles started, they were completely deterministic. That is, if you repeated the exact same battle a million times, you’d have the exact same results every time.
Naruto Saga’s combat shifts team battles into one-on-one battles. Technically, you can have up to three people on your team, but they still fight one at a time instead of all teammates being on the battlefield at once. Each character has a slew of special attacks that they can fire off by spending some built-up energy. The combat is turn-based and real-time, that is, the game doesn’t wait for you to input an action. If it’s your character’s turn, he or she will automatically use a basic attack unless you’ve pressed a key to trigger a special attack. Each hit generates some of the energy needed to fire off specials. Once a special is fired, it needs several turns of cooldown before it can be fired off again. Here’s where the (admittedly limited) strategy comes in: do you fire off your lightweight specials as often as possible or do you spend a few turns saving up energy for a heavy hitter? Either way, you’ve got to think on the fly because combat happens so quickly. Of course, each battle is automated until you input a command, so if you’d rather sit back, you totally can and the AI will choose your specials for you.
If you do decide to wade into battle, specials will make a quick-time event appear where you must press a certain key on your keyboard (W, A, S, or D) within a few seconds or else the attack will fail. It’s funny to me that the Naruto Saga game boasts about the existence of quick-time events like it’s a great addition. I, for one, don’t see how they add anything to the combat. I guess they increase the intensity, but the flipside is you make a strategic decision and then the decision fails because you weren’t fast enough on your keyboard. This is an MMORPG, not a typing lesson.
Ultimately, I just don’t understand why both games exist. Sure, Naruto is popular, but the games are so similar that hardly anybody is going to seriously play both. Naruto Saga has a tiny edge in strategic combat, but Ultimate Naruto has it beat otherwise. In fact, I’d think Ultimate Naruto was the newer of the two if I didn’t know any better. Naruto Saga does offer some new features like summoning Spiritual Beasts and using a farm to grow special fruit that makes the Beasts stronger. These features certainly add to the game, but they’re not the type of killer features that make a bad game worth playing anyway. Steer clear of this one — if you must invest your time into a free-to-play, browser-based, Naruto MMORPG (isn’t it funny that you’ve got options?), check out Ultimate Naruto instead. Frankly though, neither of them are that great.]]>
One of the biggest changes is in how characters advance. Instead of leveling up through a predetermined class system, ToA uses a classless and limitless skill system. Characters improve their skills as they practice them, though mastery in each skill takes longer to accomplish the more generalized a character’s skillset gets. Many skills provide technique points that can be spent on various related techniques. Mastering a skill will yield barely enough points to master one technique and then dabble in the rest for that skill. Each time you use any skill, you have a tiny chance to discover an innovation. Most innovations are limited to one player per server, though some servers will have more. A character who has received an innovation can teach it to others willingly or be forced to do so through interrogation. If an innovation reaches a large enough percentage of a server’s population, it will become common knowledge and every character will have access to it. Alternately, players could opt to keep their innovations to themselves and their allies.
ToA employs complex systems to make mechanics like crafting and magic very deep. Crafting most items will require multiple steps. Making superior goods will require specialized techniques and, as mentioned above, characters cannot specialize in every technique within a certain skill. As such, creating the highest quality items in the game will require collaboration between many craftsmen with varied specialties. Magic on the other hand, has intentionally been made an incredibly arduous task. The creators of ToA want magic to feel significant and powerful, so those who invest in the arcane arts will need to endure a dangerous and frustrating journey to prove how badly they want to be a part of the arcane order. As a part of this journey, characters will need to craft their own spellbook, seek out the arcane energies of the world, and then face them in one-on-one battle. Victory over these energies will yield magic symbols that will eventually add up to complete spells. Once a spell has been learned, it’s parameters (like power, cost, and casting time) can be customized through the acquisition of more symbols.
Perhaps one of the coolest features is the dynamic creation of the world and its inhabitants. Flora and fauna alike spawn based on a bunch of variables like local climate, terrain type, proximity to civilization, and rarity. A team of game masters will constantly create new content and events. Some dungeons will appear in-game for only hours at a time while others may last for months. Either way, the game is full of dynamic content so that the world feels alive and busy.
There’s a lot more to Trials of Ascension that makes it worth keeping on your radar. For example, players can claim land and form settlements with other players. As more races are added to the game, some will be able to share living spaces and others will have their own private settlements. Not all of the world’s races will get along (heck, one of the playable races are horrifying eight-fall-tall spiders), and PvP will largely exist as wars between settlements.
Check out the official site for Trials of Ascension
Trials of Ascension Coming Soon!]]>
The heroes take on the traditional archetypes of Rogue, Warrior, and Mage. Cooperation is critical to survival. Sometimes that means taking advantage of each heroes unique weapons and skills, other times it means combining their abilities to form new attacks, and the rest of the time it means using plain old brute force to hack and slash through swaths of the Maestro’s minions.
Speaking of the Dungeon Maestro, a fourth player has the option to take on the role and a competitive spin to the multiplayer. As the heroes proceed through the theme park, the Dungeon Maestro must manage his hand of cards and mana to throw every trick he can at the heroes. Those tricks include summoning a horde of exploding frogs, casting a confusion spell that inverts a hero’s controls, constructing defensive beer towers, traps that freeze heroes when triggered, supportive spells to heal his minions or make them invisible, or summoning a fearsome boss dragon. The Maestro can even possess any of his dungeon’s bosses or minions to take control of the hero-whomping action. Last but not least, how many other games give you an evil laugh button?
Anyway, the game features four different dungeon themes that each come with their own set of ridiculous dangers. Each dungeon is randomly generated, but they typically have ends and can be defeated. There’s also a Infinite Dungeon mode that works just like it sounds — how far can you make it in a single run? Randomized dungeons include randomized treasure. Access to different equipment each game means the heroes can be customized with tons of variety.
Dungeonland is a ruthless, dangerous place and visiting heroes will die, a lot. Dungeonland is available as a free download for PC and Mac that provides full access to one of the four dungeon themes. The other three can be unlocked with a small purchase.]]>
Dragons of Elanthia blends fast-paced shooting with plenty of strategic depth. Each rider and each dragon has three unique abilities — two active and one passive. Players will be able match the different combinations to their own individual playstyle and to the various game modes. The game modes span from good old team deathmatch to more objective-based modes like Siege mode, where each team allies with enormous titans to either attack or defend a castle in the center of the map.
The riders and dragons are full of character and there’s a lot of variety between them. Among them is the gun-toting orc Pirate, the Paladin with healing abilities, the Shaman that can help his allies fly faster, and the Lich that gains powers from the souls of his fallen enemies. The dragons include the skeletal Bone Drake that can teleport, the hulking Behemoth that can fire missiles and serve as a mobile spawn point, your classic fire-breathing Fire Drake, and the magical Faerie Dragon that can hover in place. Each rider and dragon has its own unique contributions to the battle, and each dragon has been tweaked to feel slightly different in flight. Players can even adjust their rider and dragon in the middle of a match, before respawning. With 36 combinations from the get-go and more on the way, there’s sure to be something that fits every playstyle.
The game is free-to-play, so there are items you can purchase in-game. Simutronics has ensured that Dragons of Elanthia is never pay-to-win, so the premium goodies are are all temporary boosts or vanity items. The boosts come in the form of equipable artifacts that can grant bonuses such as double experience or extra damage for a specific dragon’s ability. While those can definitely provide an edge in battle, they aren’t enough to ruin the game’s balance. Double experience only amounts to saving players time in battle, and beyond that, when a player goes down in battle, there’s a chance that they will drop their artifact and then it’s up for grabs.
Speaking of earnable experience, each rider and dragon will earn experience and level up separately. It’s a cool way to make your favorites just a little bit stronger, but it’s never going to be a game-breaking difference. For example, an attack that fires off multiple missiles might launch one or two more once a character reaches a certain level. While things like premium artifacts and leveling up can make the game more exciting for devoted players, Dragons of Elanthia is ultimately designed to make a player’s strategy and skill the most important elements of success.]]>
Very similar to a pantheon of gods, Etheria’s league of angels reigns over the various aspects of human life (the Angel of Water, the Angel of Love, the Angel of War, etc.). For thousands of years, the league of angels collectively ensured Etheria had peace and prosperity in exchange for humanity’s dedication. Whenever the forces of darkness descended upon Etheria, the angels would send them back to the shadows they came from. One day, the forces of darkness stole the Seal of Life which gave the angels their powers. One by one, the angels were being exterminated by the dark forces. They turned to humanity for help and the humans provided heroes dubbed “The Brave” to repay the angels for millenia of protection by leading them into battle against the darkness and by helping them reclaim the Seal of Life.
Each players is one of The Brave. Players can form parties with angels, very much like pets in other RPGs. However, League of Angels uses a unique “Holistic Leveling” system that makes the angels much more powerful and important than your typical RPG pet. The ability to upgrade specific aspects, skills, and team perks of your angels make them your most powerful weapon and the lifeblood of your party.
The artwork is a standout feature of League of Angels. Every angel and background are beautifully and meticulously hand-drawn. The art is designed to capture the tumultuous battle between beauty and despair that rages in Etheria.
Players can team up to form guilds or they can play against each other head-to-head. League of Angels features cross-server PvP, so you won’t have to create a new character just to play with your buddy who happens to be on a different server. UUZU has paid special attention to PvP, so there are many different game types — enjoy 3v3 arena battles, 5v5 King of the Hill, and 10v10 Capture the Flag.]]>
Grand Voyage uses an interesting blend of genres. It’s definitely an economic simulator that attempts to capture historical accuracy, but its reliance on the RPG systems that Game321 has so much experience with is undeniable. It’s good that Game321 is sticking to what they know best (free-to-play MMORPG systems), but it’s also really refreshing to see them put such a twist on their usual bag of tricks. You choose your captain’s gender and whether you are aligned with the Pirates of Northern Europe or the Traders of Western Europe. From there, everybody starts off the same, with a tiny single-sailed boat that has room for only one piece of cargo at a time. The entire map consists of over a dozen cities along the European and North African coastlines. These are divided into two major reasons, the aforementioned Northern Europe and Western Europe. Each city produces and sells its own goods and its your job to buy up their stock and then sell it at other ports. Whether you’re following the main quest line or branching off to do your own thing, the real profit is in shipping Northern goods to the Western region, and vice versa. At the beginning of the game, you’ll be selling a lot of British copper in Bordeaux and a lot of French grapes in London. The cities look great and the architecture looks both European and era-appropriate. The seas are absolutely teeming with the life of other players — wherever you go, you’ll see all kinds of other ships about their own business. As you expand your business, you’ll be able to afford new ships. Sometimes this means expanding your fleet, and sometimes it means you’re replacing your flagship with a bigger and better model. There are many ships to unlock and many more ways to customize your fleet. Some players opt for huge single battleships while others travel the world with four tiny dhows in a row. The economy of the game has decent depth. All players influence the economy through supply and demand. The more a particular good is purchased, the more expensive it gets. The more a particular good is sold, the lower its value. You’ll need to save up quite a bit of silver to unlock new goods at each port, but its also much easier to turn a profit with the advanced goods. Improving your fleet with better ships or equipment has consequences when you’re exchanging cannonballs with enemies, but you’ve got to consider how it will affect your profitability too. Basically, a fleet that can carry more cargo can sell that many more goods after each trip between Northern Europe and Western Europe. The speed of your ships is something to consider too, especially if you’re planning on travelling between cities that are farther apart. Grand Voyage is still very much an MMORPG, and a free-to-play, browser-based one at that. It is guilty of employing just about every mechanic that I typically pan in other free-to-play MMORPGs, but for the most part it really works. Naval battles are automated, as is moving to your next quest location. In fact, advancing through the main quest line is practically as easy as constantly hitting buttons marked “Accept” and “Okay” — your ship will move to your next destination for you. All the free-to-play fluff is present too: daily login rewards, premium currency to be purchased, VIP status, daily world events, and heaps of soulless equipment that can be combined or enhanced. Normally, my criticism is that all these mechanics reduce the player’s role to a manager and that removing strategy from combat ruins much of the fun an RPG can provide. The role of a manager kind of fits the role of a captain though. It makes sense that I decide where to go but my crew handles the task of actually getting there. I’d still like to see some more depth in the naval battles, but combat plays such a minor role in Grand Voyage that its weakness doesn’t hurt the game too much. The RPG aspect of Grand Voyage applies to your ships and your captains (you can hire more as your fleet grows). As you complete quests, your ships and captains will gain experience separately. Both ships and captains have stats, most of which apply in battle only. Ships can be improved with equipment just like any other RPG. There are six different equipment slots, and sometimes you’ll have to choose between equipment that improves combat stats and equipment that improves mercantile stats (load size and speed). Captains can learn various skills to improve your fleet’s abilities. Each captain has a rating between one and five stars. The number of stars represents how many skills that captain can learn and how many of that captain’s stats improve with each level up. You can always buy new ships or hire new captains, but you can also use in-game items to upgrade the ones you already have. There are many processes that contribute to this, providing gamers with quite a bit of RPG complexity and the ability to grind for improvement, if they want to (but it never feels necessary). For those of you who would be entirely turned off by its historical setting, I’ll let you know there’s a little bit of fantasy in Grand Voyage. There are some cool ships you can get much later in the game like a Da Vinci airship and a Jules Verne submarine. The plot incorporates some paranormal mysteries surrounding ghost ships and skeletal pirates. By the way, the plot is terribly written, terribly translated, or both. It’s incredibly thin and sometimes hard to follow, but I can hardly fault the game for that. Who plays RPGs for the fetch quest dialogue? It’s hard to admit, but I really enjoyed my time with Grand Voyage. I only say “hard to admit” because it’s using so many of the mechanics that usually ruin a game for me. I’m not even a fan of ships or trading in the Mediterranean, but it’s really nice to see something different among the seemingly endless stream of fantasy and sci-fi MMORPGs. Game321 has finally stumbled upon a theme that meshes really well with their suite of free-to-play mechanics. The game has a really addictive quality that makes it hard to put down once you get into a game session. That said, while I did have a hard time pulling away from each play session, the draw to start another play session isn’t nearly as strong. If you’re a fan of browser-based MMORPGs, Grand Voyage is a fun one to play and is worth checking out if only because it’s theme and focus on trading are so different from what you usually see in the genre.]]>
There’s an interesting mix of heroes and special items. Each hero type has unique stats such as HP, melee attack strength, ranged attack strength, movement range, and attack range. On top of this, each hero has unique traits that allows them to serve an important role in your overall strategy. Knights push enemies back a square, Archers have the highest range, Wizards can chain their lightning attacks to hit three adjacent enemies at once, Monks can heal friendly heroes, and Dragon Riders can instantly swap places with friendly heroes. The special items include Meteors that attack your enemies in a chosen 3×3 region, potions that heal your units, and several items you can attach to a hero to boost their defensive or offensive capabilities.
Each player has an identical deck of eight heroes and eight items, but the decks are shuffled before the match. On your turn, you can perform five moves within 45 seconds. Deploying a hero, moving a hero, attacking with a hero, or using an item will use up one of your moves. There’s no limit to how you distribute moves, so you can spend your entire turn having one hero attack five times in a row.
The board is identical every game. Each player has two bulky castle towers on their side of the board. It can take 2–3 turns of all-out attacking to take down a single tower, but I’ve found that razing the towers is consistently an easier way to win a match than eliminating all eight of an opponent’s heroes. There are a few special tiles scattered around the board that grant offensive and defensive boosts to any hero standing on them.
The game definitely supports some strategic decisions, but it’s pretty shallow beyond your first five or so games. Identical boards and identical decks means that every game plays just about the same. There’s room to react to the different play styles of your opponents, but anticipating their moves is pretty much impossible when a turn consists of five moves in a row. It’s entirely possible for your opponent to deploy three units and kill several of yours with a meteor or two within the span of a single turn. The biggest problem with the game being so similar match-to-match is that a dominant strategy quickly emerges. After a few games to get familiar with my units, I discovered how effective an all-out offense an an opponent’s towers could be and I haven’t lost a single match since. Of course, the game is young and the metagame will shift once everybody learns to use the all-out tower offensive.
The game’s free-to-play system is a bit unusual. Besides the training mode, the game does not have a computer-controlled opponent for you to play. Every match is played with a Facebook friend or random opponent. Friendly matches are just for fun, but in a random match, each player must put 10 coins on the line to participate. The winner gets to keep all 20 coins. Even if you turn out to be awful at Hall of Heroes, it will take at least 15 matches to run out of coins. If this happens and you still feel the compulsion to play, extra coins can be bought with real money. Coins can also be spent on in-game boosts that do things like provide you with an extra move, re-shuffle your deck, or give a minor heal to all of your deployed heroes. I’ve managed to win every match without using one, but I suppose if it was the difference between winning and losing, it would be worth buying a few since the victor gets 20 coins and the loser gets nothing.
Hall of Heroes is okay, but it got repetitive really fast. It is always nice to see a strategic game instead of a mindless one, especially on Facebook. The main menu for Hall of Heroes does mention that deck customization is coming soon, and that could contribute a lot to the strategic depth and match-to-match variety that this game needs. The free-to-play system feels problematic — if a player runs out of coins, they have no way to continue playing without purchasing more. Players that lose themselves down to zero coins don’t seem like the kind of players who would want to pay to play more. I’m not sure how Peak Games is going to make money on Hall of Heroes. If they don’t, I doubt it will ever get deck customization.]]>