Sparta: War of Empires
- Release Date: March 2014
- Publisher: Plarium
- Genre: Strategy
Sparta: War of Empires is the latest in Plarium’s lineup of MMO strategy games for the browser. Its gameplay is practically identical to earlier Plarium games such as Soldiers Inc. and Stormfall, with its ancient Greek setting far and away being the primary difference. Like the other games before it, War of Empires blends city-building with military conquest. As your city grows, so too will your alliances with other city-states, knowledge of technology, and offensive might.
The game opens with a surprising alliance with Leonidas himself. Despite how busy you’d expect the king of Sparta to be with the incoming Persian forces, he dedicates himself to ensuring your tiny town develops into a worthy and capable defender of Greece. This process involves checking off a very long list of missions assigned by Leonidas. Most missions are extremely simple, which is why there are so many of them. Generally, missions will ask you to construct or upgrade a building, forge or strengthen an alliance with another Greek city, or to train military units.
Your city requires a constant stream of wheat, bronze, and timber to support its rapid growth and burgeoning army. There’s a whole set of buildings dedicated to generating and storing resources; your stored resources are safe from invading players. Beyond resource buildings, there’s a slew of buildings dedicated to your economy and military. Each building provides access to some new feature, such as the ability to trade resources with other players or a training grounds for Spy units. The first few hours of the game involve constant and rapid progress. Unfortunately, constructing building after building after building isn’t very fun, so these beginning hours are pretty boring.
Building a good tutorial is hard — you need the player to learn and understand the mechanics of your game, but you need to keep them engaged too. A long, boring tutorial means plenty of players will never make it to the meat of your game; and that’s definitely the case with Sparta: War of Empires. You’ve got 72 hours from the time you start the game to be completely safe from invasions from high level players. While you technically gain autonomy after the first handful of Leonidas’ assignments, the best use of your time is to keep plowing through them. Grinding through his list will ensure your town has all the buildings, upgrades, and inter-city agreements you’ll need when your newbie shield dissipates.
The game’s free-to-play and chock full of timers. That said, there is so much to do that you can be constantly busy for the first several hours of the game, and then you’ll have no problem filling at least twenty minutes of gameplay when you check on your city periodically. Obviously, the less often you check on your city, the more you will have to do. Besides improving your city with new buildings and upgrading your current buildings, you’ve got a whole army and your relationships with other cities to maintain.
Your army is divided into offensive, defensive, and spy troops. Technically, offensive troops and defensive troops can be used in the opposite role, but they are so terrible at doing so that you’ll want to avoid this at all costs. There’s a whole campaign full of Persian forces to plow through as well as the ability to raid other players’ cities for experience and their resources. Defensive troops, of course, protect your own city from player invasions. Spies can be sent out to gather information on neighboring cities so you can strategize the kind of troops you use offensively, and how big of a force you’ll need. You will lose offensive troops to the opponent’s defenses, but any survivors can be used on another raid.
Inter-city relationships involve both player and non-player cities. Players can forge alliances with each other or declare war on each other. Players can interact by trading resources and articles. Articles are needed to forge agreements with non-player cities. You’ll get one each day for logging in, but each article is assigned to a particular city. If you get extra copies, it’s useful to take them to the These agreements essentially form your technology tree. Each agreement with a new city adds access to certain buildings or units. These agreements can also be upgraded to improve the performance of your buildings and units.
Sparta: War of Empires provides players with tons to do, so it’s hard to be upset with how it handles free-to-play, even with the occasional request to post on your Facebook wall or invite your friends to play the game. The game does feature a premium currency — Drachmas — which can be used to buy special military units, extra resources or articles, and more. Drachmas can also be spent to revive up to 70% of your lost soldiers or on extra artisans. Extra artisans let you construct or upgrade multiple buildings at once. Finally, Drachmas can be spent to instantly finish just about any timer in the game.
Indeed, War of Empires gives you plenty to do, but it rarely feels very satisfying and it takes too long to get to the point where you’re really making your own decisions. Grinding through the gigantic mission list frankly isn’t fun at all. The tutorial is appropriately paced so that you can properly learn the ins and outs of the game, but there’s hardly anything exciting that happens so it all ends up feeling really tedious. Constructing buildings, forging alliances, and training units are not inherently flawed checkboxes on a long to-do list, but they represent so many of the checkboxes that the fun part of the game ends up hidden behind hours of what amounts to a tutorial. Of course, gradual progress is the way of the city-builder. You start from scratch and slowly build up a city. Your options and strength grow with your city.
Plarium is great at polishing their games, and Sparta is no exception. It looks and sounds great for an otherwise generic browser game. The music loops are long enough that they’re not annoying and nearly all of Leonidas’ lines are fully voice acted. There’s a lot of detail in all of the artwork, so your city is convincing and the huge array of military units all look cool and interesting. All that said, the ancient Greek theme is really all that sets War of Empires apart from its Plarium brethren (i.e., Soldiers Inc. and Stormfall). If you’re already invested in one of the others, you should probably just stick with them. If you’re interested in playing a Plarium “strategy MMO” but haven’t started one yet, just take your pick of whichever theme appeals to you the most. Personally, I’m just not a big fan. It all feels like clicking around Farmville more than raising an empire. The decision you make never feel particularly important. Plarium’s games are definitely among the most polished and content-rich games in the genre, but the combat sort of falls flat for me when it consists of watching a progress bar and seeing whose number is higher — sort of like a glorified game of War.
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