Stormfall: Age of War review
Stormfall: Age of War is a new Facebook game from Plarium. The game officially launched on November 1, but was playable on the social network for a few days beforehand.
Stormfall: Age of War is a mid-core strategy game that tasks players with building up their own castle town, raiding various computer-controlled enemy installations and, eventually, taking on other players in asynchronous combat. Beginning with a rather barren plot of land, players are taken through a series of fully-voiced quests by a rather sarcastic advisor character and introduced to the game’s basic mechanics one at a time. Like most mid-core strategy games, there are a lot of separate mechanics to get familiar with so the introduction of everything through the tutorial quests takes a very long time. Players are, of course, free to ignore the tutorial quests if they desire, but doing so will slow down their leveling and acquisition of certain items early in the game. The constant “New Quest” popups at the side of the screen are too obtrusive to ignore in most cases, too, meaning that most players will probably find themselves following the quests just to get the game to leave them alone for a while.
Despite the game’s overly-enthusiastic handholding in its early stages, there is a lot to do in Stormfall: Age of War. Players must collect resources by building and upgrading appropriate structures on the relevant “resource nodes” — mines may only be built on rocks, for example, while gold-producing townhouses may only be built on encampments — and then spend these resources on various construction and research projects. Different buildings unlock various game mechanics — for example, early in the game, building a “House of Scrolls” structure unlocks the game’s “Lost Arts” interface in which the player is able to begin researching various technologies with which to improve their base and troops. This uses a “technology tree” system that will be familiar to those who have played standalone strategy titles such as Sid Meier’s Civilization series in the past — certain technologies have prerequisites before research can begin, meaning that players can’t just jump straight in and research the most powerful technologies.
When not building, the player can bring up a map of the game’s persistent world and attack either other players or encampments of computer-controlled enemies. Triggering a battle is a simple case of assigning trained troops and then waiting for them to reach the battlefield, at which point a report will be sent informing the player of losses on both sides and whether or not their raid was successful. There is no actual interaction necessary in the battles — they simply take place in the background while the player turns their attention to other things.
In terms of social features, Stormfall: Age of War follows the pattern set by other popular mid-core strategy games from developers such as Kixeye and Kabam. A real-time chat facility allows players to talk to each other during play, and it’s possible to set up “alliances” with friends as well as trade various resources and special items with each other. A good addition to the usual mechanics is the “Wraith” system — upon constructing a “Crypt” building, players are able to summon their friends into battle with them as “Wraiths” — powerful units that may only be acquired through social play. Less welcome, however, is the fact that the game regularly nags players to add friends when they are trying to get on with other things. Many mid-core players come from a background in standalone PC games and do not take too kindly to their experience being interrupted by unexpected, unhelpful popups, so Plarium should look at making this less obtrusive — there are already several quests that encourage players to invite, play and trade with friends.
The game monetizes through its hard currency Sapphires. Sapphires are earned at a surprisingly rapid rate through normal play and leveling up, but may also be purchased using real money. They are used for several purposes, with their main function early in the game being to speed up timed actions. They may also be spent on training “Imperial” rather than “Regular” units — these have lower resource costs and thus enable the player to build up a larger army without having to wait for resources to refill. Finally, once the player has constructed a “Black Market” building, Sapphires may be spent on a variety of premium items or simply on immediately acquiring resources without having to wait. Many of the Black Market items are very powerful but are level-locked to prevent it becoming a “pay to win” store — players must earn their way to being able to recruit dragons and other fantasy creatures into their army, in other words.
Additional monetization comes from a subtle advertising partner button in the corner of the screen, which cycles around several sponsors local to the player’s location. Clicking on this button brings up an offer from the relevant partner which rewards the player with various quantities of Sapphires depending on the nature of the offer — signing up for a 1 month Netflix free trial rewards the player with 2,250 Sapphires (about $15 worth), for example.
Stormfall: Age of War’s presentation is a mixed bag. The actual game graphics are a bit drab and dull, and have the appearance of a late ’90s PC strategy game. The artwork for the various character and unit portraits is very good, however, if rather clichéd in style, and the sound is similarly of high quality. The fully-voiced tutorials and quests are a nice touch, though most players will probably have read all the text before the sarcastic narrator gets through his humorous admonishments of the player character. The implementation of music is also a little bizarre — there are separate music tracks for when a quest pops up to the main game screen, and this means that the background audio often sounds somewhat disjointed as it switches back and forth between the two tracks. The game also has an apparent habit of forgetting the user’s sound preferences upon reloading the game canvas, though this may be related to the fact that the game suffered a couple of unexpected disconnect errors during testing rather than an issue with the way the game handles user preferences.
Stormfall: Age of War is off to a pretty good start, then. It features solid gameplay, reasonable (if slightly inconsistent) presentation and plenty of things to do. Its long term success will depend on it acquiring and retaining a dedicated player base, but with the growth in popularity of mid-core strategy games on the social network — something Facebook itself highlighted in a recent press event — the future looks bright for this new title.
A very solid addition to the growing lineup of mid-core strategy titles on the social network.