Over the last week I have been enjoying some time in the so-new-it's-in-closed-beta Castle Empire. I have been struggling with how to describe exactly how the game makes me feel, since I am terrible at writing up exact details that end up making my article sound like the bland page of a wiki instead of a column based solely on this one dork's opinion. During my dog walks (I do my best thinking then), I try to come up with catchy arrangements of different words that would let you fair readers know the type of fun I had with the game, but more often than not, I would forget what I was thinking by the time I got back to the house. At one point I thought about wearing one of those goofy bluetooth headsets so I could dictate my thoughts while walking, but I feared getting my butt beaten in by the cooler elderly folks in the neighborhood.
Luckily, I finally stumbled upon a great example that, in all actuality, is not really a great example. It'll give you a good idea, I hope. So click past the cut and let's talk about this wonderful new MMORTS I found.
OK, OK...more honesty for you: I didn't find the game. It was given to me by a friend of mine who has been a community manager for some time. She recently switched to Ubisoft, the publishers of Castle Empire, and practically flung it at my skull on Twitter one day. I think the conversation went something like this:
"Hey Beau, here's a game you might like!"
Then I responded: "OK, I'll look at it, thanks!"
Of course, there was no guarantee I would like it, but I did not feel like telling a good industry friend of mine "OK, but I might think it sucks." Instead, I took a look at it. Sure enough, it was pretty much right up my alley, but let me give you a few details about how the game works. Honestly, if you have played any MMORTS' before, this one won't surprise you with its mechanics that much, but humor me and read on.
You start off with a pleasant enough town, and through a series of small quests start to learn how the game works and plays. The chat box was constantly busy, but then I started hearing talk of attacking each other and ruining each other's towns. I'm still not sure how possible it is to obliterate someone's town like that, but as is the case in a lot of these games I visit, the community gets whiff of who I am and why I am there (usually because the CM lets them know, or passes on one of my Livestream events) and generally I am treated like a king. Yes, yes, I know...I am supposed to practice some sort of MMO Prime Directive when visiting these virtual worlds, but I gave up on that a while ago. So, I figured I was safe and sure enough I had well over a couple dozen "friends" added to my town within a few days.
Essentially, your town is instanced and not part of a greater world map. That is, from what I can tell. Everyone has a similar, if not the same, layout as everyone else. The chat would often refer to certain areas of the map, by saying things like "You see that bandit in the North East corner?" so I figured we must all be seeing the same thing. Your town quickly becomes unique as you start to build different things, and some player's towns (like my friend Carolina's) look neat and organized, while others (like mine) look more like they were put together by a 22 year old on acid who found his little brother's LEGO bricks.
Now, this is where I get to use my good-but-not-so-good example of how or why I enjoyed playing. I mean, after all, it's just another MMORTS right? Well, mechanics-wise, yes. But try and picture a long tube... perhaps piping for some lawn irrigation. Along the length of that tube are peppered little sprouts that have the job of popping up and watering the lawn every morning. Well, each one needs to have the same amount of pressure for the whole thing to work. Each nozzle is adjustable and often times the man who installs the sprinkler system has to stand around and watch it work, and makes adjustments as he does.
I felt like that sprinkler installation man as I built my town. One nozzle, let's say the copper mine, would be just gushing... spraying too much. It would be wasting resources and building up a flood of copper ore. So, I would trim it back a bit or, better yet, build several other nozzles (like a weapons manufacturer) to use up the copper. Slowly, successful ratios would become clearer. For every one wood chopper, I would make two or three buildings that would plant new trees. At one point I had even deforested my entire landscape and had to shut down all production and let my little Johnny Appleseeds (who planted fir trees) go to work. By the next morning, I had new forests to tear down.
I toyed with the idea of tearing down my entire town and starting over, but instead relied on adjusting the "pressure"... a little tweak here, an adjustment there, and soon enough my town was humming along pretty nicely. The entire lawn was being watered, evenly, and without much waste. I beamed.
Still, the game moves very slowly at first. Luckily I am used to the sluggish speed of many MMORTS', so I knew to do a few things, log off and come back later. A new player to the genre might not like how slow the game can be, but if they stick it out they will find a nice experience. The graphics are top-notch Flash graphics. Watching the town go about its business is a pleasure. I like to see the little fishermen go out onto the water with a boat and start fishing, or the tiny deer and other wildlife (that can be hunted later, I believe) go about their business. It's a lovely game.
I do wish it was clearer at first, though. There are some good newbie tutorials on the forums, but again my golden rule is that the game should teach us everything, even if it takes time. Some games seem to want to hide information from their new players, but that seems to be a silly way to go about things. There is plenty to learn, especially in a MMORTS, so why not pour on the basics at first and then let us wander into the greater world?
I'm still not sure what is going to happen at later levels. I do not know if I am going to be attacked or will attack someone. I can't say for sure if every island is instanced or not, or if there is some area where we all meet. I know that there is a multiplayer mission system that allows players to play together, and trade between players opens up later, but generally I would say that this "MMO" is more like a series of instances that are connected together. That's not a problem, and there is persistence in the world, but it is definitely a unique interpretation.
I hope my sprinkler example made sense. Probably not, so feel free to give me some better ideas. Imagine that your trying to create a nice, even, and pleasant flow of water. Once it works, it can be relaxing, fun to watch and even very pretty.
Next week I am very excited to get to revisit Earth Eternal, a game that came and went faster than a jackrabbit at the drive-in. Luckily it has returned looking better than ever, so come join me!
Now, go log in!
Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr!