MMObility: Checking out 8Realms from Jagex

8Realms screenshot
Jagex, maker of the very popular browser-based MMO RuneScape, has branched out into the world of the MMORTS. I call this a good thing, especially since I am such a fan of the genre. There are literally scores and scores of the strategy-based city builders out there. Many of them not only are similar to each other but offer nothing new, not even a slight twist in design. I have a few favorites like Illyriad, Golden Age, and Aloriah, so I was eager to jump into this new one, given that it is made by one of my favorite design studios.

8realms seems to sport a unique design. Players are asked to build up their cities and advance through different ages, from ancient times all the way up to the modern day. A trailer on the front page of the official website shows a commander admiring his army of sword- and spearmen, until suddenly a modern-day jet fighter nukes them to smithereens. All I could think was, "Is this game balanced?"

If you would like to join in on the fun along with me, you can join in VIP access by going to the official site and using the code MASSIVELY15 when prompted. Then come back and click past the cut to hear all about my experience!

8Realms screenshot
This isn't my first run in with 8Realms. I have been given access to earlier betas and testing periods, but honestly, the versions that existed then were so slow and confusing that I didn't even feel like playing them. Also, I am not a very good tester. My brain is packed with games as it is, so taking the time to fill out bug reports is not going to happen. I'm not a huge fan of reporting on alphas and very early versions of games, either. So much will change within a short amount of time that my report would seem quaint at most by the time it is released.

This explains why I was pretty excited to finally jump into a release version of 8Realms. Despite the sluggish performance, I was excited by the fact that Jagex is attempting not only to make an MMORTS that appears to be a unique design but to design it to run in HTML so it can be played on any device. I tested it on my iPad and HTC Android phone, and it did work the same on all of them. The problem is that along with that flexible performance comes the usual sluggishness that I found in earlier versions of the game. If a designer is going to make a game that can be played across all platforms, the performance must be snappy. I would click on a button in the UI and it would literally take 20 seconds or a minute to respond. While I am a patient man, sometimes it seemed as though I just didn't click the button or that the game timed out, so I would click something else. This led to more than a few misguided clicks. The game just feels bloated and heavy, which is a real shame. I imagine that performance will become better as time goes on, but it's a shame when a fully Flash-based MMORTS like Evony feels faster than a jackrabbit on a date when compared to 8Realms.

8Realms screenshot
If we take away the performance issues, the game offers some charming graphics and nice animations. Tiny villagers bang away at stone in the quarry and march in line on the parade grounds. For that alone the game deserves credit. So many browser-based MMOs feature shoddy animations, especially city-building ones. The animations are especially a nice touch when you are playing on a tablet. The art is cute and stylized but not overdone. Characters have some personality, but missing are the massive anime eyes or over-the-top armor that I have found in games like Ministry of War. 8Realms is its own unique-looking game.

As you would expect, you spend your time building up your towns, amassing an army with which to conquer nearby foes, and micromanaging almost everything. I am a bit tired of this same old way of building towns and growing armies. I would love to see something different, especially along the lines of trading and diplomacy. Unfortunately, I never got that far in 8Realms, simply because every time I would participate in a test or earlier beta, I didn't feel it was kind to write it up, and this time my test was interrupted by the release of the VIP opening. Also, MMORTS games are tough to cover unless you give them quite a bit of time to grow. Heck, it can take literally days to grow certain buildings or to achieve certain goals. The genre has grown in popularity with older players for a reason: They can play for a few minutes on their lunch break or after work and still gain some ground. Essentially, you set something to build and walk away as it does. 8Realms is really no different. The build times seem a bit long, especially for the early levels. Right now I have not even left the newbie area simply because it can take more than a few days of babysitting the game to do so. Of course, you can spend money to make things build faster.

8Realms screenshot
When I was able to get into combat during the tutorial and during earlier tests, it played out about as you would expect. I clicked on a target on the world map and told it how many troops to send, and away they went. The results were a bit confusing during this VIP access. I sent my troops in and killed two of the three barbarians who were part of a later quest. Since I killed them out of turn, there was no notification until much later when I got the quest. Also, my very first combat report appeared to be from an actual moderator, looking more like a personal note that was bragging about defeating me. I realized after I got the second combat report that the quotes on the reports were random. Still, it was more confusing than basic combat should be. I can't remember the earlier test wars I had waged, but are my armies animated? Do I have more control over them besides just sending them into battle?

I have to say that, overall, 8Realms is slow to respond, still a bit buggy, more confusing in places than it should be, charming, nice-looking, and possibly very unique. I have a feeling that the bugs will be squashed and performance will be greatly improved. I hope so, at least. If not, the game just feels too sluggish to enjoy. The fact that it will run across any device is a blessing, though, and more games need to be following that design. Accessibility is the key behind browser-based games, especially empire builders. Many gamers just want to be able to play their game from anywhere.

I'll need to check back on 8Realms later. Until then, I will continue to grow my little town. I have a feeling it's due for some great things.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
This article was originally published on Massively.