Goodgame Empire, by Goodgame Studios (makes sense, huh?) is a pretty casual MMORTS that sports some nice art, tempting cash-shop items, and the accessibility that still comes with Flash-based MMOs. Despite the beating that Adobe's baby took over the last year, Flash-based games do still offer some great benefits. Primarily it's the ability to play a Flash-based game from almost any configuration of PC that makes it worth it, but that's a delicate line to toe. Often Flash-based MMOs have issues and crash browsers. I had no such issues with Goodgame Empire, but that's probably due to the lack of intense, real-time animations.
The game looks great. I love stylized games, and love it when all of the art within a game fits together. Many Flash games look fantastic; Goodgame Empire does too. All of the tiny units, map icons, and bits of UI match each other and look fun. But great art does not save the game from suffering from some common MMORTS blues.
Goodgame Empire is a pretty typical MMORTS. It's unfortunate that the game shares so much with the rest of the MMORTS genre. See, it's a group of games that often borrows heavily from each other more than most, and the genre has come to rely heavily on cash shops and virtual purchases. For the record (and in case you have never read one of my articles), I am all for of cash shops and virtual goodies. Heck, I'm perfectly fine with selling "power" and have often paid for powerful items. I just have the same problem with cash shops as I do with any other part of MMOs: I can't stand when I recognize patterns. I don't like it when I see the same designs popping up over and over. Sure, I can understand repeated concepts like levels or classes, but when one game appears to have pasted new graphics over pre-existing games, I become more than a little bored.
Goodgame Empire is a good game, really, and does some very original stuff when it can, but I just wish more MMORTSes would stop selling the same basic speed-ups, basic resource buffs, and occasional units that we've seen in every other MMORTS... minus a few unique ones, of course. I can appreciate a developer's need to make some money, and I can really appreciate it when a developer decides to make "one of those games with the cities and armies" that seem to make money. After all, every other developer and publisher makes one! But I just wish these games were born with the goal of creating original content rather than creating Yet Another MMORTS Clone.
The truth is that if you are new to the genre, you can probably find a nice MMORTS and settle down for some truly fun times. I've met people who literally play only one game or a handful of games, an MMORTS being one of the main ones. They log in, set an army on its way to battle, build a few buildings, and collect a daily login bonus. For them, the issues I found with Goodgame Empire would probably not be very apparent. That's because most of these issues stem from the lack of truly original takes on the genre, something that only a person who has explored dozens of the titles would notice.
Having said all that, I do think that Goodgame Empire is a decent take on the genre. As I mentioned, the artwork is fantastic if you like art that feels hand-created and stylized. The combat is pretty typical but executed well. You will find a target on the large in-game map, scout it out or send a spy to perform some espionage, and then send an army of your soldiers or a pack of hired mercenaries to attack. Minutes or hours later (depending on the distance), you'll receive an update in your in-game mail that tells you whether you succeeded. My issue with combat like this is that there are attempts to make it more "realistic" like long marching times and assigning troops and equipment to certain castle "slots" to represent sieging a castle. Those attempts are good. But then we are faced with completely unrealistic combat systems like instantly completed battles and no real loss to the defending castle except for some building damage, small troop reductions, and some plundered goods. Sure, it's a casual game from a developer who usually makes casual, social titles, but this "halfway" approach to nice, semi-realistic combat is a bit more frustrating than combat that doesn't attempt realism at all.
I don't mind a cash shop that sells power, but the one in Goodgame Empire doesn't. Well, not really. It sells some goods and troops as well as typical buffs, but it's not as blatant as it could be. In fact, I can think of only a few examples of MMORTS titles that have not taken this same route of allowing someone who spends even a small amount of money to have a sizable advantage over someone who does not. It's not an issue of imbalance for me, though; it's an issue of unoriginality. Surely there are ways to monetize an MMORTS without resorting to the same, tired options. I've watched developers release cool cash-shop items that do not depend on these same old designs, so it's disheartening to see yet another one that does.
Goodgame Empire plays well and looks nice, and I really appreciate the lack of an obvious real-time chat. There is an "alliance chat," but I was never able to join an alliance even though I asked several neighbors. The lack of public trolling helped the game feel friendlier. I also appreciate the fact that everything flows well. Building, combat, and even purchasing goods is simple and easy to do. It's a good game (no pun intended) for those who might want a light MMORTS for a few minutes of play a day, but its lack of real depth and a cash shop that too easily sells items that shortcut play will make it seem like a bowl of vanilla ice cream to experienced players. It just sort of sits there, tempting in some ways but not very exciting in most.
Well, I hope everyone has an enjoyable time off, if you are indeed taking time off for the holiday. I'll be back in two weeks with a look at Deepworld, a really unique and fun mobile MMO. See you then!
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!