Warstory: Europe in Flames is one of those deceptively simple MMOs that makes me feel a bit lost for most of the week that I look at it for this column. It seems as though I stumbled into a game that features not only a time-limited server but one that is about to restart once the capital city of Berlin is taken by either the Russians (my side) or one of the other Allies. The goal is to race through content until Berlin is finally nabbed. I was even able to roll a new commander on a new server, but that game was far enough along to convince me that I really need to play in a brand-new game to see what happens from the very beginning.
I am getting ahead of myself, though. How about we talk about the gameplay and how it all feels? Then I'll allow myself to scheme about my possible glory.
What I really love about Warstory: Europe in Flames is how little it feels like a bland, War World II strategy game. I've tried more than a few of those, both digital and board-game versions, and I found myself nodding off more often than not. We'd play RISK, or worse yet, Axis and Allies when we were younger, but my brother has such a great mind for history and strategy that I was always guaranteed to lose. I still want to surprise him with a copy of one of those games so we can see how well our strategies have held up over the years. My father is a World War II buff as well, but I am doomed to have to Google my information most of the time or to watch History Channel documentaries.
If you were to repaint Warstory and replace its graphics with fantasy bits, it would feel like a great fantasy title as well. That's because the underlying gameplay doesn't really depend on real-world details. Sure, you'll watch your numbers and count up how strong your troops might be, but those numbers are interchangeable between genres. That's a good thing, although some players might prefer a much grittier and more realistic and (ahem) exciting delivery. I found the stylized artwork in the game to be some of my favorite of any game so far, and the animations and smooth UI parts are all thanks to Microsoft's Silverlight engine. Unfortunately this means that I could not play the game on my Chromebook because the device does not allow for plugins like Silverlight, but it would work easily on even a basic laptop. The only glaring issue I found with the graphics is that there is no option for a fullscreen experience. This is so unfortunate because the window that the game runs inside is tiny.
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Commanders will have to move battle-ready battalions across the map, all while keeping travel time and cost in mind. You can speed travel up by paying for a plane trip -- a clever explanation for paying for a buff -- but I normally found myself enjoying the long travel times. A lot of players poo-poo anything that makes them wait, as though it can only be a ploy by the developers to spend real-life money to speed things up. I usually find it to be a great excuse to get up from the keyboard, stare at the map and think on what I will do once I get to where I'm going. The travel times in Warstory: Europe in Flames just give the game a bit more depth.
"At first it seems that you can steamroll anything and that the minigame is silly, but later on the challenges make you grimace while you sweat over maneuvering your tiny army against the enemy."
Once you are on a city plot or in the middle of a capital, you'll find a list of missions that need to be completed. These missions range in difficulty from scouting missions that are completed in seconds (and are almost a guaranteed victory) to very hard missions that will have you running back to your camp. You'll load up a commander and all of your gear and attack an enemy by literally operating groups of on-screen tanks and other heavy metal in a sort of battlefield minigame. At first it seems that you can steamroll anything and that the minigame is silly, but later on the challenges make you grimace while you sweat over maneuvering your tiny army against the enemy. I can only imagine how cool it would be to see fantasy units in place of the World War II ones, but I still had fun.
Players who have problems with buying power might have an issue with this game, but those players are fewer than they were before, something I covered in a recent column. The good news is that developers who decide to go with the selling of powerful in-game items like units or resources are very aware of how unsettling such power can be to a game, so they usually include some counter-agent to that power. In most cases, it's time that does the trick. A free player with vast knowledge of the game can simply destroy a player who spent a lot of money without knowing what to do. The truth is that the big spenders are rare, and I saw no problems or discussions about it while I played this week. That doesn't mean it's a non-issue, however. I think the most common selling item would have to be travel speed-ups.
The much more specific issue I have with the game comes from the fact that foreign games like this one might end up published by too many online game purveyors. I played for much of the week on the official website and then found out that Bigpoint is publishing the game as well. That doesn't surprise me since Bigpoint publishes everything, but it can sometimes be confusing finding a publisher and then finding another one. It can also be helpful if you want to switch between games, but that's only for power players. I also became frustrated when I wanted to buy in-game gold only to be sent to a Facebook page that told me something about the game undergoing a change to the gold system. A player told me it was because the server was so close to an end as well. Either way, it seemed really inconvenient and possibly unprofessional to have a "buy gold" button that leads to a Facebook page with a circular explanation.
I really enjoy Warstory: Europe in Flames. It's a great-looking and deceptively simple strategy game that can be consumed on a casual schedule or for hours and hours at a time. While the tiny game window and occasionally strange localizations slowed my fun here and there, overall I would say that it offers some of the best strategy MMO gameplay I have come across in a long time. I'm definitely going to try to become a better player at this one!
Next week, I am going to be jumping into Allods Online to see what this new expansion is all about. Of course I cannot guarantee anything beyond my repeated deaths, but I will be streaming the game on Monday, the 18th of March, at 5:00 p.m. EDT, right here on our Massively livestream page!
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!