For those who haven't heard of Prime World, let me giver you a primer: It's set in a fantasy world where a new material called "prime" has revolutionized both the scientific and natural world. Players are tasked with building their own little base to gather resources, make friends, hire heroes, and fight for more prime against the other faction (unless your side currently heavily outnumbers the other faction, in which case the game allows you the option to fight other people of your faction in order to speed up the queues). Really, it's like StarCraft and League of Legends had a baby and asked Facebook to raise the kid, except that you needn't make use of the Facebook integration to play the game and can opt to use an email address instead. However, you'll still find a need for a social network when it comes to the non-MOBA part of the game.
See, your castle functions as something between a resource agency and a talent tree. Buildings give you supplies and eventually stats. While the game's combat tutorial is perfect for getting new MOBA players ready for combat, the city building is just kind of dumped on you. Yes, it tells you which buildings do certain things, but as in any building game, you quickly realize there is only so much room for all the stuff you want to add. So your first step in the game is to expand your territory and hope you can expand again later. The game does have some neat decorations, so we were left wondering how much room we had for fun and how much we had to devote to, you know, being efficient. The two simply don't mix well, especially since buildings can't be rotated or destroyed. [Nival contacted us with a clarification here: It is possible to "move, rotate, sell, and even store building for later use," though our writer further noted that he was able to do so only after he placed them and the UI does not show those features outside of the construction tab, adding to the confusion.]
After realizing that we couldn't even see each other's castles, let alone see the effort we were putting into laying out out territories, we realized that having "friends" was simply about having icons to drag into the resource slots.
This gets even messier when you consider the clan system. Unlike clans in other games, clans in Prime World seem to be an endgame situation. While I spent most of the weekend playing a media account loaded up with resources so that I could test the game, my friends tried regular accounts for several hours to see what a normal player would experience. In order to join a clan, you have to build a clan structure, and the resource price made it impossible for us to join a clan... unless we wanted to pay real money for gold to speed up the process (and since this was on the Russian servers, we don't know the value of gold right now). While playing with someone who pays for the "Golden Age" feature gives little perks to other people playing with them, it still will take a while to get the resources to join a clan, and that still doesn't factor in having to donate to help it grow.
Even on my media account, I noticed that in order to level up the clan, one would have to give up a lot of resources. This isn't a "log in and play as normal" guild leveling system. Your hard earned resources must be given directly to the guild if you want to see it go anywhere, and even those of us with loaded press accounts could feel the pinch. The first guild level cost us 570,000 resources, and we usually won about 550 per game with the "Golden Age" feature. If a guild of 10 players all donated 100% of its collective winnings and played 10 games a day with people who had the "Golden Age" feature, it'd take 10 days to get that guild to level 2. Again, maybe things are different at the max level, but this seemed slow and daunting to my circle of friends. Between the confusing castle resource vs. decoration system, lack of visitation rights, and high entrance requirements for new players to join clans, the current game felt rather anti-social. [Nival assures us that once players establish a base, resources trickle in in the thousands per day, so it shouldn't take as long as predicted. "It is definitely a team effort," says the studio, "and we want to foster a large clan mentality where everyone's contribution matters towards a long term goal.]
And this brings me to my final point of discussion: gender bonuses. No, not the discounts we heard about; I'm talking about how each character comes with a passive talent that gives an absorb shield to nearby players who are low on health and are of the opposite gender of the player's gender as entered on Facebook or during registration, as long as the heroes controlled by the both of you match your real genders. Confused? If I, as a man, am playing Anon, a male character, I can grant a shield to my girlfriend, who is a girl, if she is playing Foxfire, a female character. If my girlfriend instead plays as Highlander, a male character, I cannot give her an absorb shield. Supposedly there are other talents in game that do similar things (like grant invulnerability to the opposite gender), but I didn't see any in my play time.
Now, in some ways, this isn't so bad. It was a nice incentive for us to always remember to stick near each other since we all tried to make sure we had the talent to save each other. It's not game-breaking, but it's a nice bonus. The annoying part, though, is that there are twice as many male characters as there are female characters, and there aren't male and female versions of all the characters to make things even (there are some skins that change a hero's gender, but that costs money). For example, male players start out with a ranged caster character and a ranged physical DPSer, while female players get a tanky caster and a healer. There's no version of these characters for the opposite gender (the ranged caster does have a skin to change into a lady, though). Combine that with the fact that you mainly unlock characters of your own gender early on and the whole system feels far from egalitarian.
Overall, the game is fun and offers interesting quirks other MOBAs simply don't have. However, the current execution on the Russian server leaves some odd disconnects. The game wants to be social, but interactions seem strongest in the MOBA environment, and while the friends I played with are people I met through other games, we all noted that the MOBA genre is not exactly known for getting strangers to come together in a friendly way. The combat introduces some small tweaks that add some interesting things to gameplay, but it also drops a puzzle game in the middle of your base that just leaves people scratching their heads. The game also gives a nice little perk for playing with people of the opposite gender, but gives ladies (or anyone who chooses not to identify male or female) the short end of the stick in terms of options. Hopefully the game will address some of this during its English closed beta period!
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