I do not enjoy writing guide-like articles. I am no fan of reading walls of text that detail how to "properly" perform in an MMO, and I will not break my policy this week. It wouldn't really matter, anyway, because this week's Rise and Shiny game comes from the mind-bogglingly strange genre of hands-off browser-based MMOing. I've discussed the massive, massive success that browser-based gaming has seen in China and other places, but I always preface that discussion with a warning: It is not going away. There are plenty of players in the West who will (and do) gladly participate in this hands-off gaming. There is nothing so special about Western gamers -- and their tastes -- to prevent our MMOs from becoming single-click level races, and nothing more.
I should have known as soon as I saw League of Angels that the game would ask nothing of me but to babysit the mouse and keyboard, making sure that neither ran out of juice. Sure, a player will occasionally need to look up from his Wyatt Earp biography to read two or three words of text on the screen, but generally the game does all of the work.
That leads me to the two questions that always pop up when I play a game like this: Who does enjoy such a title, and why make such a title in the first place?
I do not mean any insult to those players who simply enjoy the mega-casual nature of a game like League of Angels. I chatted up with a handful of players during my week in the game in the hopes of understanding what they get out of the game and to be sure that I was not missing some key ingredient that made the game truly worthy of a player's time. In the end, the general consensus was that 1) No, there is nothing else to do but click, and 2) Some people just dig it. Fair enough.
You'll start off by making a character from one of two classes: Mage or Warrior. I noticed no difference in playstyle when trying out both classes, but it is possible that further down the line things do become more challenging depending on the class you choose. In fact, two of the players I talked to explained that reaching later levels was the sole reason they played the game. Luckily, levels fly by. A new player will hit level 4 within the very first tutorial fight (which is exactly one click of the mouse in length).
Soon after the tutorial, you will find yourself in the real world, and you might be shocked at how incredibly busy the game is. The chat is always flashing with new players and chit-chat between older ones. It didn't shock me at all especially since I have been brave enough throughout my time at Massively to venture into the darkest and most boring corners of MMOs, seeing first-hand how click-to-win gaming is not only popular but growing in popularity all the time, in spite of what mainstream gamers might think.
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Not only does the chat box stay alive, but the UI constantly glows and sizzles with life, begging players to click through many of the various activities and rewards that pummel you as you play. If you play for a certain amount of time, you get a reward. If you log in once a day, you get a reward. There's daily loot, recharge rewards, more login rewards, new player rewards, alchemy (basically a stone that gives out free gold), daily tasks, gemology (a minigame that awards stones that can used in upgrading items), and many other ways to sit there and accrue goodies. You might describe this as some sort of virtual slot machine, but I'm not sure the activities in this MMO require the brain energy needed to play even the most basic game of slots. For some reason, the game just wants you to sit there and click occasionally.
Combat is -- I think -- supposed to the main activity Of course, there's nothing to combat either, so I'm not sure why the developers even bothered to create assets obviously meant to invoke other franchises. Your hero will build up a small army over time, and your army will fight your enemies automatically. You click on the mob and are swept away to an instanced battle that plays out for you. As you level, you can add new equipment or upgrade old items, but there's no brainpower involved. Even your skill tree is nothing but a series of unlocks that you click on as you level.
I normally have no issue with automated systems, as long as the game in question gives me some other reason to play. For an example, let's say that the game's coolest activity is not combat but assembling a deck of special cards. Players could obsess over the perfect deck and could spend time tweaking all of the different cards in order to do special things on the battlefield. The combat could play out automatically because the fun is derived from making the decks. In League of Angels, there seems to be nothing at all to enjoy. Sure, you can decide on different NPCs to fill out your army, but I literally clicked without caring which buttons I clicked and came out on top most of my battles. Where was the depth? I would have killed for any depth, at all, this week.
When I did find an enemy that bested me in combat, I would simply click on the buttons that popped up afterward to upgrade my equipment and make me a bit stronger, and then I would attack and defeat the monster. When new, better equipment shows up, it pops up on my screen, requiring but one click to equip it, no comparison needed. I even attended a "boss fight" event but was let down when all it composed of was clicking on the boss and waiting to be told whether I'd won or lost. That was it.
I am going to call this game what it is: game spam. Have you ever wondered how in the world email spam still exists? Have you ever thought to yourself, "Why do spammers still try? Surely no one clicks on those things?" Have found yourself curious about companies that send out bulk mailers, stuff that just winds up in your recycle bin?
The success of the spammers stems from the fact that only one out of hundreds or thousands of people need to respond in order for it to be a success. All League of Angels wants you to do is log in, OK? Just click a few times, all right? Doesn't that feel good to kill a monster? Now, would you mind spending a little in the cash shop?
Most of us would say no, but there are plenty who not only spend a little in the cash shop but spend thousands. After all, the main and (seemingly) only goal in this game is to level up and to continue leveling up. The shop sells powerful items, so to the few who want to get to the top that badly, the shop is an easy choice. It might sound like a crazy practice, but it's happening all over the world, right now. Players buy and click their way to the highest levels and move on to another game. Yes, it's happening here as well.
Everything League of Angels does is designed to make the player feel powerful. Gold payouts are massive from the beginning, armor and weapons are elaborate, and a player could hit a new level or two just by sneezing on the keyboard. If this sounds like fun to you, you can sign up for free right now. I think I'll mark it down as another game I will never play again instead.
Next week I am revisiting Alganon, thanks to the recent release of a brand-new expansion for the game. It's been a long, long time since it was promised, so what will players get? Join me and a member of the Alganon team as we explore the new stuff and discuss the future of the game. You can watch it live right here on our livestream channel on Monday, the 27th of January, at 4:00 p.m. EST!
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!