Yes, you read the title correctly. This week I revisited Evony. But don't worry -- I tend to write about a game's gameplay and how it made me feel, not the politics surrounding it, especially during a time when people are talking more about an instance of poor taste in lieu of a discussion about how fun the game is. In other words, I will only speak about the infamous Evony ads at the end of this column. if you want more opinionated stuff, check out our Soapbox column!
I knew going in that the game had changed since I last played it. I also knew that it would not blow me away as far as gameplay is concerned, simply because I have played scores of MMORTS games over the last year. But what did I find? What was good and bad about the game? And what about those ads?
Click past the cut and we'll chat about it.
Oddly enough, I was not once confronted with any sexed-up womanly figures during my entire run with Evony this week. Granted, the helpful NPC who aided me in the first few days looked a lot like Lady Gaga and had a very soothing voice, but I was too busy enjoying the fact that Evony has a voiceover at all to notice any controversial ladies. Granted, the voiceover and helpful beginner's walkthrough served almost zero purpose for me later on as it did not cover the vast majority of the gameplay (it would have be really handy if it popped up periodically as I came across new mechanics), but it was still fancy.
In fact, the revamped Evony can easily be described in that word: fancy. The game is done in Flash, so you can expect the standard issues with occasional performance issues, but the UI and game layout feel more like a well-designed plastic robot toy than anything. It moves, it talks, it has large buttons! In fact, the video I streamed on the Monday of the test week was having such issues with lag (nothing to do with Evony) that my frustrations might have been misplaced. The game is just not meant for high-action or entertaining streaming, especially since it features standard but very convenient mechanics that allow time-strapped players to enjoy the game almost as much as someone who plays a lot.
That means that you "set it and forget it" quite a bit in Evony. Generally the MMORTS games I play feature a building queue of at least two buildings. Not Evony. I was only allowed to queue one building at a time. After I learned how to research and train troops, the gameplay did not seem so stingy with the queue, but at the beginning, I felt downright shackled. I would have to to set a building to build and just sit and watch it go. As you would expect, the cash shop is willing and able to sell you items that speed up building. Yes, this might seem like an obvious money-grabbing tactic, and it is. The fact is, though, that you can manage just fine without spending a dime. It just takes longer. You want to power your way to the top? Spend some cash and you'll get some help doing it. That's been standard MMO practice for a long time and will only become more common in the future.
The chat and community was filled up with the typical MMORTS chatter with such classics as "*X streaks through the world chat*" or tough talk between young men and their armies. Overall, though, it was less hateful or off-topic than I have seen in many, many other games. I didn't even see a single bit of gold spam the entire time I played. Whatever they have done, the developers have made world chat tolerable and sometimes even helpful! Will wonders never cease?
Unfortunately I did not spend enough time in the world to raise a massive army and conquer the players around me. I did get to train a few troops and send out a few scouting missions. It plays as any fan of the MMORTS would expect. You click on a city or area you want to interact with and send in the troops. The timer ticks down, and soon you hear the results of your actions in a mailed report. Different games use different styles of a similar mechanic, but it's important to remember that the MMORTS is supposed to play sort of like a giant board game, not like World of Warcraft.
There are heroes to level, outfit, and lead your armies into war. The hero mechanic seems to have shown up in MMORTS games in more recent times, although it has been featured in offline RTS games for a long time. It's still clever, though, and serves to give you a true character to call your own. The hero can be seen as almost the avatar in the MMORTS. Evony's heroes are well done but not surprising. Training troops and research is pretty straightforward as well, but many of the item or ability descriptions are downright confusing and almost misleading. It's not a matter of localization but a matter of poor description. I was surprised to see such confusing text while the game interface and gameplay are both wonderfully simple. Granted, the confusing item descriptions were not as bothersome as the "Facebook sharing" pop-ups that came across my screen occasionally. While some of them are amusing, pop-ups like those do not make it any easier for me to convince people that "Facebook game" is not a genre or mechanic.
" To a truly new player, the game would probably be really, really cool. It's slick, well-made, and straightforward, and it features a world chat that is less scary than many "AAA" standard MMOs' chats."
I can't blame Evony for not surprising me that much. I have to try to look at it from the point of view of someone who has not played as many of these games as I have. To a truly new player, the game would probably be really, really cool. It's slick, well-made, and straightforward, and it features a world chat that is less scary than many "AAA" standard MMOs' chats. Evony ran like an absolute dream on my Inspiron Duo touchscreen netbook. The large interface and buttons made it almost perfect for a touchscreen. This accessibility will probably be good for disabled players as well, although I could see examples of UI and game elements that would give colorblind players a problem. I have to say that at the end of my week with Evony, I was entertained and happy with the changes. Although I am tiring of seeing Flash used so heavily, Evony has done some pretty wonderful things with it.
Now, about those ads. First of all, it would be absolutely ridiculous to say that the developers or publishers of Evony invented or perfected sexism in the world of MMO gaming. They did neither. It would also be silly to say that ads, like the ones Evony has become known for using, have not caused any damage or have not done their part in creating a less-than-friendly environment for female gamers.
Here are a few truths about the situation, though: First, game ads and game design have been sexist for a long, long time. In fact, the sexism that permeates game development is probably second only to its ignorance of disabled players on the list of things that bother me about this industry. If you want it to change, you can boycott those games that use sexist imagery in their advertisements or in game, but then I would probably be out of a job. It's everywhere. All I can say is that if you want to fight it, start with the troll in your guild who insists on using the B word all the time. Speak out next time someone throws out "rape" or "butthurt" in a casual manner. Bring some female friends into your hobby. Be aware of the issues but not ignorant of the truths. Write to the developers, but remember that the marketing department and the game designers are usually not the same people. And for the sake of all of us, stop taking photos with those poor booth babes at any modern convention. That's certainly not helping. Hopefully one day we will not have to talk about sexist ads and instead can concentrate on gameplay.
Next week is Thanksgiving, so I am going to start my Rise and Shiny early by diving right into DigiMon Masters! See you then!
Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook!