I love my MMORTS games, for sure. I've had to work on my ability to look at them with the freshest eyes that I can possibly muster, mainly because I see so many of them. It really is a genre of details. The gameplay in different titles is often almost exactly the same, but little details will set them apart. Thirst of Night, a new MMORTS by Kabam, tries hard to set itself apart from the pack, but does it do enough?
I also have to consider that, for many players, these experiences I go through every week are brand-new experiences. For a good number of people, the games I cover are their first or second ones. While it is hard for me to fathom, I have to keep that in mind. So while I saw a game this week that was lacking and tired in some areas, I know that those same areas would be pretty exciting to a new gamer.
Like I said, I'm working on it.
Graphically, the game is really nice. In fact, the graphics of this game are the main thing that set it apart from other games. They are rendered in Flash, which normally sets my teeth to grinding, but lately this newer wave of Flash-based MMORTS titles has been doing pretty incredible things with the environment. Thirst of Night never feels bulky or sluggish while you're playing. The special effects and few animations are really nice. It's not as though I need snappy animations to make my tiny wars interesting -- the fact is that some of my favorite MMORTS games have almost no animations and look quite primitive. It's nice to see the animations, however. The only thing that would have pushed this week of gameplay into the "Oh my golly, that's really cool!" territory would be if the little battles were actually animated like they are in a few titles. If I could watch my thousand critters take down my neighbors in an animated Flash-based war, I would be thrilled. I wouldn't need to control them, just to watch. The MMORTS Ministry of War allows players to control their armies in battle, but it is an optional thing. Surprisingly, I chose not to control them a lot of the time.
The sounds and music in the game are great, if a bit repetitive. The few tracks of music are top-notch and the little bits of audio flair are nice. The key with good sound, especially when a game uses the same sounds over and over, is to repeat them on really wide loops or to have music bits that are long enough to be spaced out from each other. Players will recognize the score or the sound effect, but it shouldn't be repeated so often that it sounds looped or artificial. Thirst of Night does all of these things well.
Watch live video from massivelytv on Justin.tv The game also has all of the standard MMORTS design ideas down pat. Build a series of buildings that give your city fuel to grow, research different combat tactics that act as buffs during battles, nominate a captain or leader of your armies who levels up and grows with each battle, and train many, many troops. Once you have that down, attack NPCs of player-run cities and get to the drama. I was surprised at how easy it was to farm most of my neighbors. Either they were away from the keyboard for the entire week or they had made an account, played a bit, and then left the game. Either way, it was easy pickings for me, and I was only attacked maybe twice in the entire week. Kabam has pulled off a solid take on these same-old, same-old designs. It might seem sort of tired to me, but to a new player it might very well be the most exciting thing ever.
Sure, the "vampires now rule the Earth" setting is pretty neat and fresh, but what does that matter when the gameplay is the same as I have seen in the last 10 MMORTS titles? If all it took to get me worked up about a title were a fresh coat of paint, I would have volunteered to help write about Star Wars: The Old Republic. At this point in my life, I need fresh gameplay, inspired design and unusual lore. I didn't really find that in Thirst of Night.
I don't want to speak as though the game isn't neat in some ways because it is. For example players raise a giant gargoyle to act as a sort of massive army centerpiece. The creature can be outfitted with armor and weapons and can accompany armies into battle. From what I understand, a high-level gargoyle set in fancy armor is pretty darn scary. He stands in the middle of your town in his "nest" but is otherwise static. Much of the drama of keeping or using him is taken out of the early game, so he really just becomes a neat-looking building that you never use. I've seen similar designs in Kabam's other game Dragons of Atlantis, the fantasy version of Thirst of Night.
From what I can tell, the cash-shop doesn't sell "power" directly, but it does make becoming powerful much, much easier. You can buy stacks of basic goods, for example, something I have seen in other games like Evony. It makes no sense to me, but the model does probably work out for those high-rollers who love to play the game with the intensity of a first-person shooter. While those few big-spenders destroy each other in the high game, we measly folk whittle away at each other in the pits. It makes sense. Still, I just get tired of the many MMORTS games that never allow me to forget there is a cash shop in the game. Yes, these designers and publishers have to make money, but there are ways to make bundles of cash from microtransactions without annoying customers. It literally will keep me from a game.
I guess it's safe to say that I enjoyed my time in Thirst of Night but that the time I spent saw me doing the same things I would in a hundred other titles. It's a tried-and-true formula, sure, but I grew tired of formulas in other genres and would rather not grow tired of it in this one. Luckily there are enough fresh takes on the MMORTS genre to keep me interested. Thirst of Night just isn't one of them, really. I would say that the game is great for a group of players to get organized in, and it's great for a few spurts of play each day, but honestly you can do the same group play in a lot of other titles. Just pick one... the fun happens because you're with your friends.
Next week I will be looking at Urban Rivals, a collectible card MMO. It looks interesting, but I will be taking my first real steps into the world next week on a livestream. So keep an eye out!
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!