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MMObility: Holding on to Arcane Empires


Kabam, maker of MMORTS titles like Thirst of Night and Dragons of Atlantis, is back with a portable title that can be found only on the Google Play market. I stumbled upon one night, installed it for free, and soon found myself recognizing those old Kabam earmarks. It's hard to find high-quality MMOs for mobile devices. They're out there, and there are more coming into the market every day, but I wonder exactly how Kabam intended on spreading the word about Arcane Empires without featuring it on the official homepage. The MMORTS publisher has always seemed pretty savvy about the genre's formulas and how to make a successful game, so I have a feeling it must know what it's doing with the first mobile-only title in the lineup.

When I check out mobile titles, I keep in mind that I might be mistaking convenience for fun. How many of us log into a game every day or every week only because the shortcut is sitting right there on our desktop or because the game rests on our phone or tablet just waiting to be touched?

Arcane Empires screenshot
Graphically, all of Kabam's titles that I have played are impressive. It's not so much that they pack realistic, three-dimensional art into your browser or (now) onto your tablet or smartphone; instead, the art is always well-rounded, smooth, fun to look at, and very original. As I mentioned before, Kabam definitely knows the formula for a successful MMORTS -- in fact, the company repeats it often. Along the way, however, it packages those titles with very neat paper and a bow. The games in the Kabam lineup are just fun to look at.

Arcane Empires is set in a steampunk world of giant gears and massive lenses. I have to admit I've never been much of a steampunk fan. Sure, it's a cool style in many ways, but I just don't like how it takes complicated machinery -- its hallmark -- and transforms it into very easy-to-digest science-fiction-lite. I would enjoy the genre more if it actually tried to concentrate on many of its wonderful contraptions, but as you can see in a game like Arcane Empires, all of those gears and steamworks are basically props on the stage. It's not enough of a problem to distract me from enjoying a game set in a steampunk world, but it does get old very fast.

"In fact, the simplest MMORTS is one of the most complicated games you can play with others."

Minus my dislike for all things Victorian mixed with science fiction, I still really like what Kabam does with the titles under its belt. There is a very simple premise behind most of them, but players can easily add more strategy, depth, and tactics if they choose to. In fact, the simplest MMORTS is one of the most complicated games you can play with others. Sure, growing your city has become somewhat of a predictable, boring mechanic that needs to be tweaked or thrown out completely, but its still a good idea for a multiplayer game. I can casually poke into my city once a day and do just fine in the world, but if another player wanted to do all of the math and read up on all of the latest strategies, she could find herself in charge of the strongest guild or group of players on the server.

There are also several layers of persistence built into MMORTS titles that you cannot find in a standard MMO world. I am always flabbergasted when a reader questions whether an MMORTS is an MMO or not. Yes, as a matter of fact, these city-builders are MMORPGs in every sense of the word, maybe even more so than World of Warcraft or EverQuest. How? Well, a player's MMORTS city is a WoW player's avatar. The miniature armies act as arms or as movement across the landscape. Most MMORTS games also feature literal heroes or avatars that play the classical role of a single character for the player to control. That hero or avatar can be outfitted in different ways and levels of complexity. A player can then put that hero in charge of an army and control that army from above.

Arcane Empires screenshot
The MMORTS genre also features entire cities populated with thousands of people and host to massive stores of goods, i.e., loot. These cities do not disappear when the player takes the afternoon off. Instead, the player leaves that part of his or her experience behind and possibly open to attack. We can also consider the financial impact a player might have on the world by sending out traders, selling goods on a market, and helping out others with resources. All of these different layers of persistence mean that even the lowliest MMORTS is still closer to an MMORPG than many MMOs, and even the most cliched MMORTS still offers the chance for very complex playtime.

Of course, that does not mean all players will play while keeping this possible complexity in mind. In most of Kabam's titles I have played, farming and smack-talking are pretty common. It's no different in Arcane Empires. There's a lovely report feature, but the chat simply moves by so incredibly fast that it is not helpful or fun to watch. There was no way to stop the chat or to delete it from my screen. I was also forced to receive updates on my tablet as I played even though I turned them off in the game settings. I thought I was doing something wrong at first but then realized that the settings were simply not recognized. Either something is broken with the game or the developers just added in those tweaks to annoy players who just want to get to sleep at night without another notification going off in their ears.

If you have played Evony before, then you might enjoy a game like Arcane Empires. As in Evony, players can literally purchase goods and buffs from the Arcane Empires cash shop. I have no problem with this because the developers are known for this sort of thing. If you get into the higher echelons of the game's playerbase, you might find yourself scrambling for the credit card, but casual players will see no difference.

I loved how it played and felt on my Nexus 7 tablet. I wish more mobile MMOs would play in portrait mode. It's easier to hold and just feels more natural most of the time. The game rarely caused me much grief; it always shut down when I told it to. In spite of the annoying notifications that simply would not go away, I found myself enjoying the game as I checked in several times a day. It's a great choice for players who might want a lighter title to play in between all of that dang Guild Wars 2 action they are getting into lately. In fact, don't be surprised if a game like Arcane Empires becomes your main title. As I mentioned, even the most basic MMORTS is like a game of chess and can be as much as you want it to be. Play it casually, hardcore, or only on days that start with the letter T. Either way Arcane Empires is worth checking out.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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