MMObility: Grepolis mobile plays almost perfectly

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MMObility: Grepolis mobile plays almost perfectly
Grepolis screenshot
Grepolis is one of my favorite browser-based MMORTS titles because of its simplicity in design and in-depth gameplay. I can jump into the game for a few minutes a day and survive or play it more than that and can actually become powerful. I've loved browser-based MMORTS games for those very reasons, but Grepolis continues to improve even more quickly than others thanks to Innogames' obvious commitment to the community. I've talked about the developer's recent community-based projects and have covered the developer a lot in the past. The company just seems to pay attention -- for the most part -- to its playerbase.

Luckily my new 4G LTE Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 caught up with the rest of the internet, and I am now able to play Grepolis on Android. It's a nice little tablet, and the larger-sized screen really makes games look great. The Android version of the game is not much different from the browser-based version, but playing on a tablet just feels much more natural.

I do have some gripes, however, but I have a feeling that they might be addressed sometime in a future update.

Grepolis screenshot
At first the game, I felt a little cramped in this mobile version of a game that is normally fullscreen in my browser. The game's fantastic music is still there and provides a lovely soundtrack to your world-conquering duties. (Of course, I could see the music frightening an office-chair general or two as they scramble to quickly mute their phone or tablet while in a meeting, but I crank it up.) It's lovely stuff, and it was a long time coming to the game, so I intend on letting it ring out.

You'll start off in Grepolis controlling a small and simple city that is hosted on a good-sized island. On this island, you'll find a random assortment of other players. Those players can turn out to be a headache or a god-send, depending on how quickly you make friends. Personally, I like to scope out the other players' alliances to see whether any are worth joining. When you click on another player's city, you can press the large info button to find out all sorts of goodies about him. The interface works beautifully for these purposes. I found out that one of my neighbors has what appears to be dozens of cities and that he or she is in a massive alliance. I am debating whether I want to attempt to join that group or will just cope with having such a powerful neighbor!

Clicking on another player's city will display other options as well, like trading, attacking, and casting a spell. The touchscreen is perfectly suited for these tasks; Innogames has made sure that, contrary to controls in other mobile ports I've tested, these buttons are easy to read and to press. I do have the infamous S-pen that came with the Note tablet, but I'm not a fan of having to use it to press tiny buttons in a poorly designed UI. I never need to use that pen while playing Grepolis.

Your city can grow slowly especially if you play slowly. I tend to be pretty casual but do check in at least a few times a day. You can buy a premium account that will give you access to gold, which in turn can be used to purchase in-game overviews or advisors. These handy account add-ons give you more building queues for those long weekends away from the game, as well as bonuses to resource gathering and buffs to your combat units. It's just enough of a benefit to make purchasing gold tempting, but not so much that it makes it necessary.

As I mentioned, Grepolis can be a very sluggish game if you play non-aggressively. But having been a witness to MMORTS titles during times of war, I can tell you that a normally slow game like Grepolis can turn quickly into a whirlwind of activity once a little in-game war or drama starts. On most Grepolis servers, the name of the game is conquering each other. I've come back from a long stint away from the game to see that my city has been completely conquered and that I have been thrown to a new position in the world, surrounded by other players who are at my level of competency and who must have surely been conquered as well. It's a hardcore result to battle, but that also means that you can often avoid battle if you play nice. I've found that a little diplomacy and a good-sized alliance make all of the difference in the world. After all, combat can be a pricey endeavor for all parties involved.

Grepolis screenshot
I want to drive home the importance of this mobile version. Even though many browser-based MMORTS games can be played within a mobile browser, an app is important because it reaches an entirely new and different set of potential players. Most mobile fans I know do not play in a mobile browser even if it's possible, and an app will often perform better as well. Innogames really nailed it with this mobile version of one of its most popular titles, but there are still a few things that I would love to see added or tweaked.

First, I would love to see direction indicators for units, and if possible, indicators as to which army is heading where and from what island. It's not as though knowing that information will give you the upper hand (especially if everyone see the same information), but it would give the game a much more epic, "MMO" feel. There are a lot of players in Grepolis for sure, but the static nature of the artwork means that the game can sometimes feel more quiet than it should.

Second, the in-game chat needs to be made accessible and obvious. Chat can hurt a game if the developers allow it to get out of control, but a chat is a great way to get information and to meet other players. Mobile clients can easily support chat.

Third, some menus, like settings, don't reset when the back arrow is pressed. Instead, the arrow drops you back into the game. I'd like to see the same, flowing menu design implemented consistently throughout the game.

Finally, for the life of me, I cannot locate any quests in the mobile game. Quests are not as common in Grepolis as they are in more standard titles, but they are helpful bits of activity that make a lot of difference in breaking up the usual MMORTS gameplay.

There is still a lot of confusion about which server I should be on and how I should sign in. It seems that some of the servers are named different things in the mobile and browser version. Even as I write this, I am not sure which server is the same server that I sign into while playing in the browser. It's a bit of a mess. Signing into Innogames' portal gets me into all of the company's games, but signing into Grepolis independently requires different log in information that I cannot find. The mobile version took my old information but has nothing to do with any other version.

If you want a great mobile MMORTS that has frequent updates, check out Grepolis. I know that I have been playing more now that I have access to it outside of the browser.

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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