Last weekend, I spent some time with Ecol Tactics, a new turn-based MMO brought to us by Games Campus. It features a lot of the same mechanics we have seen before, similar art design to other titles, and a browser-based, Flash-based accessibility that is always welcome. Sure, I was able to enjoy it for only several hours, but during that time, I noted just why Anime and turn-based combat is still successful and why Ecol Tactics is wise to take such a successful genre and launch a new title within it.
Anime is easy to digest. The characters on the screen feel chunky but agile. There's something instantly likeable about the characters in Ecol Tactics. They are detailed like an army of miniature soldiers. Wisely, the developers show you some high-level spells and combat before you even get out of the newbie area. I have to admit that I looked forward to the day I would be able to lay waste to a half-dozen monsters with a single swipe of my weapon.
As I played, however, I noticed plenty of issues with localization and missing text or text errors, an issue I have been told will be resolved by launch. I had to remember that I had been invited to what was essentially a closed-door press event. I definitely had to keep this in mind when I couldn't find anybody to group with. It's a bit ironic to test out a game behind closed doors because it undermines the number one reason we play these games: other players. Still, the first several levels of Ecol Tactics seem easy enough to coast through without help from others. The ease of play might be an issue for some players; instant travel and almost one-button gameplay is definitely a turn-off for many. I've played enough of these games to know that, yes, the early levels are often very, very easy to zip through, but the big payoff usually comes from pushing through many levels until the big abilities are learned, powerful magic spells are memorized, or epic gear is scored. It's hard to say exactly how Ecol Tactics plays out later on, as I achieved only a few levels during this press beta.
The game's combat is definitely what sets it apart from many other titles. There are several other turn-based games out there, but I appreciate how Ecol Tactics presents turn-based play to the player. It's easy to follow and concentrates on what makes turn-based fun. When I am in the middle of combat, I don't want to be bothered by strict time limits or confusing menus. Almost everything about combat in Ecol Tactics is simple. That doesn't mean it's strategy-deficient, though. Even though I played only a low-level character, I found myself trying to out-maneuver the enemy. Once I gained an NPC groupmate, the combat took on a deeper tone. I had to not only control myself but position my NPC buddy for maximum damage. You'll gain access to those NPCs at an early level, which was good to see. I didn't want players to have to grind just to fill a group.
There are public towns that players will fill together, socialize in and trade in. Those instanced areas are similar to instanced areas in Guild Wars or other titles. Instanced, social areas or channels are more common in gaming than ever; instancing, phasing, and channeling are all important tools especially for browser-based games that might be bogged down by having too many players on the screen. Flash-based MMOs are often some of the harshest games to play with many people together in one area. Once players group up or grab a solo mission, they will head out into instanced worlds or dungeon-like areas. Once there, players can pick from a selection of different rooms. If you've played Dragon Nest or similar games, you'll know what I'm talking about. As you quest and conquer different areas, you can continue to move around the map. I barely opened up the map I was on within the time I played, but I was intrigued to see whether maps grew larger or combat always occurred within smaller areas.
I've been told that players will be able to group up for a total of three in a PvE mission or 3v3 during PvP. I'm not totally sure how these numbers vary when NPC groupmates are counted (or whether they are counted at all). The larger the battle, the better, as long as the maps stay colorful and varied like the ones I saw while I played.
"A good way to describe Ecol Tactics is like a simpler Wakfu, a game that can often confuse players."
Check out the embedded video for a good idea of how combat looks and works. Bear in mind that what you are seeing is not what I witnessed; localization was largely not an issue during my play, and most menus were in English, but the game is pretty simple and easy to navigate. You can attack using a default ability or choose from a list of special attacks. I also appreciated the way I was able to pick spells and items from an easy-to-navigate list. Everything flows pretty smoothly, and the animations and sounds are fun. A good way to describe Ecol Tactics is like a simpler Wakfu, a game that can often confuse players. There are also plans for a mobile release further down the line.
Ecol Tactics isn't a completely original title. We've seen cutesy characters before; we've all played more than our fair share of titles that offer turn-based combat. The developers still have a ways to go before the game is ready to release to the public, but I enjoy the fact that there is a lot going on while the game is still able to run on every PC in my house, even the Samsung Chromebook. Turn-based combat is the real draw here. If you like to game by taking your time, making decisions slowly, and working with either NPC or human groupmates, you'll enjoy Ecol Tactics. I can't wait to see it released with some more localization, a good fullscreen mode, and more players on the screen. As a huge fan of turn-based play, I'll be spending plenty of time in Ecol Tactics in the future.
Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!