First Impression: Realm of Empires
I've been an avid MMORPG player for quite a number of years, but a few months ago I had a bit of interest in finding a good strategy game. It's not the type of game I normally play, but this newfound interest wasn't letting go. I had a craving and I needed a fix! I began conducting web searches to research current games of that genre in hopes to find something that would really grab me. There were a few names I was familiar with because of advertisements, but I just wasn't sure if those were the right games for me. Then I saw a listing for Realm of Empires.
The flagship game of BDA Entertainment Inc., Realm of Empires is a MMORTS that lets you build up an empire from a tiny village. True to the nature of a social network game, there are several ways you can interact with other players and their villages around you. You can choose to make friends and join together in a clan to support one another, or you can be the scourge of the lands and attack your neighbors. Clans can also decide to make friends or enemies by either forming an alliance or declaring war on rivals.
Set in a medieval environment, the game allows for the recruitment of various types of troops and the construction of different buildings. A player can attack and defend with Citizen Militia, Infantry, Light Cavalry, and Knights. Siege weapons in the form of Rams and Trebuchets are also available. Players can build Walls, Defensive Towers, and Hiding Spots for protection; Barracks, Stables, Taverns, and a Palace for troop recruitment; and Silver Mines, Farm Lands, Treasuries, Trading Posts, and Headquarters for resource acquisition and management. The game also includes research capabilities that allows players to study new skills that improve and increase the effectiveness of these different military units and buildings.
I decided to try it out and can only say that I have been impressed. I had tried some strategy games in the past and there were definite flaws in the mechanics. (These flaws were a large reason why I pulled away from online strategy games.) With those experiences and hesitations under my belt, I was very pleased to see how Realm of Empires handled those barriers. The main issues I had experienced in previous online strategy games included balancing time between the game and real life, the learning curve in understanding some of the more complex mechanics, and overpowered players.
SOLVING MMORTS ISSUES
A real-time strategy game can easily become demanding on our schedules. But it's a game and we all have real lives. We need to be able to step away from the screen despite the lack of a pause button we know from console games. I had tried a MMORTS years ago and it was just very unforgiving in this area. So how does Realm of Empires handle this issue?
Sleep Mode: You mean the game is going to let me sleep AND protect me? Exactly! When bedtime rolls around, just activate Sleep Mode and other players will be unable to attack you for 12 hours! It takes 2 hours from when you initiate this mode to fully activate. (The 12 hour protection begins after this 2 hour period.) This mode can be activated once every 23.5 hours, so it means you get to sleep EVERY night!
Weekend Mode: Similar to Sleep Mode, it takes 12 hours to activate and protects you for 2 days. It cannot be reactivated again for 4 days from when it last ended.
Vacation Mode: We can even take a vacation? Sure can! Just set it up 3 days in advance and the amount of time you can take is determined by realm parameters and your accounts global XP. Once it ends or is canceled, Vacation Mode cannot be reactivated for another 7 days.
The in-game menu for these "away" modes will detail any particulars for the realm you choose to play on, as different types of realms may have different regulations on this system. All in all, it's a nice way to accommodate a player's need for breaks from their computer or phone and live real life. Kick in a competitive salary with 401K and we could save even more time by switching to RTS gaming as a new career!
So what are all these buttons? Using a quest system, the game guides you through the various tools available to you to enhance your gameplay. These quests serve as a tutorial, but it is a tutorial system with applicable rewards that are useful for the duration of your gameplay and not just the beginning. Speaking of which, the reward system uses an inventory approach. The inventory button lets you access rewarded troops and buffs that you can use at any time. You are not forced to use a reward upon receiving it, but rather can use it when it is optimal for your growth. This means you are not forced to make rash decisions about your rewards and can enjoy the fruits of your labors at your own speed.
Another helpful feature is the built-in calculator called the "Battle Simulator". Since you can attempt to spy on the locations of other players, you can obtain information on the number of troops and level of defensive structures in place in that location. Using the Battle Simulator, you can match up the total of your attacking troops and siege weapons against an opponent's troops and defense to determine what is necessary to win a battle. In other games, my experience had been a lot of guesswork with no clear indication of the combat formulas used, resulting in unnecessary wasting of troops. The Battle Simulator provides accurate results (when used properly) and adds to the sense of strategic planning in a player's conquest.
BALANCE OF POWER
While the game doesn't actually "scale" you to match other players who may have been on the realm longer, it does provide ample time to build up your own village, capture some surrounding villages, and find a clan that's right for you. It accomplishes this by protecting any territories under your control for a certain duration of time from when you first start. During this time, a new player cannot be attacked by other players until that protection period has expired. Depending on realm parameters, a player's capital usually cannot be attacked for an extended period of time beyond the initial protection period. This helps prevent newer players to the realm from being removed by more powerful players at the outset. (This is the main reason a player would want to find a good clan. The goal of the game is to defeat other players and leave them with no villages or cities and thus remove them from the realm.)
The game also provides daily gifts in the way of a caravan. Players are presented with a limited number of caravans per day. Each caravan displays three different items, allowing a player to select one. Items in the caravan can include a small number of troops, money, or limited duration boosts. The great thing about the caravan system is that if a player joins a realm beyond the date the realm has been opened, it will provide that player with caravans equal to the number of days that realm has been open. This can be a huge help to new players trying to catch up to more established players around them.
I was fortunate enough to be in the clan that conquered the particular realm I played on. This allowed me to play the game through multiple stages and experience things like city evolutions, new research unlocks, and the process of completing a realm. It also allowed me to meet different people and see how BDA interacted with its customers during gameplay.
Starting with a tiny village, players can expand their domains by capturing other villages. However, there is a game mechanic, referred to as "Ages", that serves to both strengthen and shrink the scope of player empires. Each Age lasts around a few weeks to a couple months. At the start of each Age, new things are introduced such as more advanced Researches and reduced handicap penalties for attacking weaker players. If it is an "Age of Cities" phase, of which there are several, player empires become smaller by way of consolidation. The consolidation that occurred on the realm that I played happened at a 3:1 ratio, meaning that for every 3 locations a player controlled, those locations were turned into one location. (The First Age of Cities is what transforms villages into cities.) This helps to hasten the win condition, but it also makes each player city that much stronger.
In addition to strengthened cities, realms can also include capturable bonus villages. These bonuses vary depending on the type of village, but can include enhancements such as increased defensive capabilities, resource production, troop recruitment, or farm yield. This can provide an additional strength in an area, especially if a player or clan controls multiple bonus villages in that territory. They can effectively shift the balance in a location and if that village is selected for consolidation during an Age of Cities, the strengthened city that is created will also have the bonus the previous village had. Such features require players to employ forethought in their attack plans and co-operation for one clan to be successful against another.
While the in-game tutorial was informative, I found the community itself to be very helpful. People were generally ready to answer questions in the realm chat regardless of clan, but of course it was within the clan itself where I experienced deeper discussion of particular topics as they related to strategy. I will note that I was part of an active clan, which is a large part of why we were so successful on our realm. (That and solid leadership, which itself was active.) Also of note was that even though it is a game with win conditions and realm closures, people were still interested in keeping up contact outside of the game. (Friend and foe alike!) What surprised me is that chat software I was familiar with as an MMORPG gamer was largely unfamiliar to this particular MMORTS community. They utilized software I was previously unaware of and was geared more towards mobile communication.
In regards to customer service, BDA communicates with the community through a variety of methods. An in-game mail system allows them to reach all players simultaneously if an important announcement needs to be made. There is also a global chat for players to communicate with each other regardless of realm that employees of BDA make regular use of. Lastly, there is a help system that allows players to submit a question or feedback directly to BDA. I utilized this feature myself to request assistance on a certain technical matter. The response was prompt, courteous, and the staff was able to rectify the issue in a timely manner.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
IS THIS GAME FOR YOU?
No game is for everyone, so I've tried to identify a few of the major considerations a potential player might want to be aware of before delving in.
This game can be time-consuming. Even with the various tools to help players take breaks, it demands a lot of attention to both expand and defend your empire. Remember, this is a multiplayer REAL-TIME strategy game, so others are playing even if you aren't. If you aren't in a protected or away mode, you are still attackable when logged out. If you are in a protected or away mode, lands not under your control but near you are still attackable and enemy players can still work to obtain better positions with which to attack you later.
Realms have win conditions. This means that wars will be fought and won and the realm will come to an end. If you are looking for a game with a SimCity feel in building up your land, this is not that. Leveling structures to their maximum upgrade is not always the best strategy. Also, you will no longer be able to expand once the realm is completed. New wars will be able to be fought in new realms, but what you build in your current realm will not be carried over. (The only exception to this is any prizes you have been awarded if you are one of the victors.)
Victory is not guaranteed. Depending on realm parameters and population, it is most likely that the majority of players will end up not fulfilling the win conditions. There will only be a limited number of players or clans that can win because of these conditions. In the realm I experienced, the parameter was the last two allied clans remaining. That meant all the other clans and lone players had to be defeated and even then, the last two clans had to be allied. If two remaining clans were not allied, they would either have to form an alliance or fight it out. This game is more about the fun and experience of real-time strategy combat, which involves loss.
Realm of Empires is accessible through multiple platforms. Currently, it allows logins from Facebook, Kongregate, and Armor Games in addition to their own Tactica system. It is also playable on both Desktop and Mobile. While this certainly allows for a variety of methods of access, it can also mean varying player experience based on platform choice, since it is not a uniform system. A recent issue was login problems via Facebook. To ensure fairness, BDA Entertainment employed an attack freeze (preventing any player from attacking) while a solution was found. Ultimately, the fix they came up with was to convert Facebook accounts over to Tactica accounts. As a consolation for the inconvenience, BDA awarded a small number of Servants (the premium currency) to all active accounts. It should be noted that the developers have specified, both by in-game mail and on their blog, that this was an issue caused by a suspension from Facebook despite BDA's adherence to required changes. BDA further mentioned that Facebook failed to respond to their appeal in April despite a promise to respond to developers within one business day.
If you do decide to check out this game, here are a few things I learned along the way:
Treat Servants as a commodity. (Servants represent the premium currency in the game.) When I first started obtaining them, I was using them frivolously to speed up different processes such as researches. You can occasionally get Servants from raiding nearby game-controlled villages, so I thought I could farm an unlimited supply. This is incorrect as other players can capture those villages at any time, making it a much more difficult target for you. I found it better to save Servants for more needed or desired purchases. There are also promotional offers made available to obtain Free Servants a player can take advantage of. (Simply click the 'Purchase Servants' icon and then the 'Free Servants' link.) In the interest of full disclosure, blogging about the game is one of those offers. The author of this article will not be seeking or accepting any offer of Servants for this review so as to maintain an unbiased perspective.
Plan your cities. Having a mixture of defensive and offensive units in a single city is neither the best protection or the best offense. It is better to have one or the other in a city so as to obtain the best advantage. Similarly, you don't need the maximum level of every structure in a city. It wouldn't make sense to build a maximum level Siege Workshop in a city you are using to recruit defensive troops. Every level of a building requires a certain amount of your food resource, which also dictates the amount of troops you can have in a city. Unnecessary building levels then become a deficit to superior troop numbers.
Build clusters. It's easier to defend your village or city if you have other villages or cities nearby. This is because you can move troops from one city to another to support against incoming attacks. The closer your troops are coming from, the less time it will take to get there and higher the chance they will arrive before an enemy attack lands. This is also something to keep in mind when you are looking for new areas on the map to start a new cluster. If there are not enough non-player controlled villages or cities to take over, new spots you move to could be weak and difficult to defend if you don't have clanmates or allies nearby.
Don't just leave. This tip really only applies if you are part of a clan. The cities you control are part of your clan's overall position and strength. If you find you no longer have time for the game, do your best to let your clanmates know that you need to stop playing. You can work with clanmates to help them absorb your territories by dismissing troops you have in each city as your clanmates send their own troops to capture them. This helps prevent rival clans from stealing them and negates troop loss of your fellow clanmates in taking over your cities. (They would have to otherwise contend with your stationed troops if you simply disappear.) This goes a long way in creating a positive experience with your clanmates who you may likely encounter again if you play in future realms.
The realm I was placed on after registration was considered by folks to be a "starter realm" for new players to learn the mechanics of the game. Other realms had some different features or lack of features to help change the pace and complexity of the strategy required. BDA Entertainment does seek player feedback to help develop realm types and introduce new components such as raids. Ultimately, the real strength of the game is the player-versus-player strategy and teamwork one must continuously employ. This keeps the game from growing stale by adding intelligent thought and competition to game-controlled variables. If you are looking to experience a real-time strategy game with and against multiple people, Realm of Empires may be of interest to you.
About the Author
Wulf the Adventurer