TBC Overall Score
Great graphics, interesting tactical combat
Takes far too long to get into the game, tedious repetitive tasks/gameplay
We recently took a look at the closed beta Elvenar, the free to play browser based empire/city building strategy from InnoGames where players can lead their own human or elven village, managing resources, training and fielding a personal army, exploring and more. We took a few hours out to get to grips with the game and get into it with a little more detail to see if it has the potential of being a game that can keep players entertained; in a very overcrowded genre we were interested to see whether the game could hold its own.
Straightaway we will say that the graphics and general user interface are extremely well designed, the characters, environment, buildings and everything else were made with detail, care and attention and it really shows. The sound and music are quirky, but a little repetitive after a while but can be easily muted with the push of a button (and you will push that button).
The main premise revolves around some core features that we’ve seen in plenty of other games such as this; a rinse and repeat cycle of players erecting buildings to gain more resources to get better technology to erect new buildings and so on. As a player we had to manage our resources, though early on it wasn’t particularly significant other than having tools and gold, everything else you were picking up seemed to be going into a stockpile for future use we can only presume. The game, at least for the majority of our playing experience, feels like it is very much the same thing on a loop. Combined with the need of resources players also have to factor in time, everything takes time to build and buildings in particular require workers, each city has two free workers (players can purchase more with real-world cash), similarly you need a Barracks to build early troops, which can take over 20 minutes to train up one squad, and unfortunately you can’t build more than one barracks.
One of the other key features is the Exploration and Provinces, players spend gold to send out a Scout which lets them uncover a new province, each of which having eight (at least in the early days) combat encounter battles and if the player successfully defeats the NPC defending troops then they lay claim to that piece of the territory and, once all 8 have been taken, they control the Province and gain its unique rewards as well as a Research Point to add to the players available resources for unlocking new technologies. For acquiring Provinces, building structures, gaining resources, training troops and more players can receive quests and quest givers will shower the player with more gold and resources; typically more gold.
Combat is quite different in comparison to other city building MMOs, players will be able to fight enemies in the province instead of negotiating their surrender to gain ownership of the particular Province area. Combat takes place on a hex based group with players starting at each end of the battle map; they get to choose which of their troops they send into battle, able to scope out the enemy units first to see what they are up against and choose their units appropriately. Combat is actually fairly interesting and tactical, turns alternate between the player moving all their units then the AI moving all of theirs, each individual unit having its own hit points, attack value, attack range, squares of movement and other unique abilities. It’s not necessarily who has the most troops wins, players are able to flank, use cover and take advantage of their ranged attacks against melee opponents.
The problem with the game is that it takes a long time to get into, you hit a purgatory loop where you’re stuck doing the same things over and over. For us once we have run out of units (because they take a long time to heal up unless you spend Diamonds, which are a premium currency that costs real cash) then combat is out of the question because, as we said, it takes over 20 minutes to build up your next troops. We probably got a good 20 fights before our initial batch of units were fully depleted/kill of; no great losses just battles of attrition that slowly whittled down our forces. Starting out we only had access to melee units, and all the enemies you face are Archers, so there was no real tactical combat early on (but we can see how that would be in later game with a mix of units and more numbers). So without our army what this meant is that to take over the Provinces we were forced into constantly using the Negotiate option, which simply allows players to spend gold and resources to claim the different points that they would normally have to fight for. We’d taken our first two Provinces through fighting and our next 5 through negotiating, which is pretty dull, though the combat at this stage wasn’t exactly thrilling anyway and was just time consuming. Combined with the fact that because we’d paid to Negotiate control over the initial Provinces closest to us, the ones that were remaining (and there is literally hundreds) had more units defending them than the early Provinces, so we still weren’t in a position to get enough units to fight.
By taking the provinces and completing other quests, such as constructing buildings, we were getting more gold to continue to buy up our Provinces, we were restricted with what we could build in our city due to building number restrictions (as mentioned you can only have one barracks), room and unavailable technologies as even with the number of Provinces we’d taken the Research Point requirements for new techs gets higher and higher. We managed to unlock the Archer units, but again it takes so long to train them up we never actually got a chance to use them, never got chance to get back into any combat, which was a shame because we were opening up new Provinces that had some different enemy types that we just couldn’t fight.
One of the few buildings we could build at this stage were the Residences, which bring in even more gold, and we literally had more gold than we knew what to do with as trying to rush our troops required Diamonds; and that’s the crux of it, we were very much isolated from doing things in the game due to a premium currency/queue times, and honestly it just got boring. What this primarily highlighted is that you can’t play this game actively unless you are happy with the grind performing the same actions, building the same buildings, and doing little else. Elvenar, at least so it would seem, is for casual play and bobbing into every so often or constantly having it running in another screen to get anywhere, at least that is what the early stages of gameplay are like as no doubt there are far more options and much more entertaining content when you get deeper into the game with a more advanced settlement/trained army. To us it seems counter-productive, having to play through hours and hours of dull monotonous content to get to the good stuff, and honestly we just don’t have the patience for that kind of setup, which is unfortunate as the tactical combat definitely holds much potential.