Rage of Zyngahmut
War of the Fallen, Zynga's latest entry into the free-to-play collectible card game milieu, is precisely what you would, or at least should, expect from a Zynga game: it's accessible, very highly polished and has one hand on your shoulder while the other slowly reaches for your wallet.
For the record, I'm not a reflexive Zynga hater and I have no problem with the company trying to make a few bucks in the free-to-play gaming arena. That said, I'm a little put off by its new collectible card game War of the Fallen. It's actually pretty good as these things go - "as these things go" meaning as a Rage of Bahamut clone - but unlike most other entries in the genre, it comes at your bank balance hard and fast. The gameplay seems specifically designed to ensure that those who really want to play must pay for the privilege.
You'll begin the game by choosing one of three factions - Cult of the Darkstar, the Corrupted or the Iron Legion - after which you'll be given a handful of cards and sent off on a very thorough tutorial delivered by a Dreamling, a scantily-clad spirit who serves as both advisor and cheerleader as you play. You'll undertake quests against computer-controlled enemies, which are simply a matter of tapping on the screen as they appear to "attack" them, and can also square off against other players for treasures or glory.
Quests are divided into multiple sections, each of which has four cards to dole out in semi-randomized fashion for victories over monsters. Cards are also awarded for accomplishing certain tasks, like defeating boss monsters, and of course can also be purchased in randomized packs from the in-game shop. Each card has a base attack and defense value, plus a mana cost that's deducted from your total mana value during battles with other players, and can be "strengthened" by sacrificing other cards to increase its level or "evolved" by combining it with a second card of the same type.
Many cards also have special bonuses that are applied in player battles, like increasing the attack value of all puppies and bunnies in your deck (seriously), which adds a certain strategic element to the process of assembling attack and defense decks. The battle process itself is actually quite simple, however; the total attack value of your deck is compared to the total defense value of your opponents, and whoever has the highest number, after all appropriate bonuses are applied, wins.
While War of the Fallen is almost a complete, step-for-step clone of Rage of Bahamut, there are a few interesting differences. In quest battles, each card in your deck attacks the enemy individually and sequentially, so while your high-powered cards will be able to dispatch opponents with a single blow, weak cards may require two or three attacks to get the job done. It encourages (almost mandates, really) the strengthening and evolution of low-ranked cards, but it also means that investing level-up points into your "Attack Mana" rating is vital; otherwise, you'll end up stuck with one mid-powered leader card and four weaklings, and the extra effort required to defeat enemies will significantly slow your progress.
Joining guilds can have a more dramatic impact than in most other CCGs as well thanks to "Guild Force," which allows you to recruit teammates for battles in order to increase the chance of your card bonuses being triggered. And rather than being strictly vanity items, the treasure sets collected in battle can be combined to form special bonus cards.
But it gets a bit dodgy in the way it applies pressure for payments. Undertaking quests consumes stamina, and the higher the quest level, the more stamina is consumed per attack. It's a very standard CCG mechanic, designed to encourage dedicated players to purchase stamina potions rather than waiting for it to slowly recharge on its own, but in War of the Fallen the stamina/progress balance is such that it's used up very quickly even at low levels, which is when most games of this sort let players tear it up more or less uninterrupted in order to get them hooked. You can expect to take a lot of breaks between short play sessions if you're not willing to pay.
In the same vein, using the full might of your deck in battles against other players also ensures you won't get much fighting done unless you want to pay for it; if your Attack Deck is built to use up all of your mana in a single strike (which is presumably what you want, in order to ensure the most effective offense possible) you'll have to wait for it to recharge completely to take on a second player - or purchase a mana potion.
There's nothing inherently wrong with this - game companies are allowed to make money just like everyone else - but from a player's perspective, it's an unnecessary bite. The art is excellent, the soundtrack is quite nice and the interface is clean and simple to use, although the "back" button and the "+" buttons beside the Stamina and Mana bars are way too tiny. But aside from a few tweaks to the formula, War of the Fallen is a very conventional CCG that does nothing of note any better than the already well-established heavyweights of the genre. And I rather strongly suspect that most CCG fans will prefer to spend their time with games that aren't quite so enthusiastic about making them spend their money on it too.
- Top-notch production. Easy to play.
- Yet another Rage of Bahamut clone, but a lot more eager than most to "encourage" players to dip into their wallets.