Mafia Wars 2 takes the series in a bloody new direction

The original Mafia Wars was one of the early breed of Facebook games, an accessible-but-deep text and menu RPG that let players build up a criminal empire. Mafia Wars 2 still lets you do that, but adds a whole lot more.

Like most recent Zynga-developed games, Mafia Wars 2 features a story. The game begins with your character getting out of jail. But there’s a hint of mystery there, as well, since you don’t quite know why you’re even there. David Kahn, executive producer on the game, told us that there will be a lot of backstory.

Mafia Wars 2

Mafia Wars 2

The biggest change you’ll notice initially is the much more modern visuals, which transplant the Mafia Wars universe into an isometric world. The game takes place in a fictionalized version of Las Vegas, and you’ll be able to travel to seven different areas as you explore the game’s storyline. Each area has a different look, including a nighttime version of the infamous Vegas Strip, as well as a boss character to do battle with. And you’ll be doing a lot of battling.

“A big part of the game is fighting,” Kahn explained.

In addition to the bosses — which are much tougher than normal enemies, but you can recruit your friends to help you dispose of them — there are standard thugs that will attempt to lay waste to your budding empire. Sometimes you’ll come to the game and find buildings on fire after being ransacked by bad guys. Thankfully, you can equip weapons like pistols and wooden bats to get rid of them. The combat appears to be pretty simple, with you simply clicking on enemies, and there’s actually a bit of cartoonish blood that squirts out as you exchange blows with your foe.

It’s relatively graphic, especially for a Zynga game, but as Kahn explained “careful thought went into the design.” The violence is more cartoonish than disturbing and designed to still appeal to the mass audience that Zynga games strive for.

You can also battle other players thanks to the game’s players versus player (PvP) feature. Here, specially designed arenas let you fight against real players asynchronously so that you become rivals. There will be a ranking system to show off who is the toughest and PvP-specific items and weapons to equip.

Mafia Wars 2

Mafia Wars 2

As for the actual empire building, it works much like in other city building games. You construct buildings and then harvest money and resources from them at certain intervals. Only instead of apartment buildings and restaurants, you’ll be building casinos and other less-than-legal businesses, selling everything from drugs to bootleg DVDs. You can also build banks and warehouses, which will protect some of your earnings in the event of an attack on your land.

There’s a lot more to the game — including some deep character customiztion elements — which show that Mafia Wars 2 is shaping up to be an engrossing RPG and a fitting sequel to the original. With its graphic novel-feel and expanded gameplay elements, it could just become the go-to game for budding virtual mobsters.

Mafia Wars 2 is expected to launch on Facebook in the next few weeks.