Godsrule is a social strategy game with an uncommon, if flawed, focus on genuine strategy.

Longtime readers of this site may know I have a problem with the current explosion of social strategy games. By the time you’ve played your twentieth variation of the same formula, they’ve all started to blur together into a confused jumble of housing, farms, and amicable quest givers. I think I’ve forgotten the names of most of them. And that’s why I found myself looking so forward to Godsrule: War of Mortals. For one, it was published by Sega, whose name still evokes awesomeness despite the many years since the glory days of Sonic the Hedgehog; and for another, it promised to deliver a brand of social strategy combat worth paying attention to. Here, I’d hoped, was a social strategy game worthy of the gods.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I found that it starts out with the same tiny parcel of land surrounded by forests so common to the genre. “Go chop those trees down and clear some land,” the token amicable quest giver asked, and of course I obliged. “Go create some military units from these barracks over here,” he’d then suggest, and I followed the familiar routine. And of course, out came the old favorite – here’s a complimentary chunk of premium currency.

Godsrule‘s city-building element resembles so many other games in the genre, then, but the aesthetic alone warrants attention. The project as a whole exudes an uncanny resemblance to Age of Empires Online, only with the Greeks and Egyptians swapped out by two Nordic factions called the Keepers of the Ancient and the Souls of Ascension. (Originally they were called the Asir and the Vanir – names drawn from actual Viking mythology – but I suspect Sega or Icelandic developer Gogogic found these names too arcane for the casual audience it wants to snag.) Unfortunately, there’s little different about the faction units themselves; if you have a hulking blue guy on the Souls side, you’ll have a hulking red guy on the Keepers side who looks, well, friendlier.

Godsrule finally starts getting interesting once you start using those units. Most games like this allow you to build soldiers and other assorted military units at barracks as you do here, but the battle is usually just a case of selecting a point on the field for deployment and watching them do their thing. Your only interaction, alas, usually consists of watching them and hoping their AI is good enough so that a whole squadron doesn’t ignore the puny archer that’s picking them off from nearby,

Godsrule: War of Mortals

Not so here, at least in theory. Godsrule actually lets you control each combat unit on the battlefield maps in a way that’s (surprise!) also reminiscent of Age of Empires Online. This alone makes it more worth playing than many of its Facebook-bound competitors. The problem is that it’s a little clunky in its execution. The battle portion’s never adequately explained in the tutorial, which initially left me unsure of the purpose of items like the important summoning circles that occasionally pop up on the battlefield. The game as a whole could benefit from more tooltips, and some bugs – such as units that ignore nearby enemies – mar the experience of combat. In a sign of clumsy design, you need to select an icon from the side of the screen to select multiple units at once, and while most units have different abilities and stats, you can get through most battles by merely throwing a steady stream of soldiers at the other team’s goal, never mind killing them.

That’s especially true of the battles against the computer’s AI, which take place around your camp, but less true against other players: mainly because it usually takes much more time to capture objectives. Once each faction starts to gain special summoned abilities, some variability starts to enter the game, and the better battles involve kiting the units of enemy players around you before you can start capturing the enemy’s goal. But even when it’s bad (and Godsrule warns you from the very first PvP match that you can lose, and lose badly), the pain is lessened because you know that some of the fault lies in your own tactics rather than randomly generated numbers. Learn from those losses, and you’ll find that the combat’s quite deep.

Godsrule: War of Mortals

But those losses are also where the cash shop starts to sting. Most of the good units in Godsrule have excruciatingly long training times, which means that you’ll spend hours creating new units if you’ve suffered a particularly bad defeat unless you spend some cash. If you’re not careful, you get to this point fairly quickly if you make some poor decisions with the free stash of premium currency, and from there you’re back to the old, familiar game of wait or pay. But despite that familiar grind and its combat’s rough edges, Godsrule‘s active interaction leaves me wanting to return to it. It’s a game that understands the widespread appeal of the social strategy game, but that’s competent enough to get the strategy segment at least partially right. And for that, it’s a game I’ll remember.