It’s easy to understand why so many mobile gamers have been raving about WarFriends. The latest offering from Chillingo is basically a mash-up of the most popular games in the multiplayer online tactical battle simulation and third person shooter spaces to-date. That it has great graphics and is suspiciously lag-free is a wonderful, rich icing on the cake. All credit where credit is due — as a social strategy game, WarFriends is top of its class. They couldn’t have made it easier to bring your friends together in a squadron to take on shared challenges.
However, to enjoy the game you’ll need to get past relentless bombardment with invitations to make in-app purchases. Like all free-to-play games, WarFriends understandably seeks to turn a profit, but the amount of screen space and playing time spent navigating around pricey in-app purchases can make it really difficult for a casual user to get far enough into the game that they’d want to spend some money.
Admittedly, this is not an experience unique to WarFriends. And it certainly isn’t unfair to expect that, in exchange for playing a game with seamless controls and beautiful graphics, mobile gamers make some sort of a financial investment. However, WarFriends insists on asking too much too soon, and too often.
The best free-to-play games are those that provide a solid gaming experience that you know could be made even better with a fair financial investment. A recent example of this is Hot Wheels: Race Off. Once you get to the trickier tracks in the second set of levels, paying a few dollars for the opportunity to unlock the next car a little bit faster is worth it. Although your performance is compared with that of other users, you’re never stuck in a position where it seems impossible to progress without spending money. Sure, success is a slower process, but it is always within reach. WarFriends, on the other hand, leave you wondering how much progress is possible — even with patience — without a considerable financial investment.
If you find WarFriends is such an amazing gaming experience that it is worth that kind of investment, fantastic! But, if you are a casual gamer just looking to test your strategic, tactical and shooting skills, it all gets to be overwhelming. This is especially so given that WarFriends does not provide an out-of-this-world gaming experience.
Sure, WarFriends is fun. Choosing which units to deploy when is a challenge, but it isn’t so high stakes that trial and error isn’t part of the process. The matching system seems to be strong enough that you aren’t frequently put up against someone that will blow you out of the water, and securing victories from higher-ranked opponents isn’t as daunting a task as it might seem from the preview screen. The grenade graphics are fun, and shots don’t have to be incredibly precise to cause damage.
This being said, the inability to make better use of the battlefield (why only four choices of barricades, all in a row?) and the effect this has on your ability to take out the enemy yourself is a source of gameplay frustration. Admittedly unlikely to be seen as a downside to most, the movement of the infantry unit(s) is more sophisticated than would be realistic — although if you are looking for a hyper-realistic battlefield experience this probably isn’t the right game for you. Similarly, the grenades cause far more damage than I was expecting. Again, for some, this will be part of the fun, but for those that are looking for equal levels of strategic and operational challenge, this can be disappointing.
For those that can look past the in-app purchases and enjoy the gameplay for what it is, WarFriends will be a welcome addition to their home screen. For everyone else, the journey into WarFriends will likely be both frustrating and short-lived. But whether you ultimately find yourself loving or hating WarFriends, it’s worth a try, because we have a feeling that this is a game people will be talking about for quite a while.