War is almost invariably the theme you’re going to encounter when you pick up a mobile strategy MMO. But most of the time the war is between demons and humans, or goblins and elves, or dragonfolk and, oh let’s say, paladins.

We’re being glib, but it’s true to say that the genre is dominated by fantasy tropes, which tends to make it quite difficult to find anything that feels fresh and original.

So games like World on Fire are always welcome. While the gameplay will be familiar to anybody who has ever upgraded an imaginary base or recruited a virtual soldier, the grim, grimy, earth-based war setting is a breath of fresh air.

World on Fire is set during a conflict that looks and sounds an awful lot like the second world war, right down to the solemn men in helmets and the stirring orchestral music that accompanies everything from Call of Duty WWII to Band of Brothers .

But it’s not that war. It’s a bigger one, and it promises to grow bigger still. Your job is to get a base of operations going, expand your territory, grow your army, research new technologies, and generally do everything you can to turn the tide.

Command and conquer

In case you’re not familiar with the genre, here’s a quick overview. You centre of your world is the Command Center. You need to upgrade this in order to upgrade all of your other buildings, and also to unlock new structures.

Neatly, your Command Center also lets you apply buffs in exchange for gold, giving you the ability to shroud your base in EMP fog, raise your army’s attack level, and all sorts of other things.

Then you’ve got your Battlefield, where you manage your troops, your Hospitals, where you heal them, your Barracks, where you recruit them, your Fortress, which determines your max base defense, your Radar Station, which lets you spy on other commanders and their movements, your Depot, where you can safely store your resources, your Steel Factory, where you manufacture steel, your Farm, where you produce food, your Arms Factory, where you make weapons and other items, your Tech Center, where you research new tech, and so on.

The more you upgrade your Command Center, the more building types you have access to, but it goes two ways – you can’t upgrade your Command Center unless certain other structures are levelled-up, which prevents you from unwisely investing all of your XP in one place.

Another way the game keeps you on track is through its quest system, which gives you concrete goals to pursue such as building a Hospital, upgrading three Steel Factories, or whatever. There are chapters, too, comprising bundles of tasks, and tips as well.

Major delays

You’re almost always being prompted to do one thing or another, and every time you finish one of these tasks you get a package of rewards, such as Steel, Food, Speed Up Tickets, and Commander XP.

You use Commander XP to level-up your Commander, naturally, with a skill tree giving you some discretion in terms of how he develops. Likewise the four areas of your Tech Center – Development, Military, City Defense, and Resources – all have their own tech trees, so you can add your own spin to a degree.

Upgrades, meanwhile, take time. Arguably too much time. At the beginning of the game you’ll get a few free upgrades for every building, and you can expedite upgrade times with gold and Speed Up Tickets, but you’ll soon run out of these if you’re impatient. Upgrade slots are limited, too, so you’ll probably spend a lot of time away from your phone, listening out for notifications.

Naturally, your war effort isn’t confined to base-building. You can also venture out and take on rebels and other players, as long as you’re powerful enough to survive the battle. Given the lengthy upgrade times, it’s fair to say you’re in for a long campaign.

Theme aside, World on Fire is a pretty conventional base-building strategy game, complete with events, rewards, and everything you’d expect from the genre. But it has a few welcome innovations, such as the ability to harvest all of your available resources by shaking your phone.

The graphics are polished and packed with detail, and it’s a joy to survey your base, zooming in to see your patrolling soldiers up close, or watching the steam train chuffing around the perimeter. This detail can come at the expense of clarity, but we think it’s a fair trade-off.

Above all, World on Fire is different. If you’re in the market for a new strategy MMO and you’re getting a bit sick of the same old dragons and goblins, it’s definitely worth a look – as long as you’re patient. Check it out on the App Store or Google Play now.