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screenshot Tribal Wars: building your defenses screenshot Tribal Wars: castles

Review

Introduction

Isn’t it just a drag when you’re trying to construct a medieval village through the proliferation and improvement of both your potential resources as well as your military supremacy and you’re stopped in your tracks by a wandering man with nothing but an axe, a bad temper, and the desire to interfere in your general affairs by engaging in a little bit of casual pillage and plunder of your village?  While this very specific, long-winded scenario is unlikely to be one of the many worries that most people face in everyday life, it becomes a real concern if you let yourself become immersed  in the playing of ‘Tribal Wars’, a curious, massively multiplayer online real-time strategy game from Innogames. Spending most of your time as a virtual god up in the sky that looks down on the terrain at a jaunty angle, your goal is to construct a medieval village. Not just any old run-of-the-mill settlement, however; you are charged with leading your fledgling community to prosperity, affluence, and most importantly of all, fame (or infamy if you choose to use your might to make other people’s lives a misery). Grab yourself some armour and let’s get going; after all medieval success isn’t achieved without spilling a little blood here and there.

Sim City 1200

Anyone that is even vaguely familiar with the experience of playing a game of this type will know that first and foremost, the gameplay is all about community and resource management, and by community, I mean whichever type of settlement that any one of these types of games has you constructing. In the case of Tribal Wars, we have a village to run, and it’s not going to achieve any kind of notoriety just sitting there on the map like a benign cyst that serves no useful purpose. The goal is to expand the size of you village, which is achieved through the production of resources. Raw materials such as clay, iron and timber are required for constructing new buildings, with these materials being produced by a clay pit, an iron mine and timber camp.

Instead of having a vast array of buildings (like in the beloved Tribal Wars, a game that you will be hearing me talk fondly about and which will be used as a comparison title for this game), the emphasis here is on expanding and upgrading the limited selection of buildings that are available on the list, with the upgrade process following a levelling-up system. Your village headquarters, for example, begin at level 1 and must be upgraded to higher levels at the cost of increasing quantities of your resources. Expansion and upgrade is essential since it allows you to perform more actions and go on to build other buildings such as workshops, academies, and barracks in order to train your troops. Each level increase means a resulting increase in the time everything takes to build, as well as the quantities of resources that are required to build them. 

screenshot Tribal Wars: the barracks

The majority of the action takes place through your village headquarters, with barracks allowing you to train troops for the defense of your city

Of Enemy and Ally

Your progress within the very active (yet – and it pays to remember this – very fictional) world of Tribal Wars can heavily depend on the practice of forging relationships with surrounding villages and/or tribes, whether these relationships are friendly or filled with negative ferocity.

Barmy Army

If you’re going to last more than a few days in this game, you’re going to have to build an army in order to display your military might with which you will conquer other villages as well as defend your own. Building a barracks allows you to produce a variety of troops, beginning with infantry such as spear and swordsmen, axe-men and archers. Costing more resources but being decidedly more manoeuvrable on the battlefield than the infantry is the cavalry units, that are comprised of scouts (these provide information about the enemy before battle), light to heavy cavalry units, and even mounter archers. The bigger and better your army is, the more likely you are to survive in the dangerous world of Tribal Wars.

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Expansion of your village entails the taking over of other player’s villages, which is achieved by attacking their villages and causing a reduction in the population’s loyalty; several attacks will leave this loyalty at zero, after which the village is essentially yours for the taking. This system of expansion differs from the practice of simply scouting out and invading surrounding provinces that is commonplace in similar real-time strategy games; the requirement of decreasing the neighbouring village’s loyalty with a nobleman gives the game a different strategic dimension, though in all honesty, I much prefer the act of simply conquering by force, regardless of the opinions of the people that reside within them.

Some Nagging Issues

My first very minor problem with the game is that there appears to be no control over building placement, with the building locations simply being chosen for you by the game. While this doesn’t have any detrimental effect on the actual running of your village or the general running of the buildings, it is a level of control that seems to be taken directly out of your hands, leading to moderate levels of disappointment and the feeling that this isn’t really your village. It is a very minor yet colossally annoying lack of control, but it is one that many other games of this genre are willing to give to you (Forge of Empires).

Another issue that I have with the game - and it is an issue which most die-hard fans of the genre probably don’t care about -  is the relatively basic design and layout of the whole game. Taking Forge of Empires as a comparison, everything looks extremely basic, and while many would view this as endearing and would rather focus on the gameplay, I don’t have such a forgiving view on this. Just look at the level indicators on the graphical representation of your village: that’s right, look at them! It is undeniable that the level indicators look like text boxes that have been laid over the screen in Microsoft Paint (I’m convinced that there’s truth in this).

The simplistic nature of the village construction process is further highlighted by the rigidity involved in the construction procedures and the comparative lack of choice that one has in placing their buildings. After all, there is an option to switch to the ‘classical village overview’, which takes away the graphical representation and simply leaves you with a text-based table that displays all of the stats required to run your village. The very same can be said for the battles in Tribal Wars, which rather than represented graphically are displayed in a purely statistical fashion. This essentially means that far from the dramatic, climactic events that they should be, battles are reduced to mere on-screen calculations based on the many numerical variables that your village possesses. The fact that the game can be boiled down to a purely textual interface may be appealing to some, but as someone who doesn’t come equipped with an automatic love for the genre, I prefer at least a little bit of pride to be taken in the appearance of the games I play. 

screenshot Tribal Wars: the Village

The graphical depiction of the village is about the only visual representation involved in the gameplay, with the rest being represented numerically. This most definitely doesn’t detract from the fun of the game, however.

Beginners Beware

While you are afforded a degree of protection from the surrounding hostile villages in the form of ‘Beginner Protection’ that lasts roughly 3 days after your sign up and log in for the first time, you are likely to be instantly annihilated if you haven’t spent a considerable amount of time building up your village. While there exists a penalty system based on the morale of your village that penalises you if you attack a village that is smaller than you, the penalties aren’t substantial enough to stop the practice from occurring. From all accounts, it seems picking on the little guy isn’t really that frowned upon, and since every player starts as the ‘little guy’ and only receives 3 days of initial protection, the likelihood of your casual fun being ruined by the not-so-casual, die-hard players that spend way too much time on the game is pretty high. Even though the conquering of neighbouring villages in really the whole point of the game, this tendency of the majority of the online players to be ruthless and cutthroat in their approach means that the game is most definitely not for the casual gamer, and is not something that can simply be dipped into for fifteen minutes a day (not unless you want to continue to have your village attacked and your progress constantly set back).

Fun is at a Premium

Premium account ownership, while an advantage for those that possess it, is a feature that puts the free-to-play users at a distinct disadvantage. Non-paying users are subjected to debilitating limitations such as being limited to constructing one building at a time where paying users can erect multiple buildings simultaneously, adding considerably to the speed and efficiency of their village expansion while the free players sit and wait for each building to complete, and all the while being at risk of invasion by villages of superior size and power. In spite of its drawbacks, however, the game is actually quite addictive, providing that you don’t get immediately taken over/pillaged by surrounding villagers once your beginner protection runs out. 

77/100

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