| Can be stealth-played anywhere
Lots to discover
Nice eye-candy overall
Plenty of play value
| A few translation issues
Can't see cash shop without purchasing currency points
Uncertain customer service
I admit, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I embarked on this particular review. At first glance, Heroes of Gaia is a daunting mix of lore, game mechanics and game-play instruction. Seriously, there is SO MUCH material to read about the game itself and how to play it that my gamer-brain immediately disengaged and demanded that I just let it kill something already. So, foregoing instructions, I dove in with both feet and let the game take me wherever it chose to go. And oh, the places you can go.
The overall look of HoG is beautiful, with a bit of an anime flavor that is really quite engaging. Outside of your castle, (the main player display) however, the graphics are somewhat less sophisticated. Still, there is much to catch the eye and entertain.
That said though, I do have to quibble about the less than impressive character choices we’re given at the start of the game. There are four races (two good, two not so much) with one male and one female option for each. This is limited enough, but those options also adhere to some extremely conventional fantasy tropes.
The male character choices are your typical burly, armor-encrusted, meat-beasts, which of course means that the female characters are completely predictable, scantily-armored and all full of the boobies. Snore. This is such a dated and tiresome cliché that it almost stopped me from giving the game a try in the first place. Almost. Ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t let this one aspect keep me from discovering the many good things HoG has to offer. But really, can we be over the whole bustier-as-breastplate thing already? Please?
The UI is compact and densely loaded. (No full-screen option available, alas.) It can be a bit of a challenge at first to remember just where everything is and exactly what it does, but it is doable.
The one really weird thing though is the lack of soundtrack, or, for that matter, any sounds at all. Though, in certain situations, a lack of sound to give you away could be a pretty big advantage.
For me, the measure of a successfully built MMO can be summed up in one sentence, “How far can I get without actually having to read the instructions?” In HoG, the answer is pretty far!
In the beginning, unless you are really familiar with the basics of RTS games, not much of HoG seems very intuitive, but you can get the basic gist of “build stuff, level heroes” pretty quickly just by clicking around and reading the pop-ups.
Beyond the basic expansion and growth of your kingdom, you can equip and level your monarch and heroes. It’s an MMO of course, so there’s plenty of PVP, as well as the chance to form and join guilds. There are monsters, item caches and resource deposits in fixed locations, so you can plan your plundering in advance. There are also multi-level towers and instances that accommodate both groups and solo players. HoG isn’t a grind-fest either. The system is extremely generous to new players and there is no shortage of perks one can win through daily and heroic tasks, as well as those given out at special events. Speaking of tasks, if you’ve already accomplished a thing before receiving the task for it, you still get credit. The system doesn’t cheat you out of rewards just for being proactive.
Travel is a bit of a bummer, however. It can be a slow, meandering slog across a wide landscape, and it’s not as if you can flip through your favourite game site while you wait. Once your hero reaches his/her destination, (if that destination involves a battle) you have twenty seconds to confirm your willingness to participate, otherwise, the battle is cancelled and you wasted that long, long trip for nothing. There are items speed up long travel times, and those can often be gotten for free.
There seem to be no random encounters in HoG. Heroes aren’t attacked on their way to and from their destinations, which is a nice feature, allowing you to do just what you set out to do without upping the frustration factor by waylaying your hero and potentially depleting their forces before they even get where they’re going. I do wish it were possible to redirect heroes to their next destination while they’re still in the field, but there isn’t. Heroes can only be sent on quests from the castle, so even if your next target is two steps away from your last, you have to wait until your hero returns before you can send them out again. Or just send out a different hero.
No single element in HoG is what I would consider a particular innovation. Moreover, some of the story elements seem to be cribbed (either by accident or intent) from Might and Magic. However, the sheer amount of elements from disparate types of games that come together in HoG is pretty darned impressive. It has the epic story and character equipping/levelling of an RPG, the society building of a Sim, the instant replay (of other player’s battles) usually found in console sports titles and the ongoing, while-you-were-sleeping progression and world-building of an RTS.
While the design aesthetic and artwork are both very pretty, not all of the written elements are quite so much. Heroes of Gaia (and its publisher, Snail Games) was developed in China. Unfortunately, not all of the in-game translations (item descriptions, etc.) are quite as seamless as one might hope. It’s not “engrish” by any means, but it does occasionally stand out. This becomes especially problematic when trying to understand item uses and effects.
The NPC naming algorithm could also use a bit of a translation tweak with regard to male vs. female appropriate names in western languages; for example, I have a male Hero named Penelope and, short of spending actual money to get it changed, there’s nothing I can do about that.
Customer support is supposedly available in-game via chat, but I had no luck with that in particular. My question was put in a queue and, at least while I was still logged on, was never answered.
Finally, the player’s guide (yes, I did eventually read it) is, I feel rather crudely assembled. While it certainly gives necessary information, and it makes excellent use of screen shots to illustrate its points, the writing is minimal and a bit stilted, giving the overall impression of a fan-work rather than of something produced by the publisher itself. Ironically, there are plenty of well constructed and professional looking fan-made game guides out there.
HoG has been around since 2009, and since then has added new areas and instances. It also has regular in-game events and, from all appearances will be going strong for some time to come.
All too often browser strategy games are hamstrung by their own unrelenting sameness to offer much in the way of long-term play value. People get bored, abandon their farms or their kingdoms and move on. But I think that with their combination of different game elements, continual additions and many layers of possible achievement, HoG might have found the solution to the problem. Between personal and PVP rankings, the multi-level towers, guilds and the sort of choose-your-own-complexity feel of the system. I think there is plenty to keep players coming back.
With guilds and an active chat system, there is plenty of opportunity for social interaction. There is also the chance to farm your neighbors for resources, but so far, that hasn’t happened to me. Though, to be fair, I’m not sure if that’s because the overall attitude in the world of HoG is less adversarial than some games, of if I’m still too puny to have attracted any attention yet.
The chat I’ve encountered has been fairly moderate and there is just as much opportunity to help one’s neighbours as there is to farm them built into the system, so I think I’m going to go with ‘less adversarial’ here.
So far it has been ridiculously easy to play HoG without spending a cent. When they say, “free to Play”, they mean it. Players can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time, but the danger lies in overextending one’s resources, that’s when the temptation to hit the cash shop looms large.
There is a bit of advertising at the top of the page when you’re playing, but it doesn’t intrude on game-play and is easy to ignore.
Point bundles to be spent in the game can be purchased for as little as a dollar and as much as a thousand dollars. The cash shop is a bit of a mystery to me, however, as it’s always empty when I open it up. While that might be my browser, I doubt it. More likely, the system just doesn’t let you see what’s available for purchase unless you already have a point balance.
Heroes of Gaia seems to me to be the perfect intersection for hardcore RTS and RPG fans to meet up with their more casual brethren. You can go at it full-bore, plumbing all its secrets in hopes of ruling the HoG universe, or you can take it slow, spying on your rivals and gradually establishing your benign, yet iron-fisted rule, right there in that open tab between SEO stats and ROI statements. Either way, I think you’re going to have a pretty good time.