Taking MMORTS Out of the Browser
The concept of a Massively Multiplayer Online Real Time Strategy (MMORTS) is nothing new. It definitely feels like lately everyone is trying to find the secret formula for creating a winning MMORTS. So far the equation has seemed pretty similar across the board: generally it involves a lot of empire building and fighting with your neighbors (read: other players) to expand your little patch of the continent/kingdom/world and rule it all (even if you generally can’t truly and permanently knock the other players out of the game.) Another thing most of these games have had in common is they’re played in a Web Browser. Well, 505 Games and Reverie World Studios are looking to change that with Dawn of Fantasy.
Dawn of Fantasy, if it wasn’t completely obvious from the title, is a fantasy based title. You choose from Humans, Elves or Orcs as your race and proceed to carve out a corner for yourself in the land of Mythador. Everything is fairly stereotypical as far as the story goes: Elves make the best archers, Orcs are strong and dumb, Humans are kind of middle of the pack, jack of all trades and master of none. The King of the land has decreed that the world/land be divvied up to new leaders, one of which is you. He also then decrees that said new leaders have to fight it out (once the newbie protection wears off of course.) Other than the fact that it has been taking out of the browser and made client based, Dawn of Fantasy plays pretty much how you’d expect it to if you’ve played previous attempts at an MMORTS game. So let’s get into the nitty gritty and just see how well (or badly) Dawn of Fantasy handles the different aspects of game-hood.
Aesthetics – 6
Games like Dawn of Fantasy frustrate the hell out of me graphically speaking. Some parts of the game are so amazing… the environments for example. There’s a ton of detail, the world looks extremely well done, and then a dude on a horse wanders through your landscape and you have to do a double take and say “WTF…” Surprisingly, not at the horse, horses are done quite well. The rider though… ugh. Animations also seem like they didn’t receive nearly enough attention. Movement in the game just feels canned and blocky, robotic even. It is even more noticeable when the game zooms in tight on two characters talking during a cinematic scene. In a lot of cases, it just doesn’t feel like the animation being performed by a character was coded for that character… it just feels off or wrong if you understand what I’m trying to say.
Aside from a couple glitches here and there, such as the occasional sound bit repeating itself, overall the sounds of Dawn of Fantasy aren’t bad at all. Your personal aide guy talks a lot, and you’ll likely get tired of his voice very quickly. The background music is fairly stereotypical and typical fare for a fantasy/medieval game. It does a well enough job of setting the mood and keeping you into the mindset of the game. Sound effects are generally neither here nor there. You won’t be offended by any of them, but really none of them will stick with you in a good way either.
The UI is functional and pretty much what you’d expect in an RTS title. One of the biggest complaints I had was the inability to zoom out far enough to see very much at once.
Gameplay – 7
There are definitely a good number of different ways to approach playing Dawn of Fantasy. One option not present in most other MMORTS titles is the ability to go at it single player if you prefer. As a single player title you can take either the Kingdom Wars approach or the Skirmish route. Kingdom Wars is basically a Risk-style world conquest type of game featuring a mix of elements from standard one-off skirmish mode and the Online Kingdoms mode. Skirmish mode is exactly how it sounds: a one-off battle where you choose offense or defense.
Social – 7
Online Kingdom is where most people will head though, and for good reason, it’s where you’ll get the most bang for your buck and also get to interact with other folks playing the game. The community was a mixed bag for me. They’re definitely very vocal and enthusiastic about their game. I also found a lot of time I was on the general chat line seemed to be dominated by French with just the occasional bits of English popping up here and there, generally by someone asking a question. For the most part though, when someone did ask a question, people were very helpful.
Innovation - 5
Dawn of Fantasy plays like most empire building style RTS titles that you’ve played in the past, just with a dash of RPG thrown into the mix. You’ll collect resources and use those to build buildings, which will allow you to recruit an army, which you’ll use to expand your kingdom so you can rinse and repeat from the beginning. The quests are what you’d typically expect from such a title: ‘take an army and clear that camp of bandits’ and ‘someone stole our ale, take an army and retrieve it’ type of stuff. Some are just placed out on the game world while some are created in instances out on the World Map. The first one of those I encountered was pretty frustrating to be honest. Basically all the peasants in the world decide to revolt at once, and apparently are quite good at it. The difficulty level of the encounter just didn’t feel like it matched where I was in the game as far as progression went. I threw my army together, marched on those stinky revolting peasants expecting to wipe the floor with them, and was promptly stomped into a puddle… repeatedly. Eventually I assembled a large enough army and approached the battle strategically enough to win, which was somewhat satisfying, but overall it was just frustrating that the difficulty level ramped up so dramatically.
Ok, sorry, enough ranting about getting my butt handed to me in my first instance. Back on topic, no Dawn of Fantasy doesn’t bring a whole lot “new” to the table… we’ve seen all of this in RTS titles before, or in MMORTS games. But it is nice that they’ve taken it out of the browser and made it client based, so I’ll definitely get them props for that.
Polish – 5
Considering I’m reviewing this title almost a year after their ‘official’ release (which was Sept ’11 IIRC) I’d gone into the review expecting to see fewer glitches and bugs and a lot more polish. It was even more disheartening when I started doing a bit of research online and found people complaining about some of the same things they were a year ago (some of the graphical glitches for example.) To be fair, most of the glitches and bugs I came across were graphical or sound based… very few affected gameplay much. But still, like I said, this review is coming almost a year after launch. Hell, even after the first ‘expansion’ has launched, and while no game is ever perfectly polished regardless of how long it has been out, I expected to see more here.
Longevity - 7
Dawn of Fantasy brings enough to the table to keep you playing for a while between offering several different game modes, a decent community to play with and community events to participate in. The AI is done well enough to make single player gameplay worth your time in addition to the Online Kingdoms mode. Of course your mileage will vary depending on your attitude towards being able to beat your opponents (or, your opponents’ ability to beat you) with your wallet. Personally this would turn me off after a while. I don’t mind spending money on a game, even with an item shop. But when it gets to the point where it’s just an arms race to see who can buy the most special units and/or bulk resources, that’s when I have to bow out and accept my defeat. And to be fair, I haven’t played long enough to witness this happening, it’s just speculation and extrapolation on my part based on the type of things I see available for sale in the shop and past experiences I’ve had in other games which offered those same types of items/bonuses.
The game itself, right out of the box (digitally speaking of course, because really, who buys PC games off a shelf anymore) is actually a great value. Between the various game modes and different (and quite varied) playable races, you get a great amount of bang for your buck. Beyond that though, how much worth you take from the title will depend on your opinion of item shops. I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but it really is a very polarizing subject. There generally isn’t a lot of middle ground with most folks about the ability to buy your way to the top; you either love it or hate it.
At the end of the day…
There is a lot of potential here and Dawn of Fantasy has already improved by leaps and bounds since it was released almost a year ago. Sure, there are still some issues and glitches, but it is moving in the right direction. If you’re looking for a pure RTS experience, there are better RTS titles out there. And if you’re looking for the MMO side of the equation, naturally there are better MMO titles out there. But if you’re looking for a solid MMORTS title, Dawn of Fantasy is one of your best options out there. It is very nice to see people taking the MMORTS out of the browser. Hopefully it is a trend that continues into the future. And for those of you who are worried about the ability to beat people with your wallet, you have a good reason to fear that in Dawn of Fantasy. With your RL money you can buy in-game currency (Influence) which can be used to do everything from buying special units for your armies to buying bulk resources and even speeding up the construction of buildings in your empire.