In a deep, dark underground complex, situated somewhere in Cambridge, England, a group of game developers are holding a meeting. Huddled around a stainless steel desk, illuminated by the glow of a subterranean volcano, the assembled cackle, rub their hands devilishly, and discuss plans of unequalled malice.
As the conversation lulls one moustachioed developer nervously addresses the agenda "just how do we sap Internet users’ remaining free time?" Shocked, the others grumble with trepidation, before slowly turning their heads towards the shadowy figure at the helm of the meeting: stroking a white cat, and wearing a silver jumpsuit, the CEO of Jagex clears his throat, palms his shaven head and announces "ladies and gentlemen I give you 8Realms, soon the [Internet browser] world will be ours!". Cue "Daah-Naah-Naa" music.
Pulling Strategy Shapes
Lodged deep into the gamer's psyche is a gag-reflex when the words "strategy" and "browser" are combined. As if reliving traumatic memories of a childhood abuse, instantly people are reminded of the gaming faux pas Farmville, Cityville, and JustGetYourCreditCardOutVille: usually these are the types of experience which will see you selling your own home for some virtual strawberries.
Things are different however, when Jagex are involved in these sort of antics. Being a studio that has busied itself with building a record-breaking, and acclaim ridden, MMO for the past decade, it is safe to assume these guys know what they are doing - and playing 8Realms for more than 5 minutes will instantly bring you to that very same conclusion.
This latest browser-strategy title is not about growing a frothing community based on potato harvest, neither is it a thinly disguised "cash monkey" but it is an addictive, and surprisingly complex jaunt through civilisation management and development.
Building a society that can stand the test of time isn't easy. Starting out with a measly village centre, it is your job to construct improvements and buildings in order to allow your meagre beginnings to flourish into a thriving empire. 8Realms is tile based, and utilising the space available is important. Farms are allocated special tiles, as is wood and stone, and balancing resources will be an ongoing concern.
The game is presented with the sort of visual charm you can expect of the developer. Taking a bright and colourful approach, the ensemble is reminiscent of Age of Empire, as well as Civilisation and other strategy titles.
Jagex has also taken a less hands-on approach to this browser-adventure, and as such the experience is more casual than the time consuming experiences of RuneScape. Resources are collected at an hourly rate, the amount depending on the upgrades of your buildings, and construction too takes an allocated amount of time. With this "easy-bake oven" style gameplay, you will constantly be checking on your growing town, as new things are finished, and as new technologies need to be discovered.
Like any good strategy experience, 8Realms is about continually growing and as such research will become the lifeblood of your settlement. With a startling amount of paths and trees to follow, research will take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours to complete, dictating the pace and direction that your budding empire might take. If you wish to become a military force, your time may be consumed by exploiting armour and weaponry upgrades, whereas in contrast, the economists of the browser based world will find plenty of scope to build a thriving settlement built on trade and commerce.
While its web-based origins might fill some people with apprehension, 8Realms will surprise many with its multi-faceted gameplay. At the core of the ensemble is the sort of micromanagement you might expect from a normal RTS title, such as upgrading buildings when applicable, controlling the flow of resources, and keeping your populace happy, as well as the complex and challenging roads to dominating through military steel.
But Jagex have also prepared other distractions aside from the normal polish of empire building, as there is also a task list which keeps directing your experience forward. This quest-like system, both handles the tutorial as well giving out rewards and further goals for the player. It is simple, yet effective at giving purpose to your efforts.
The militaristic aspects of the game also hold promise in that with certain technologies, you may capture resources nodes outside the confines of your city; as well fend off any savages that may be bearing down on the outskirts of your capital. All combat takes place in real time, with a certain period allocated to the action, and a battle report to confirm whether your bid for victory was successful or not.
The overview map also lets you explore further reaches of the world map, and eventually allows for trade with other settlements, and even war.
Climbing through the various ages the game offers will keep you flush with new areas to explore and develop. From Ancient, Classical, Feudal, Renaissance, Imperial, Industrial, Modern, and Future, 8Realms offers many time periods, and new surprises with every lurch forward.
Adding to this is also the overall "culture" counter which your society collects, giving certain special perks to your city such as the Great Wall of China. For a game that claims to be casual, with so much to do you may, as I have, find it hard to put down.
Web-based or not, Jagex are out to prove that games with casual leanings and Facebook integration can be as good as any other. 8Realms is addictive, complex, and a great source of online strategy goodness. With future plans to implement guilds, epic-raids and quests, as well as a plethora of other features, it looks like the stranglehold on browser technology may stay a while yet in the grasp of those boys and girls from Cambridge.
If you need that strategy fix, then look no further. Launching soon, and with a special VIP giveaway on these very pages, 8Realms may just be the savior of browser based strategy.