Kabam's Edgeworld for Google Plus is an interesting foray into the potential massively multiplayer strategy games using a pay-to-play (PTP), let's not call if free-to-play (FTP), model. It has the look and feel of sprite-based 2nd-generation real-time strategy games; think Blizzard's "Starcraft" and "Warcraft: Orcs and Humans".
Though missing real-time combat elements, it does provide a gratifying user experience for the core strategy game player. That said, I'm left asking why the design team didn't take into account lessons learned from later generations of RTS games.
Basic offensive gameplay in Kabam's PTP strategy game "Edgeworld"
Bringing the play-patterns of RTS games to the social space was a smart move on part of Zynga and boy did they. They pulled in genre-defining talent like Louis Castle, Brian Reynolds, Mike Verdu, Mark Skaggs, and the list goes on.
Since, they've gone on to inspire a whole new generation of games based on the RTS experiments of Westwood's early years. Rather than derivatives like Cityville and Farmville, very much like Zynga's new Empires and Allies, Edgeworld provides a play space that is much more aligned with traditional RTS games.
The game exists in two primary modes, base building and battle. The tech tree is convoluted and the structures themselves feel disposal to the point where a player is forced to build multiple barracks, depots, refineries etc in order to gain levels and acquire additional resources.
While this may not sound too painful, it is, each unit takes varying amounts of time to build from minutes, to hours, even days. Unless of course a player wants to pay, and boy do they. The payment tiers start at $9.90 USD and go up to $399.90 USD. For this a player gets a range of in-game monies ("platinum") and perks to temporally change things like build times, unit transfer capacities, experience gained, etc. The can also be used to purchase unit, special items, and to play a 'slot machine' of a chance game called "Zoot's Loot" that awards special items from the Edgeworld shop.
In my research I spent $40 and felt little reward, a bigger base, some larger very expensive units and a rising level. I was able to more easily clear other player's bases in battle, though dropping 25 units on a enemy base and watching the brutally uneventful battle was grueling.
The play flow calls the player back to base to harvest resources, receive notices and build additional structures/units. If 3rd and 4th-generation RTS games were click fests this is the Chinese water torture of a click fest. It's really really slow and repetitive. The pacing, which is clearly part of the business model, kills the game.
This is why I call it PTP not FTP. The free components were very slow and not engaging beyond the initial base-building. To get anywhere the player is required to spend, and spend well, but once they get there nothing is left to do but buy more, and stomp out additional enemy bases in a very uneventful turn-based combat scenario.
Edgeworld's combat round (see below) cosists of - Opponent Selection, Attack Initiation, Unit Selction/Placment, Non-interactive Combat and Outcome. A "Warp Gate" is used to move units from a player's base. Each has three 'warps', after building the sturcture players begin with one complimentary warp that recharges at long intervals.
Edgeworld is fun and has some quality craft to it but in the end, for this player of a game maker, I felt like I wasted cash building a base and units I didn't care about, in a story world whose back story I couldn't care less about. In keeping with the games pressumed inspiration, a simple expository introduction with an inciting incident would help tremendously.
In the ultimate blow, I tried to find my one Relic buddy that plays, so I could mop-up his base of course. It ends up that without his game-specific user name I couldn't. How's that for social? We couldn't even put our offensive units on the same map. So I was left to attack AI-players and anonymous users, that left me wondering how actual they were.
The game was compelling, but didn't deliver on the experience I was expecting by the property's set-up and branding. Though I must admit, if someone with an RTS-itch and a gambling problem gets a hold of this - watch out! I found myself thinking "Maybe if I just buy more...". As of now, my account has been deleted, or should I say deactivated. Like Facebook I'm sure you can never really leave.
In the end, I'd call this a noble experiment. On the surface Edgeworld provides some compelling play that might satisfy the average game player on a social network but fails to satisfy core player expectations. The returns are not increasingly rewarding to deep play, and meaningful moments occur with little frequencey forcing the game to loose chances to drive player purchases, play and more importantly engagement.
Edgeworld's "Terrakor" Unit (Appox. cost $5 USD)
Given the pace and pricing of this game I'd be really worried about serious players, and encourage them to get help (or to put their time and money toward more noble pursuits). In matter of a week I spent the same amount as any boxed product, and for the price I'd rather just grab Starcraft II or better yet, head over to Company of Heroes Complete Pack.
They both pack a lot more bang for your buck and deliver 3rd- generation RTS experiences that blow 2nd-generation turn-based PTP out of the water. Strangely enough the boxed products actually seem more 'social' (at least while playing online multiplayer modes). That said, give Kabam's Edgeworld a look, it inspired me and is a sure indicator of things to come.