Monday, May 17, 2010

Review: Warstorm on FB

Warstorm is neither your typical Facebook game nor your typical card-based war game. (It also has a browser-based version but I'm not sure how well that works.)

Unlike Mafia Wars, Farmville, etc., you don't need 500+ friends to get maximum value from Warstorm, so it doesn't require you to create a second Facebook "Game" account, spam a load of strangers with Friend requests, or fill message boards with ADD ME!!! LOL!!!. And yet in spite of this the typical comments on the official Warstorm Facebook groups are still "Add me!!!" Go figure.

With that said, it does help to have a couple of Friends who play because every now & then the game gives you a bonus 'Rare' Card. But it's not for you, it's for your friends, and in the typical FB Game spammy fashion you can't just Send it to them, you have to post a message on your wall so your Friends can Click the link and collect the Card themselves. Likewise your Friends can post Rare Card messages on their own Wall that you can click and collect. But there's a catch. You can only collect one Rare card every 24 hours. Not one Rare Card per Friend per day; one Rare Card per day, period. So having hundreds of friends spamming your Wall with Rare Card posts every day is no more useful than having just a couple, as long as they're regular players of course. (Which makes me wonder how the browser-based version works, unless you can somehow add people as your Friends...perhaps via email?)

As you play the game and win battles/duels you earn Silver which you can use to buy more Card Packs, and when you do buy and 'open' a pack you will sometimes get a Bonus card. Unlike the Rare Cards these can be Sent directly to a Friend but only to one Friend, and you can only send one Card to each Friend every 24 hours. The game does ask you to post a message on your Friend's Wall so they know they got the Card, but in this case I don't think posting is actually necessary. I believe your Friend still receives the Card whether you post a "Hey! I sent you a card!" message or not. Now while you can only collect one Rare Card every 24 hours, and you can only send one Bonus Card to each Friend every 24 hours, if you have 100 Friends they can obviously each send you one Bonus Card if they get them, but! Do you really think someone is going to send a Bonus Card to you, a complete stranger, when they have Real Life Friends who also play? Of course not. You only get Bonus Cards from opening Packs, or from buying Hero Cards via RMT, so unless you spend real cash you just won't get that many Bonus Cards to give away. Are you going to send some stranger a Bonus Hero card you only got because you spent real money? Or will you send it to your Brother/Cousin/Best Friend4Life? Yeah, I thought so.

That's a big plus to Warstorm over the other FB Games: you simply do not need to add a bunch of strangers as Friends in order to play the game. Of course your Real Life Friends still need to actually play.

I said earlier that it's not your typical card-based war game, and it's not. In MTG and other games of its ilk you build your deck then duel other players by, usually, dealing yourself a hand, then playing out the game and using your cards to the best of their ability (and your own) to defeat the other player and their cards, in a process requiring a combination of both luck and strategy. In Warstorm, the only strategy comes from the deck building itself, because once a game starts you're even more of an observer than someone playing a low level Paladin. Yes, once a duel begins you'll do nothing more than sit back & watch, and maybe hit the Fast Forward button if you want to speed up the pace a little, which I did.

This may sound boring and/or frustrating in not having any control over how your cards are played ("No! Don't give the Sword of Power to the Mage! He's going to be killed on the next turn! No! Don't Zap the Troll Hero! Target the Flying Imp!") but it's a lot easier to accept that style of play once you realize it's actually a very fair way to resolve combat. You're dueling a random player's deck, not an actual player, meaning they're not actually present to manage their own cards, so letting you control your own cards and Zap their low HP Imp instead of the high HP, regenerating Troll Hero would be giving you an unfair advantage over your opponent.

Here's an example of a Hero Card:
There's already descriptions for the bottom numbers and they're self-explanatory for the most part, although just for clarification purposes your Turn and your opponent's Turn makes two Turns, so a card which readies in 10 Turns will be ready within 5 of your own Turns after being drawn. The three numbers in the top right corner of this Hero's card mean his Squad will be comprised of 6 Units, but no artifacts or spells. A Squad is always a Hero plus 6 Cards so you may also get a Hero who commands 4 Units but takes 2 Artifacts into battle, or 2 spells, or 1 Artifact and 1 Spell. I've not yet seen any Heroes who have more than 2 Artifact and/or Spell cards.

As soon as a Card is Ready it can be used immediately to attack, heal, etc. There is no Tapping or Exhausting of cards. Your cards attack and use their special abilities (if they have any), then your opponent's cards do the same, then your cards, and so on, with the goal being to reduce your opponents Morale from 30 to 0, or destroy all of his units/cards. Morale is reduced by cards attacking unopposed, through Spells or Artifacts such as the Drums of Despair, or via special abilities like Demoralize.

When you start you'll play through a Tutorial which both introduces many of the special abilities in the game, and rewards you with cards with the same. So after beating a Squad of Mages with the Blast Ability you'll receive a Mage or two with Blast, and so on. This makes it very easy to learn how combat and the cards work, and what cards are effective counters to other cards. Unfortunately it also makes the game appear rather easy, so the first time you play a real opponent you might be in for a very rude shock.

After completing the Tutorial you can continue to play the Single Player campaign, which gradually rewards you with more powerful cards, or you can try your luck against other players. But as those players tend to already have the more powerful cards, or even RMT cards, it's advisable to build up your Squads before engaging in the Warstorm equivalent of PvP. I say Squads because if you have sufficient Heroes and Squads you can do up to 4v4 Duels, being 4 of your Squads versus 4 of those from another player. Personally I thought 4 Squads took too long (and usually resulted in my Defeat) so for the most part I'll do 2v2 where my chances of success are much greater and the battles are usually over a lot faster.

Now even though, once you hit Start and the cards start coming out, you become no more than a participant, there's still a lot of excitement from watching a battle unfold as you cheer desperately for certain cards to come out, knowing there's nothing you can do but watch the battle unfold. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes you get creamed and wonder just why the hell your opponent seems to have so many cards, and other times the cards go all your way and you're the one with a seemingly invincible army carving up everything your opponent's deck throws at you.

If there's anything negative to say about Warstorm it's that (for me) there was a wall around level 10-12 that I needed to crash through where I just couldn't defeat the next stages in the Single Player campaign, and where I likewise went from seeming to win most of my PvP Duels to just getting crushed in almost every single game. It almost seemed intended, as if to convince me to engage in RMT to advance, instead it made me want to throw in the towel. But I stuck it out, and even losing duels got me silver, and eventually I was able to buy some more card packs, tweak my squads a little more, and I started to win a few more duels. That was also when I accepted that "You can't win 'em all", which made the game more enjoyable as well.

All up I'd say check it out, at least to level 10 or so, to see whether it's your cup of tea. It's free to play so you really have nothing to lose but an evening of messing around. And even if you don't have a Facebook account you can always give the Browser version a try.

Monday, May 03, 2010

WoW: Food for thought

Raid-geared players spend their downtime running Heroics on their Mains so they can get Badges to buy Heirloom gear for their Alts so they don't have to spend as much time playing their Alts. I know, I know. Leveling their Alts, it's the same thing.

Here are some questions to ponder.

How many Heroics do you need to run to obtain enough Badges to buy the Heirloom +XP pieces? How long does that take? Factor in not being a Tank (or being able to queue with one) and spending time in queues.

If your Alt changes Armor at 40 (Leather to Mail, or Mail to Plate), factor in enough Runs to buy multiple sets. Actually I just read that Mail Heirloom Gear apparently reverts to Leather when worn by sub-40 Hunters and Shamans, while Plate Heirloom gear does the same for sub-40 Warriors and Paladins. That's a nice touch but you'll want to buy a set of Leather Heirloom gear anyway for your Rogue and Druid (two Sets if you're leveling a Caster Druid), and don't forget a set of Cloth Heirloom gear for your Squishies. How many Badges is that? 8-10 pieces at 40 each, or 320-400 Badges. And don't forget Weapons for everyone. At 65 Badges per weapon that's another 300+ Badges.

How many Runs will it take to acquire 600-700 (or more) Badges?

What about one Alt? How many Runs will it take to collect just 145 Badges?

And how much time does Heirloom gear really save while leveling Alts?

A level 1 character needs 24,067,200 XP to get to level 80. Whether you run to the nearest Mailbox at level 1 or just complete the starting area quests and get there in due time is a moot point. You need 7600xp to get from level 1 to level 5 (the average point at which a character reaches their first Inn & mailbox) and so a 20% bonus to XP by that point has netted you just 1520 extra XP, or a little more than 1/3 of the 3600 needed to get from level 5 to level 6. It takes approx. 20-30 minutes to get from level 5 to 6 so taking 5 minutes (or so) to run to the nearest Mailbox to get your Heirloom gear at level 1 saves you about 10 minutes.

But we're looking at The Big Picture® and in the grand scheme of things a 20% bonus to XP means you don't need the full 24,067,200XP to go from 1 to 80 but rather 83.3% (recurring decimal) of that. That's 20,056,000 XP, an amount which would put you a little over halfway into 77 if you didn't have Heirloom gear. That's what your 20% Heirloom gear really saves you: that last grind from 77 to 80 which would probably take an experienced Player (and if you have Heirloom gear, that's you) about 2-3 days/evenings questing, running PUGs, etc. Naturally a more casual-paced player is going to take longer to do that last 77-80 grind, but they'll also take longer to gather the 80 Badges for the Heirloom gear, so it all evens out in the end.