Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Heroes of Gaia Review

*Disclaimer*: I received some “review items” in-game from Snail Games, which allowed me to speed up my development, and see more of the game faster.

Heroes of Gaia from Snail Games is a Free2Play massively multiplayer browser strategy game which heavily “borrows” gameplay elements from the King’s Bounty / Heroes of Might and Magic (HoMM) series of single-player games, and combines them with elements from other classic browser strategy games. That works surprisingly well: While other browser games, like Travian, or Lords of Ultima, suffer mightily from the problem that there is nothing to *do*, except building up your forces and hitting your neighbor over the head with them, Heroes of Gaia offers better opportunity for constant activity. And you *still* can build up your forces and hit your neighbor over the head with them. :)

You start the game with a castle, some resources, and one hero with an army. You can send out the hero to capture production sites, gather resources, find treasure, and beat monsters. All of that is done in fights which work like fights in HoMM, but somewhat more automated, so you can opt to just let them autoplay for the easier fights, or you can control the battles, give some general instructions to your troops, and use your hero’s spells and abilities. Doing that gains experience points for your hero, increasing his stats, which also increase by the gear he finds. You also gain resources, which can then be used to build up your castle, research spells, recruit troops, and hire more heroes with more armies.

In addition to the classic HoMM game elements, there are quests, called “tasks”, which give additional resources if you do them. While this gameplay can keep you and your hero busy in the short-term, there are also the typical long-term gameplay elements of browser strategy games: You can chat with other players, join a guild, wage wars, and conquer castles and resource buildings. Thus there is a mix of PvP and PvE, with considerably more PvE than most other browser strategy games offer.

The further you advance, the slower progress gets. Buildings have 10 levels, each taking longer to construct than the previous. Your heroes move over the map in real time, and not very fast, so reaching some far away point takes a while. Hiring troops takes time, so does researching hero and town spells. You can only construct one building, hire one troop type, and research one hero and one town spell at a time. Unless, of course, if you go to the item shop and speed things up by spending money on items that let you build two buildings at once, or hire two troops, or research two spells, or on items which accelerate movement speed, make building, hiring, or research faster, or give you more resources faster. And looking at the item shop I must say that the price level is rather elevated, you could spend a rather large amount of money on Heroes of Gaia if you wanted to. On the other hand I found that on a casual play schedule I never used up all of my action points, thus somebody with more time on his hand can use his heroes more than I do, and also get ahead by gathering more resources and treasures. Given that some people simply started earlier than you, and others either spend more time or more money than you, there is the eternal problem common to all browser strategy games that PvP isn’t very well balanced, and some player or alliance much more powerful than you can just crush you.

Technically Heroes of Gaia is nice enough, but not outstanding. I was a bit annoyed that while the graphics are pretty enough, they are fixed resolution (and a rather strange 1000 x 610 one), so on my high-resolution monitor I’m playing on a small window. The “full screen” button removes the border of your browser, but doesn’t increase the size of the playing area. Heroes of Gaia is originally a Chinese game, and there are some translation errors and strange grammar, but generally everything is understandable. The tutorial could be better, but if you played a HoMM game and a browser strategy game before, you’ll have no problem getting into the game quickly enough.

In summary, whether you think Heroes of Gaia is a good game probably depends on what you compare it with. If you are looking for a multiplayer browser strategy game, Heroes of Gaia is actually quite a good option, offering you more gameplay than the competition. But once you start using the item shop regularly, that can get ridiculously expensive: Most items cost several dollars. I gulped when I saw that the item shop currently has a “sale” giving you an extra-strong “purple” epic hero if you spend 2500 points, because at a cost of 10 cents per point that would set you back $250. If the single-player HoMM-like gameplay is what really interests you, the relatively new King’s Bounty games (“The Legend” and “Armored Princess”) are on sale on Steam and offer far better value for money.

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