Hands-On with Elvenar

Elvenar - Review headlogo - DE


Pros: Impressive illustrative graphics, strategic turn-based combat.
Cons: Arduous gameplay, dull early game content, too repetitive.

Score: TBD

We got the chance to look at the closed beta of Elvenar, a fantasy themed f2p browser city/empire building MMO from InnoGames in which players are tasked with establishing their own Elven or Human village, acquiring resources, training up their own army and expanding their territory. Taking a couple of hours to dig a little deeper into the game we wanted to know whether, in this extremely overcrowded genre, there was room for another city building MMO and whether Elvenar would step up to the challenge.

The initial concept and core features of the game are very much in line with practically every other game in this genre, as players we are put through the same rote of constructing Residential buildings to bring in gold, used to purchase and construct other buildings such as resource production buildings and then start building up an army. During the process we are constantly guided by quests, tasks to perform and complete to gain access to extra rewards and initially the start of our army with troops being given to us by the NPC quest givers. Very early into the game we found ourselves sitting pretty with a number of buildings bringing in gold, a large army of melee fighters and a big pot of gold and it seemed like the world was our oyster. Don’t let the slick user interface and beautifully designed graphics fool you (and the game does look pretty great for a browser MMO in this genre, which can typically look really shoddy), we were about to experience the worst parts of the game and it became all too clear that all that glitters isn’t necessarily gold.

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Our problems started when we began to delve into the exploration/Provinces system, heading to the world map the land is broken down into hexagonal tiles and at our city we had greyed out Provinces surrounding us that we were tasked by the NPC’s to Scout out, paying gold for the privilege. Once scouted out players have the ability to try and take over these Provinces to gain a unique resource, as well as Research Points to go into the tech tree. To take a Province players must control the eight main territories within it, each territory defended by a selection of troops that you can either fight against or negotiate with (more information on this below).

Fighting allows us to check what enemy forces will be facing in a territory and choosing which of our units to send into battle, upon which you enter a hex based combat map with your own units at one end and the enemy units at the other, squads take on the form of a single token and the tokens hit points representing the number of units still in that squad. Taking it in turns as a player we get to go first and are able to move all of our units, each squad having a set number of tiles that they can move and, upon reaching the enemy, a range of damage that they can inflict. Then it becomes the AIs turn and they move all of their units, early game consists of players going up against Archers all the time dealing their ranged damage and utilising the cover terrain to stop us getting in melee range. There’s not much to it early on, every battle is pretty much the same and just took time to move our units to the other side of the map before obliterating the enemy, however, with more units to play with and a wider variety of units on the map, we can see how combat is going to be extremely fun later down the line and extremely tactical. We won a good 20 battles before the initial forces we’d acquired through quests were fully depleted, battles of attrition that had slowly diminished our numbers as opposed to any great losses.

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Then the game took a turn for the worse.

As well as buildings and units costing gold they also take time to construct, our units took over 20 minutes to train up and due to the restrictions of the Barracks you’re only able to construct one of this type of building so replenishing your army is a slow trickle. To continue taking Provinces we have the option of Negotiating, instead of fighting the different armies defending the territories we could simply pay them gold and resources to acquire the territory without raising arms, which we did for the next four territories, not because we necessarily wanted to but simply because we couldn’t train any troops quick enough to take them by any other means. You obviously have the chance of spending Diamonds to instantly complete the process, the premium currency bought with real-world cash, but that’s not a road we are ever prepared to take.

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As we took provinces our Research Points also trickled in and we were able to acquire a few more technologies, though even the likes of unlocking the Archer unit we never got to take advantage of in our play through due to it taking so long to train up a unit. So looking to our city our options were to construct buildings, though as we were still early in the tech tree we didn’t have many buildings to choose from and so pretty much had a city filled with Residential buildings bringing in even more gold that in turn we simply used to negotiate even more Provinces, to gain more Research Points, to unlock more techs, to place down more buildings, to bring in more gold, to... well... you get the point.

Our second problem came when we had finally replenished our army a little with some troops, as we geared up to have some more fights against the new unit types we were facing, unfortunately we’d purchased so many Provinces we were now facing enemies that were much greater in number than the starting Provinces. So now we have fewer troops then we started with and more (and tougher) enemies to go up against, we got about another two battles in before our single melee unit was peppered by ranged attackers and finally destroyed.

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And that’s the big problem with the game, it was such a grind of completing the same quests, acquiring gold through the same buildings and having to negotiate territories as opposed to enjoying the potentially fun and tactical element of combat. This was simply during a two-hour game session and we were already cut off at the knees with what we could actually do and it just got boring, no doubt playing more casually, waiting for our armies to build backup we could have had more tactical combat, but it would literally take all day to get that kind of experience which goes to show that the game in its early days definitely isn’t for the type of player that wants to play actively without spending real-world cash. Down the line when players have a more established village, have gone further into the tech tree to gain access to new units and have fielded a bigger army, we’re sure the game and combat gets far more interesting; unfortunately that’s a long time to wait and a huge grind to go through to get to the fun content and that is Elvenar’s biggest downfall. It is a game with potential but a big gap between new game and end game content and a huge premium currency/queueing barrier that forces you to play it in casual mode or grind mode, and neither are particularly appealing to us.

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