After testing the game in limited markets, Zynga has today announced the worldwide release of Empires & Allies on mobile devices. While the game carries the name of the former Empires & Allies Facebook game, this isn’t a remake. Instead, the game is a modern experience, taking players to the near future, where they’ll have access to advanced technologies in a war for domination.
As a base-building combat game, many of Empires & Allies’ general gameplay mechanics will be familiar to fans of the genre. Players start with a few structures, and will expand and upgrade their base by balancing the use of multiple key resources.
While the new Empires & Allies may initially look and feel similar to other games in the genre, there are a few key differences Zynga hopes will set the game apart. For one, players can construct domes to hold and hide various defensive weapons on their base, with the weapon depending on their needs. For instance, if a base is being attacked by lots of tanks and armored units, the owner can build a laser under a dome to combat them. Or, if their base is weak to aerial attacks, they can build an aerial defense unit to take down drones and helicopters, and so on.
Speaking with SocialTimes, Mark Skaggs, senior vice president of games at Zynga, commented on this idea:
While you’re in battle, you’re always engaged, you’re always thinking about what’s coming, and participating in the battle to handle surprises — things like, “What’s under the dome?” … One of the things we’ve seen with other games is that you can scan the base beforehand, and then you just drop your troops. It’s a pretty passive situation while you’re watching the attack progress. It’s fun when people are constantly participating.
Another major strategy element comes in the form of rally flags. These let players assign specific kinds of units (including spider drones, commandoes and rocket launchers) to key locations around their base. These unit groups can be stationary, defending specific areas, or wander around the base on patrol, depending on the player’s strategy.
In terms of battles, the game’s single-player storyline sees players defeating a terrorist organization, saving the world from computer-controlled bases and bosses. Empires & Allies principal game designer, Cameron McNeil, described these bases as “handcrafted puzzles,” which have starting and end points, challenging players to work their way to the end of each base using the right military units and powers.
As players destroy enemy forces, they’ll earn Command Points that can be spent on orbital strikes, hellfire missiles and more. These are secondary abilities and powers, aside from standard aerial, ground and armored units.
Empires & Allies offers in-depth social gameplay. For one, users can join an alliance with others, and when one alliance member successfully defeats an enemy base, they’ll earn loot for the entire group. In addition, players can share resources with others in the alliance. For instance, if one player lacks the resources necessary to begin an upgrade, they can ask their alliance for donations. Finally, each time a member makes a premium gold purchase, everyone in the alliance receives a reward.
Another major social feature lets players speed up their building timers by asking friends for help. These are free interactions, so players only need to send and accept requests in order to activate the time savings.
Finally, strike forces let players add their friends (represented by their profile pictures) to specific structures on their base, which may increase a building’s hit points or damage, as examples. Like domed defenses, attackers won’t know a building has been boosted until they engage.
Skaggs commented on this particular social mechanic, which was inspired by the social “crew” functionality from CityVille, which saw players’ pictures appear when they had completed actions in a friend’s town:
In CityVille, it was such a cool thing … It made me feel like home every time I did it. So, when we’re thinking about this idea of strike forces … just having peoples’ heads there is one of those things I call a “warm touch” — a little surprise and delight which really goes a long way.
In addition to placing strike forces on buildings, players can take their friends into battle by assigning them to specific troops, which subsequently do more damage and have higher defenses during combat.
While players can steal others’ resources during the game’s multiplayer battles, Zynga has worked to ensure users will never feel they can’t make progress.
We’ve played some other games, and one of my frustration points is, I always run into that wall where I feel like I am dedicating my life to the game just to tread water. That’s the point where I usually fall out. That [may come] in the form of saving enough currency to start building [something] that’s going to take two weeks to finish. We wanted to address that. We wanted to keep people feeling like “this isn’t so bad,” and to keep people in combat. What I’ve found in making these types of games is the attacking and the battles are the fun part — not the waiting.
Along that same line, McNeil said the goal is to make every battle worthwhile, so players don’t spend time searching for “that opponent that’s both easy and gives you the right resources.” Late-game upgrades also take less time to complete than upgrades in other titles. A specific upgrade may take one day and five hours, which McNeil describes as around the maximum build time, and which can be decreased if players’ friends help out.
Empires & Allies launches with 250 solo missions, alongside limitless player-vs-player battles. These multiplayer battles are limited to three minutes each, with the overall idea of having short play sessions. As Skaggs put it, “that’s what mobile and tablet players like.”
Empires & Allies is available to download for free on the iTunes App Store and Google Play. The game is supported by premium currency, but this is mainly used to speed up building and upgrade timers, as the game does not include standard “pay-to-win” mechanics like super-powered troops.