Role-playing games on Facebook may seem like an overdone genre, but Castle Age shows just how far it can go beyond “join my mafia.”
For the record, there isn’t anything wrong with the way many existing Facebook RPGs play. They could just be so much more. At first glance, though, Castle Age may seem just like these other titles. The basics are all there, with your standard stats of attack, defense, stamina, energy, etc. Players do quests to gain experience, or fight players to gain dominance. They even visit town to buy equipment to become stronger and land to earn income. However, despite the familiarities, there is something deeper behind this fantasy RPG.
Upon entering the “world,” players are greeted the story of their burning home and immediately prompted with a choice on whom to save. The character becomes their first hero/general which allows them to actually do quests. As the player progresses, certain quests can be done with any hero, and others require a specific one that they may find or purchase later. Also, various heroes grant their own unique bonuses to the player. As an example, we ended up with the cleric Penelope who grants a 1% discount toward all soldiers – more on them in a second – purchased in “Town” (this is where many soldiers, items, magic, and so on are bought). Later, players can unlock, through quests, or buy other heroes for different bonuses. However, only one hero at a time can grant their special abilities by being equipped as a general, meaning that this will likely play into some strategies at later levels. Moreover, by level 10, players can even begin upgrading these units.
Soldiers needed for your army to complete many quests and fight other human opponents. At their core, these characters are nothing more than machine guns, knives, and explosives that you might find in something like Mafia Wars but because of their dramatic artwork and that they are not objects, but people, makes them feel more like units in a strategy game and not an inanimate things.
In fact, the artwork plays a lot in the connection to the game as a whole. Despite copyright issues half a year ago, Castle Age has come back with new and absolutely gorgeous fantasy art. Each screen has a character that no matter how insignificant they seem, is dynamic and memorable looking. This is a visual representation of a fictional writing rule to never make a character a flat or stock character no matter how tiny their role, because it isn’t believable or memorable. In the case of Castle Age, the imagery fills the role of remembrance, but it is that other art form, writing, that makes it feel more believable.
For every page and every character, save the purchased units like foot soldiers, there is some small bit of text that is designed, with word bubbles, to look like the character is speaking to you. It might be a tip, instruction, or just what services they offer, but each piece of it feels like part of this world. This isn’t Shopkeeper 32A selling you that +5 to Attack Dagger. It is Vulcan, a fiery blacksmith with biceps the size of your head and a hammer half again as large. In fact, this same writing is what drives the player further into the story of the game.
Bit by bit, the story unfolds for the player with each piece requiring more experience to be earned — “A hero wishes to meet you: Earn 5 experience points.” Once a quest is done, then that new piece of story is unveiled. And, coupled with the art, the player actually gets sucked in to the game world. However, this same method leads to some very smart social features as well.
Every so often, the story will come to a boss. Rather than a simple quest, a story blurb will introduce it and the player must defeat it to move on. However, in order to attack it they use the stat, Stamina, which in most RPGs, is used only to attack other players. Frankly, this simple double use of the stat has actually given meaning to it for players that previously only cared about story in Facebook RPGs.
Anyways, with the boss fight, the battle is open for several hours. Each boss has a great deal of hit points, thus requiring many attacks to defeat it. Since one attack uses one stamina, and players have relatively limited stamina before they must wait for it to recharge, help from friends becomes very useful. Players can actual issue a “Call to Arms” that cries for help on their newsfeed, and friends can join and attack as well, earning a little bit of experience for themselves each time they take a swing at the big bad guy.
Additionally, players can also invite friends to join to not only grow their army size (like in Mafia Wars), but assign them to their Elite Guard as well. This makes for another level of gaming and social depth as the Elite Guard are friends who are assigned to specific jobs – Cleric, Thief, Paladin, etc. – that grant the player special bonuses (i.e. +1 Attack) for a 24 hour period.
The game is further deepened by the player’s ability to “worship” demi-gods every 24 hours and thereby earn favor to purchase rewards, chests with random rare units for army, and more. However, this is still just the tip of the iceberg. Castle Age is extremely deep and complex with a myriad of features to learn. Just to list some examples beyond these demi-gods, players can duel each other one vs. one or with armies for stat bonus, they can earn achievements, create items and monsters with alchemy, generate epic bosses, train with non-player characters, visit the oracle for special bonus (offers and currency sales), repeat quests to gain influence and extra stats, as well as purchase and participate in constantly changing special offers an items in-game.
With just under 3 million monthly active users, Castle Age has certainly been a slowly growing game but one that has endured not only the test of time, but legal issues as well. It is a game with beautiful artwork, deep story and play mechanics, and a complexity that is completely forgotten through its immersiveness. So long as it can avoid anymore unnecessary copyright issues, this is a game that ought to continue to grow over 2010, and after playing it, you will certainly see why it was one of the top ten most significant social games of last year.