Think you got what it takes to take out mercs in the ruins of New Georgia? Well, here’s a Facebook role-playing game that might just sate that appetite for destruction: Mercenaries of War from Kaboom Social Games. Except this is not your typical Facebook RPG.
The game takes snippets of action game mechanics and combines them with layers of polish and the more traditional, slow paced elements of an RPG.
As the standard practice goes for the genre, players begin by creating their very own, personal, mercenary soldier (complete with kevlar!). There isn’t a whole lot to customize, but decorating your avatar is not really what makes Mercanaries interesting. After a “retina scan” log in and some words with a somewhat mouthy general of sorts, players start off in their mission: To save some rich guy’s daughter.
Okay, okay, so the storyline is a bit cliché. Players begin with your typical list of missions that can be done at the cost of energy. Immediately, for us, Mercenaries stood out, as the first mission was to take out some guards. Surprisingly, clicking “Do Task” doesn’t automatically do the task, but rather, it takes the player to a mini-game in which they literally have to shoot the guards that are walking about. To add a little bit of challenge, there is a time limit and only so much ammunition. Of course, it’s still not too hard.
Granted, it doesn’t look as good as an action game, and the guards move like cardboard cutouts, but it was certainly different, fun, and memorable. Unfortunately, we’ve run out of energy for the day, so we’ve yet to run into other mini-games of this type, but here’s hoping there are more.
As for the regular missions, these are a bit more familiar. Players use energy to do missions pertaining to the story, earn items, and repeat the task until it is at 100% completion. Now, normally, RPGs make this 100% completion element optional, but in Mercenaries it is actually required to unlock the next task. It’s not all that noticeable, however, because each mission comes with a window that actually shows the player “doing” the task. Moreover, many of the tasks are justifiable for being “repeated” by sheer logic.
You see, in many cases, users aren’t “repeating” the task from the game’s perspective. As an example, an early mission has you searching for something in a darkened warehouse. Each time you redo the task, a flashlight moves through the room a little bit. Whatever it comes to rest on, be they health packs, guns, vests, etc, will be the reward for doing the mission. Players will repeat this process until 100% completion is reached and the item in question is found (at 100%).
Of course, while many of the missions are justified, just as many feel awkward to repeat. Okay, trying to figure out a passcode is going to take a number of tries, but why would one have to try to turn on a generator two-dozen times? Anyways, once you have finished all available missions, users can return to an overworld map of New Georgia and move to a new, unlocked area.
As a matter of fact, this is where the classic social mechanic of battling comes into play. In each area, there are “competing mercenaries” (other players), trying to find Mr. Big Wig’s daughter as well, so it’s up to you to take them out. Expectantly, this uses up stamina, but rather than go to a completely new page that is an unimmersive list of users your level, you change the “view” of the map to a sort of infrared view that shows who you can pick a fight with, within the buildings on the map, and how many mercs (more on them in a second) they have with them.
Battles play out passively based on statistics such as attack and defense. Each player will trade blows until one of them is down for the count. It truth, it is no different than watching two static avatars go at it with numbers popping up overhead – ala other Facebook RPGs – but it feels a little different as each user and their team is lined up Final Fantasy style inside whatever building the engagement was begun, and reacts to the amount of damage they take. Also, as players battle, they build up “Adrenaline,” that, once full, can be used to significantly boost our battle capabilities (i.e. damage) for particularly tough opponents.
Regarding the mercs that make up a player’s team, these are purchased from the market and do not appear to be players. These are actually purchased with a virtual currency called “Merc Points.” However, weak ones can be bought for a little in-game cash, strong ones for a lot of in-game cash, and others earned through inviting friends to “Join Your Squad.” Additionally, they can also be modified with equipment like your avatar can, as well as be heal after each battle (and med packs are plentiful when you do regular missions).
The Merc Points, oddly enough, is where a big usability complaint comes into play. You see, each level you earn, earns you one Merc Point, so it is entirely possible to earn some extremely powerful (and sometimes limited edition) mercenaries without having to pay any real money. However, when you run out of energy or stamina doing missions or battling, a popup asks you to refill. If you click it, it refills, but pulls your Merc Points to do so. Not once is there a confirmation window asking if the player wants to spend those points. The popup itself doesn’t even say that it will cost Merc Points. If you’ve ever traveled to a location where people give tourists “free” gifts then tell you it costs money; it’s about as annoying as that.
Other than that, the only other game play issue is that the typical “land” one can buy in an RPG to earn periodic income is a bit pricey for new players. Usually, these investments have some smaller purchases that new users can buy to get started, but the cheapest here is around 25,000+.
Outside of game play, Mercenaries also brings up one concern, and that is how well the average Facebook user will enjoy the action elements. For those who have played many traditional, console games, such an mechanic is appreciated — but social gamers don’t consider themselves “gamers,” so it may scare some off. Anyway, these modes are very few and far between. Additionally, the app has been growing rapidly in recent time, and is already north of 4,600 monthly active users. Perhaps, social gamers are coming to terms with what they claim not to be.
Overall, Mercenaries of War is a wonderful role-playing game with very little to complain about. It does have one tremendous, and frustrating, usability issue with the virtual currency, and its action elements may not mix will with your average Facebook RPG player. Nonetheless, the app is still fun and addictive. It has a level of polish to it that can be appreciated by just about anyone and really turns the game into more of an experience, rather than just another app.