The browser-based RTS game with a ticking-clock and wait-for-build is becoming the mainstay of Flash-developed MMO games in the casual arena and Jagex Games Studio has introduced us at GameOgre to their game 8Realms. It has all the elements of a standard MMORTS, with a great deal of Facebook integration—it’s Jagex Games’s second MMORPG after War of Legends and seems to be shaping up to be ideal for its genre.

You can expect to start with a primitive village struggling to grow out of the ancient technology level towards something more foundational.

The colors are bright, the gameplay is simple (although the UI can get a little complex) but with a very short learning curve, it’s easy to tell where things are going and how to get there. As with most MMORTS games, it’s all about how the casual player approaches the game and from the looks of it 8Realms makes the grade.

Graphics and Sound: Cute little villagers and spearmen scratch-and-climb out of the Iron Age

The graphics are slightly cartoony, but the builds are all recognizable—especially for a Flash-based game—they held a sort of cartoon-but-real looking effect. Each upgrade didn’t change them very much, but they developed a sort of expectation that I thought was fitting.

The UI told me everything I needed to know: resource-types and levels, blinking icons to tell me where to go, and what to do. Mostly that was the tutorial, but it seemed to continue even after the helpful barbarian guy stopped appearing.

There’s several different views from a map of a village (to allow a certain amount of micromanagement) to a nearby-region map allowing for sending out raiding parties against other villages or to grab up resources from barbarians holding them.

For example, since commodities are difficult to come by and are doled out in a per-hour basis, it’s possible to fall behind if I didn’t wait a day for it to build up. However, barbarians sit around on mountains of iron, trees, or quarries full of stone—and it’s possible to send spearmen out to take it from them (and bolster my own resources.) Good for building that level 3 library that I want so that I can learn writing.

This game doesn’t seem to have sound (perhaps the Flash programming doesn’t work right in Chrome.)

Gameplay: MMORTS Civlilizations-esque game to the hilt and to the bitter end

Like any other MMORTS that works on a Civilizations-equse motif, 8Realms took me to a burgeoning village accosted by barbarians. Actually, it starts with my farms being destroyed by flaming spears, but I pulled myself up by my spear-shafts and tilled new soil (making new farms) and opening up forestry buildings, and then going for the quarries.

There are four resource types: stone, wood, food, and iron. Of course, the latter isn’t available early in the game but comes a bit later; and then there’s also gold which is needed to purchase buildings.

There’s even a tax system for gold and a mood for the population. This can all be modified by different types of civilization and skills such as developing religion, scholarship, and sports.

This is ultimately in the very casual variety. It’s an RTS but everything takes time—there’s time to build, time to train armies, time to upgrade, and time to research new technologies. It starts out minimal, but it quickly begins to reach into times that take up a great deal of time; however, due to its nature as a casual game the developers expect players to sit down, fiddle with their towns, and prepare for the next day.

Advancement in the game is developed by gaining a resource called “culture,” and this is advertised by developing wonders—like the Great Wall of China, and other such interesting structures. The use of culture is used to propel the player through the various ages from Ancient, Classical, Feudal, Renaissance, Imperial, Industrial, Modern and up to Future.

Although I haven’t seen it, the game happens to have an interesting sort of end game where the player to reach the Future generated a wonder called “nanotechnology.” They then had to defend their wonder against all the other players for 24 hours. There have been 4 such defenses and end games since July 2011 in the closed beta and two completed in open play since February. Currently two are ongoing.

When the end game is reached the final player can then choose to create an Ark Wonder (to leave the planet) or let the nanotechnology consume the rest of the world—as other players find themselves under attack by self-aware nanotechnological bots.

Now that’s amusing.

The integration of Facebook to this game is considerable and it’s very spammy. If you’ve used Facebook to log into the game, every time you complete a task (an in game mission) it will ask you if it can announce that to your Facebook account. Fortunately, it wont’ do so without your permission. This is something that many games of this sort do on a regular basis to gain attention and notoriety.

Freemium: Gems, gems are everything in this game for boosts, instant builds, and getting ahead

8Realms is a free-to-play game and uses a microtransaction virtual item mall in order to support themselves. The currency that players buy into in order to make purchases are called “gems.” Throughout the game, in the beginning especially, tutorial quests allow players to receive gems and thus use them to purchase from the item mall.

Later, gems are no longer produced and instead the player must purchase them with real money.

Similar to most MMORTS games, gems are used to give players more moves in a day, to reduce the amount of time it takes to construct buildings, to send out raiding parties, and the like. As a result, the item mall is a place to receive items that allow a very casual player to better capably go up against hardcore players who are constantly paying attention day and night (or to get a jump on people who just wait for the timers.)

It is also possible to use gems to get a greater amount of resources or to buff military strength with attacking and raiding. As a result, there could be balance issues between standard play and people who purchase gems—but after seeing the mall and playing the game a bit, there doesn’t seem to be much of a balance problem to be seen.

Conclusion: A casual MMORTS with an actual end game scenario that involves Armageddon

Jagex Games Studio has produced a sleek, workable and very casual MMORTS in the form of 8Realms—the addition of the race-towards-Armageddon, I think, sets it aside from the others that I’ve played. It also gives it a real reason why players might want to daily pay attention to their progress and the game.

The graphics are good, the browser-based free-to-play element should draw in a great deal of players, and there’s certainly a lot going on in the game. In fact the very casual aspect will probably play in their favor by allowing people to play during their lunch break (after the initial set-up and preparation of a village.)

I enjoyed the silly sense of humor and the helpful barbarian; and the way that the game did push me towards casual play. I also liked having the tasks give me resources and gems so that it gave me a strong incentive to build a strong village. I also liked the open-ended direction that the development led me.

The end game content, however, is something that I won’t be seeing because I’m just reviewing the beginning; perhaps there will be people who want to get enough into the game that they’ll enjoy the nanontechnological grey-goo Armageddon.