When it comes to browser-based Flash games, the MMORTS is possibly one of the best for the design. MMORTS is necessarily a point-and-click and turn-based interface that deals well with the fundamentally 2D design that browsers impress upon users. So when we come to games such as Golden Age by Aeria Games, we find something that approaches the MMORTS format but tries to break the mold but-slightly by offering alternative methods for narrative development and presentation.
The game Golden Age—GameOgre Featured Game of the Week here and reviews here—is a free-to-play, browser-based Flash MMORTS published by Aeria Games Entertainment. It’s set in a basic fantasy-land mostly set with 14th century technology and includes the addition of a little bit of magic. The player chooses from a set of different countries each of which have their own boons (either in military might, defensive capability, or resource gathering skills) and from there are asked to found and defend cities.
The MMORTS aspects make this game feel a lot like an overland version of Civilizations mixed with Heroes of Might and Magic—sans the fantastic monsters, of course. In this almost RISK-14th-century based game mechanic, the player is asked to build and micromanage a city, raise armies, march across the countryside and forge an empire under the wise eye of their liege. Players can pit their wit against the PvE quest-based campaign or cast their lot against one another in PvP campaigns.
As a result, there’s a lot to bring players to the game from both camps.
Gameplay: As an MMORTS the addition of fantasy quest-based narrative is intriguing
Golden Age combines all of the fundamental aspects of Flash RTS games that have already begun to enter the market and adds a questing system and an avatar with quest-crossroads style lobby with the castle. Altogether it’s an interesting addition and it might help the social aspects of the game.
First, a new player isn’t just given a set of instructions like most browser-based Flash RTS will greet a player with, instead the tutorial builds out of running early quests. Each of these quests introduces the functions and mechanisms of the game such as how to build a city, recruit an army, buy resources, etc. In fact, the beginning quests were so well integrated I didn’t even notice that I was being instructed.
The game is split into RTS and attack-based combat. Players are given a city to lord over and manage (and even garrison with soldiers that they recruit in their barracks.) There are even heroes that players recruit to lead their armies or manage their cities.
As my player leveled, she gained a greater salary from the king in order to purchase resources.
There’s also a technology tree that enables the production of bigger, better, and badder soldiers as well as buildings.
While for the most part the story seems to occur during 14th century Europe there are mages available as a unit type (trained by the “Gospel” technology type researched at the Seminary building.) The four unit types (aside heroes) happen to be infantry, cavalry, archers, and mages. All of the unit types seem to have a defensive and an offensive type—see the infantry who have gladiators and sheildmen.
Overall, there seems to always be something to do even while waiting for soldiers to recruit or buildings to upgrade in my city. The main city lobby area has many NPCs looking for me to do things from level 1-10 and my liege always had some sort of next-thing-to-check-off that seemed to follow an interesting narrative of a bandit lord looking to usurp his throne or his lands.
In fact, the story made me forget altogether that the landscape isn’t actually as peaceful as it might seem. Like any good MMORTS, Golden Age exists in a world PvP land where players can attack one another and having actual defenses at cities is necessary to protect them from being sacked or raided. Fortunately, new players are given a sort of clemency that prevents other players from attacking them before they’ve established themselves and entrenched well enough to put up a fight.
Battles are resolved in a sort of card-vs-card based one-shot system where each army type is met against each other army type and the combat resolves in one turn. Loser gets cut to ribbons and the victor takes the spoils. No interaction needed whatsoever—interesting players can even skip watching the cards duke it out and their numbers go down and jump directly to the statistics and assessment of the fight.
Both the player’s sire and the heroes who lead armies (and manage cities) can be equipped with various bits of armor, artifacts, and weapons. Equipment changes stats like in any game. And, in the case of equipment for a sire, it shows up in the sanctuary city—such as, I equipped an elegant sword said to have roses filigreed on the blade, and poof my little Rhine merchant had a huge sword in hand.
Graphics and Sound: For a browser-based Flash MMORTS we don’t need Picasso
For a Flash-based game, Golden Age looks just fine. The player is thrust into several different 2D displays from micromanaging their city (to build it) and the side-scrolling quest-hub sanctuary city and an overland map. Most of the graphics are slightly cartoonish combined with a fantasy-game aesthetic.
Although more than once, especially in the sanctuary castle, I would speak to an NPC and discover that their portrait looked nothing like them. In one case—a bankrupt merchant—the NPC’s avatar is a rail-thin man wearing a greenish overshirt; his portrait, however, is that of a rotund man wearing something similar to 16th century cartwheel ruff with a vest and paned sleeves.
Overall, I enjoyed the artwork, the UI made sense and I could find most of the things that I needed. I’d say the graphics here are medium quality for the 2D setup, but they get the job done perfectly well.
The game has only one song and it plays it ad infinitam on a loop. It’s a subtle sort of harp ditty that fortunately blends into the background extremely quickly—but I found myself quickly muting it because the transition between the beginning and end of the loop is extremely poor and it’s a short loop.
Golden Age has no sounds effects to speak of. In the city, leveling up, building things, even fighting. All of these I would expect some sort of sound perhaps to announce when things were happening, construction completed, or events happening; but it’s fairly mute across these aspects.
This is a flash game, so I don’t think we can expect much from the music or the sound effects; however, the game could be a lot better in these respects.
Freemium: Grab some Gold, Aeria Points actually have a powerful benefit in the game
The microtransaction currency in Golden Age is called Gold—distinguished from the in-game currency of coins used to buy and trade resources and other game mechanics. Gold can be exchanged for the Aeria Games cross-game microtransiaction currency Aeria Points (or AP). AP can be purchased for real-world money, and earned through raffles, contests, and in-gam events where Aeria Games give it away. For most, however, they’ll be purchasing it from the site and then exchanging it for Gold (and other goodies) into GA.
Like other MMORTS, Golden Age runs on boons that offer benefits such as faster production rates for resources, stat bonuses to marching armies, quicker recruitment of warriors, and quicker build times of buildings. None of this is anything new for the MMORTS genre and it’s something all of us have gotten used to. In fact, the ability to purchase these boost items for gold is written right into the interface.
Plenty of these boost and benefit cards are given out from expeditions and as quest rewards, so the game does a good job of whetting your appetite to purchase more (because there’s never enough of these things to keep playing.)
In fact, like most MMORTS, GA does a good job of limiting the time you can enhance yourself without using the item mall.
From the looks of it, Gold is a powerful game-driver and may in fact give some players a giant advantage over others (if they know how to use it right) but for the most part, many of the items bought for Gold allow extremely casual players to keep up with hardcore-never-sleep players.
Conclusion: Golden Age is a solid MMORTS, with a nice community, and a narrative-plot aspect
Playing Golden Age will probably attract the casual hour-a-day MMORTS crowd who want to jump into a game, set up a city, and find dominance amid a community. There’s already enough people in the game to trade resources with, there’s two servers, and on both of them a few alliances of players ready-and-willing to play the political game.
For those who don’t want to get full-force into the PvP, there’s actual narrative and storyline to be had by following the quests given out that act to start as a tutorial on how to play the game—but as they extent, it looks like they actually tell a story that would keep even the staunchest PvE player happy. In fact, the quests themselves require the same sort of thought and planning it takes to develop a strong PvP-protected city and garrisoned forces.
As a result, the game could be seen as a sort of expanded universe of the usual MMORTS genre to include a narrative storytelling concept that helps place the player in the midst of the plot.