Better known as a robot-themed MMORTS, SteelWar Online is developed and published by POPPACE; it’s available on Facebook—and requires an account to be hooked to it—but from there that’s the only sign in required to play the game. It’s Flash-based and 2D with little to no sound and minimal animation; but the RTS elements are strong in its casual fare.

Players will be met with a science fiction motif and a strong strategy element (the MMORTS portion) and lots and lots of robots.

It has all the hallmarks of a Facebook Flash MMORTS game; but it doesn’t do a good job at capturing them—fortunately, it also doesn’t fall into the traps that many Facebook games do. It also contains events and bonus effects that involve competing against other players.

As someone who isn’t generally a casual gamer on Facebook, it’s important to understand that this is definitely a casual-styled MMORTS and it shows a bit of wear-and-tear because of it.

Sound and Graphics: Robots, lots of robots, and space, don’t forget the space

As a Facebook Flash game, SteelWar’s graphics are somewhat limited; but it tries its best to make the best of what it has. The characters are anime-esque (cartoony) and the units are built up like odd mecha from a similar style of science fiction big-robots fighting across space and time.

There are several screens that players will see a great deal of: maps where the “annals” or campaigns happen; the “base” where the players will gather and use resources (by upgrading buildings.) In the beginning, the first campaign map is essentially a dusty, lunar landscape replete with mesas the color of concrete and various buildings, landing strips, and roads denoting bases. As the game continues various robots appear on the landscape (attackable NPC units.)

The base starts with one large building in the center, of obvious science fiction architecture, and as it gets upgraded more buildings appear around it. While their look doesn’t fit often with their function—just clicking on them will give their function and facility. Numbers appear on the buildings to identify their current upgrade level.

The only place that animations appear is during battle screens. They’re reminiscent of early JRPG combat where the player sees formations set up, and then watches the two sides stand there and animate at each other. Each attack is preceded with a motion by the attacker (who swishes a sword or raises their hands) and then bolts of light fly across the battlefield to splash onto the enemy. Sometimes animations leave auras on the characters. When a death happens there’s a small explosion or a breath of electricity and the unit vanishes.

Overall, the graphics are extremely minimal; but that’s forgivable for a Facebook game, we’re not setting the bar very high for games such as this.

SteelWar has limited to nonexistent sound so I won’t be addressing that in this section. Except that it’s a little disconcerting playing a game without any—even if it’s a Facebook Flash game.

Gameplay: Watch-robots-fight RTS game with strong JRPG elements

At the onset, SteelWar is an RTS game—although the real-time part is somewhat connected only to asynchronous interaction between the player and the game world and other players. It’s largely a game about developing a position in the game universe, gathering resources, and building up units.

Combat takes place by attacking an NPC unit on the map and that opens up the battle map. Battles occur without player interaction (we’ve seen this in games such as Pockie Ninja.) Players get to choose the formation, the characters/units that they place into their battle, outfit and equip them, but once the battle is on it’s time for the player to sit back and watch. Fortunately, there’s also very little risk for losing a battle—although it seems that this penalty might become more substantive after level 35.

In a way, this is a casual-styled RTS Facebook game with robots all over the place. The player’s advancement is resisted by the capability of gathering “crystals” and most of the game revolves around them. They’re used to buy equipment, train pilots, upgrade technology, upgrade buildings, and everything else. Aside from crystals, there’s a for-pay currency called “gold” that can be used to catapult the player through training, upgrades, and the like without the need for crystals.

Crystals can just be gathered by waiting, as gathering opens up over time and is updated by upgrading the base and its capabilities.

Unfortunately, while there’s certain elements of obsessive-compulsive gaming involved trying to access parts of the story and move on between the annals or jump to different parts of the galaxy (to access more of the game) it’s just not that fun watching the robots fight.

SteelWar is an MMO because it’s got a community bolted on by Facebook. Other players cannot be accessed directly through the game; but they’re there in a sort of PvP competition between one another. In the beginning it’s as subtle as looking for a resource type called “raw materials” and occupying regions that contain them—if another player occupies a plot I want, I got the chance to pit my robots against theirs and take it from them. Other players can also be “mailed” if you look at their colonies in adjoining regions.

Freemium: Time-saving microtransaction currency via purchased via Facebook’s credit system

As an RTS game, SteelWar works through a play-to-be-casual effect with a mechanism that make players wait for timers and resource delivery. The microtransaction currency can be used to help skip over these deliberate limitations.

150 gold can be bought for 50 FB Credits (at minimum) and 16800 gold can be bought for 4000 FB Credits as a 40% bulk discount. 50 FB Credits is about $5.00 USD, for 150 gold makes them about 3¢ each. In game there’s a multitude of uses for gold, such as making training go faster or more efficient. An extra training slot costs 200 gold (about $6.67 USD) which ideally only makes it faster to train more pilots at the same time.

This is an extremely common mechanism for casual-games that use Facebook for their primary audience.

Conclusion: Robots can certainly be the selling point for SteelWar

The proliferation of Facebook games that simply bolt-on community using the social media are going to be extremely common in the days to come. Interestingly, SteelWar doesn’t take advantage of people in the same way that games such as Farmville do and it presents an actual RTS game beneath its veneer as a social-Flash game. Importantly, it doesn’t spam me or my friends on my Facebook timeline every time I defeat an NPC, move to a new galaxy, or upgrade my base.

The narrative is oddly inaccessible (it’s there, and the characters do talk when I attack them; in fact the rookie training—read: tutorial—felt like something of a story telling me what was going on.) As a warning: Do not play this game with a screen resolution that’s build for hardcore gaming, the game does not scale well.

It’s a casual game.

So you’ll probably find yourself playing in 10-20 minute stints possibly during work (or afterwards for those with a work ethic) but it’s not going to hold attention for much time. Like every other casual-only game it punishes people who want to keep playing with forcing them to wait to progress.

As for a population, there’s plenty of people in the game and it has a huge expanse to move into. I couldn’t even scrape the surface of the total game. The galaxy had multiple nodes, there’s events going on all the time (that give gold and crystals) and a certain amount of that permits interaction between players. In fact, I believe that the game works to promote competition between players for the rewards.

If anything, it will make certain that players keep coming back day after day for their 30 minute breaks.