Casual video games are hard to get right. Many have adopted the free-to-play model which, of course, invites the use of intrusive micro-transaction prompts. This year, several development teams have dipped their toes into the console space in the hopes of attracting another player base. While some fail to innovate, it’s always great to have one title that pushes all the right buttons.
Gems of War is a free-to-play puzzle and strategy game that uses a fantasy setting to articulate its RPG building blocks. Much like Puzzle Quest and Candy Crush before it, Gems of War gets players to match up three orbs of a particular colour to progress in each game. But, this title has so much more depth than that thanks to a healthy amount of content outside the main quest line.
Players are thrown into the fray quickly as a lonely adventurer, referred to as a Hero, in a land whose Kingdoms are overrun with evil creatures. Your starting point, the Kingdom of Broken Spire, is your first step towards liberating all 17 Kingdoms. With each location you’ll be accompanied by a fellow thrill-seeker fixed on freeing each Kingdom for their own means. At first, it’s a lot to take in, but Gems of War helps newcomers through the opening few levels quite well – consistently dropping hints to help you out.
In order to win battles, you’ll need Troops and your character can have up to three Troops in each battle. These creatures come in the form of cards with unique abilities that only activate with a fully charged mana bar. Each monster is restricted to a gem colour and can only activate their ability after a certain amount gems has been collected. Even though a Troop’s ability does not change, investing Souls into training them increases a variety of stats – including attack, health and armour.
There is an immediate sense of strategy every time you go into battle. While your main goal is to collect gems relevant to your troops, it can be equally important to whittle down the amount of gems specific to your opponent’s monsters. Successfully lining up four of the same coloured gem awards players an extra turn. Not only that, moving a gem into an intersecting cluster of similar gems triggers a Mana Surge – a more potent injection of mana for that particular monster.
Also, players will want to watch out for the skulls. Unlike the standard gems, lining up three skulls grants your first monster an attack separate from its ability. Lining up four skulls gives players an attack as well as an extra turn but, in these instances, any potential mana surge becomes a Critical Hit – dealing twice the amount of damage as a standard attack.
Despite a slow start, your rewards will start to build up. Even though it costs fifty gold worth of in-game currency to initiate a battle, the profits on offer far outweigh this small hindrance. Each Kingdom has its own set of game modes, from a Quest/Story mode to a series of tough Challenges. These often lead to more gold and Souls – the latter of which is used to level up your monsters. Your gold can be used to unlock more Kingdoms or buy chest keys that hold more troops to use in battle. Furthermore, there are several times when players select what type of gem to master – Earth, Fire, Water, Magic, Nature or Wind – increasing their chance of getting bonus mana during battle. In addition, you can receive powerful weapons for your Hero representing that particular gem type for even more strategy.
This satisfying rewards system is only bested by your Task bar. A list of four assignments, ranging from winning a certain number of battles to training a certain amount of soldiers, will be constantly updating throughout the game. Some are very simple, like changing your character’s costume, but the rewards are immense. However, the only downside is that each task’s progress isn’t cumulative. For instance, after completing a task requiring me to train troops 20 times, another appeared needing 25 troops – with my progress reset to zero.
Despite this small issue, the game’s single player is well complemented by a great multiplayer component. There’s lots of rewards to be had from joining a Guild, where fellow team members contribute gold to various tasks. Furthermore, for 10 gold, players can invade one another against each other’s troops for increased gold and Souls. You can also set your current group of troops to defend your chosen Kingdom from other players. The PvP aspect to Gems of War leaves little room for error, where not allowing friends to battle one another is the only downside. Upon defeat, players have the option for a counter-attack on the same player to re-gain lost gold as well as additional bonuses.
Make no mistake: there is stacks of content in Gems of War. One noticeable downside is that, even with a Treasure Map and Arena mode, it all gets quite repetitive. Liberating Kingdoms requires players to follow a series of copy and paste missions – all of which have an extremely passive plot containing only a few lines of text at a time. A nice addition would have been the inclusion of Kingdom Defence missions or a ‘choose-your-own path’ styled approach to each Kingdom’s quest line. Implementing new attacks for each monster to learn and replace their current ability would have also kept things interesting from a tactical perspective.
Nonetheless, Gems of War makes terrific use of the ‘Match-Three’ styled approach to casual gameplay. Its abundant amounts of rewards make the need for its micro-transactions far from a necessity. It’s one of the few mobile games to achieve a fantastic transition to the console space, making for one of the rough diamonds of 2015.
Deep, Addictive and Fun
Gems of War excels at bringing a solid mobile game to consoles and looks good doing it.