In premise (and even in name) this game seems similar to Age of Empires, an iconic game in the Real Time Strategy (RTS) genre. This game is all about building a formidable city – or several, if you so wish. This RTS bills itself as a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game from the off, again similar to AoE. However, Age of Sorcery does include, as its name suggests, elements of magic and gods divided between the factions of Holy and Dark.
When starting the game for the first time, the game offers you the option of choosing a Lord between the Holy and Dark factions, each of which offers four choices and then choosing the name of your Lord. This will be the name of your character and screen-name in-game. There is also the additional option of choosing to bind your profile with an e-mail address – this is not required, but in case you delete the game or your device is wiped will allow you to restore the account at a later date.
After this you are presented with a walled-in area which contains a castle and fountain. The fountain is a design feature and plays no role, whilst the castle is integral to the game. Outside the walls (specifically, the one furthest down on the screen) there are also two empty plots. At first I was a little unsure of what to do, but in the bottom right there is the option to bring up a menu, designed as a scroll-wheel. Scrolling to the very end allows you to select ‘help’ within which there is a tutorial. I found the tutorial to be helpful in that it tells the player the most effective things to do initially (under ‘develop your city’) and gives a good introduction to the game (under ‘about the game’ there is also a narrative explaining the game’s story). I am not sure why this is not more prominent – there are additional guides to later features too – but it does prove useful, without babying the player.
After this, however, is where it starts to show cracks. It is not that the game runs badly – in fact I have never experienced anything other than the game being smooth and fairly fast at loading the different screens. The problem I see is with the model it imposes for building and upgrading. Unlike AoE where I create villagers at the Town Centre to then send them out to work (which can get hectic with greater numbers) here production is automatically attributed to a building, increased at higher levels. However, building and upgrading requires long periods of waiting; at first, building a cottage takes about 30 seconds; now when I am upgrading to level 9 I will face a wait in excess of four hours! Add to that only two buildings and/or upgrades can run simultaneously and suddenly you have a game that you perhaps will not be spending much time on at a time.
For the purposes of this review, I have been playing this game for about a week and a half. I now only check the status of my city two or three times a day, and never for more than five minutes at a time. Whereas with AoE I could be playing for a couple of hours continuously, here I am putting just some 15-20 minutes in per day. Also, in the first few days I was not only facing longer and longer wait times, but the resources needed increased so I had to wait even longer waiting to get more resources; however, this I can accept as part of the strategy of city-building as I have now corrected for that by having two warehouses at much higher levels, increasing my city’s storage capacity, as well as upgrading my hourly resource-production. As an example of my current wait times, I now want to upgrade my Castle (which determines the city’s level as well) but it has taken me all day to meet the pre-requisites for this (certain buildings at certain levels, which in turn had their own pre-requisites) and I now fifteen minutes away from meeting these; the Castle can then be upgraded, which in itself will take a further 6.5 hours.
The key resources are gold, mithril and food. Food and mithril are produced in the plots outside the city walls. By choosing an empty plot you can select to build either a mithril ruin or a farm, and upgrading these improves production (measured hourly). Each upgrade of the castle introduces a new plot. Gold is produced by the cottages, which also provide you with your population (although I have yet to see its effect). However, the cottages also require upkeep in terms of food (people need to eat), so do not upgrade the cottage to early and quickly without having the farm’s food production to sustain it. Buildings require both gold and mithril, but often considerably more of the former; gold is also used towards the upkeep of military units, along with yet more food. Production versus upkeep rates can be seen by clicking the icon in the top left of the screen. Magic, produced as a daily rate by the castle, is only (so far as I have seen) used towards accelerating building and upgrade times; after I discovered this I expended almost all of my magic immediately, frustrated with the waiting times. I certainly recommend keeping some stocked up to make a few quick upgrades, especially where pre-requisites are concerned.
On the topic of the game experience, the controls are simple and work well whilst the music is alright but gets repetitive – which occurs after about 20 seconds. Even if playing for just five minutes at a time, what sounds like a 20 second loop of the same instrumental music is a drawback. The controls simply entail swiping to move the view around, with pinching controlling the zoom and, of course, tapping on the screen to perform actions. The game itself is in Beta at the moment, but, as mentioned, seems to run well; as part of the beta, the game is free to download and ad-supported (the advert is small and unobtrusive, and seems to disappear after a couple of minutes, which I find to be a good implementation of the ad-supported model); the dev-team has told me that the full release will be an update to the current version, meaning that Beta testers will effectively get it for free, whilst newcomers will be asked to pay (it seems like it will cost $3.99).
In the game, there are various buildings called ‘Shrines’ which can be built – including Shrines of Wind, Earth and Fire. Each of these three allows the recruiting (read: creation) of different types of units, which can be used to help you raid, conquer and defeat enemies and territories. The units are split into three classes – arcane, machine and human – each of which is split into mobile, ranged and melee. There is a helpful infographic in the Help section detailing which is effective against which. After building a small army, it can be put to good use by going to the world map (Menu >> World). From here, it is possible to conquer empty plots of land (upon which cities can be built, if your Lord is at least of level 3), attack other players’ cities or try to attack monsters marked on the map (or those which are guarding resources, and these resources offer stat boosts to your resource production). Note: to perform most of these functions it is essential to enable PvP (Menu >> Setting). Once enabled (disabled by default) this setting cannot be disabled and you will forever be a target for other players. Alternatively, by building an Academy, you can build alliances with other players – at a higher level for this building you can create even more.
For me, I felt it necessary to wait before enabling the PvP setting, afraid that my city would be mercilessly attacked by higher-level players as soon as I activated this aspect of the game. The main aim of this part of the game is to engage in ‘The War’. This is the war between the Holy and Dark factions – as represented on the map by their separation – but for the Beta is not an active part of the game. For now it seems you are restricted to battling it out within your own faction, which to me makes little sense – how is it good for the collective effort to defeat the other side to have in-fighting?
Attacking another player requires yet more waiting, though; the game tells you how long it will take to march there and a ‘report’ is created to keep you abreast of the situation. It makes for an experience which is still not totally engaging, but it improves the game. As a civilisation-builder alone the game is a bit hollow, but which game is not better when knowing you just sent your troops to slaughter the forces of another real-world player? It is just that much sweeter.
In all, the waiting times required are the bane of this game and in some ways limit interaction. However, the MMO model seems to work well and improves it as an overall experience, despite also falling victim to waiting times (although nothing in the range of building a level 6 castle, at least for attacking nearby players). I am torn between giving this game a 3 or a 4; on the one hand, it lacks any gripping or intense action, but on the other it is a game to learn and explore and managing resources (including your own real-word time) is a core part of the strategy required. For the reasons that I have liked learning the game, it runs very smoothly, the interface and graphics look good, the advert is unobtrusive, there seems to have been a clear design concept and that in general the game seems well thought-out, I will rate this game as 4 out of 5.
Age of Sorcery Screenshots
Version Under Review: 184.108.40.206
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Our Rating for Age of Sorcery