Wartune is a Facebook game from R2 Games. It’s also available on the open Web. It describes itself as a free-to-play strategy MMO, and combines elements of role-playing games and lightweight social strategy titles. It has been heavily advertised through Facebook’s sidebar module in recent weeks.

In Wartune, players take on the role of a hero character, which may be of either gender and one of three different classes. The classes determine which abilities the player will have access to in combat, while gender is largely an aesthetic choice. The artwork is drawn in a rather clichéd fantasy style, with an obvious focus on appealing to male players — the female mage character is clad in little more than a bra, thong, stockings and suspenders, for example. The artwork itself throughout the game is well-drawn — it’s the content that some may find offputting. (As an aside, World of Warcraft developer Blizzard Entertainment may also be somewhat perturbed to note the presence of a race of bull-like creatures known as “Tauren” whose artwork bears an uncanny resemblance to the race of the same name in the popular MMORPG.)

Once into the game, the player is thrown straight into some quests which act as an initial tutorial. Players are introduced to exploring the world and engaging in combat. Exploration unfolds from an isometric perspective, with the player clicking where they would like their character to run to. Clicking on an enemy engages them in combat, which switches to a separate side-view combat screen. Here, the player and enemy characters take it in turns to automatically attack one another until one or the other’s hit points have been depleted, though the player also has the option of using skills they have acquired, which usually have more powerful or special effects than their regular attack. As the player progresses through the game, they will be able to recruit additional troops into their party, who will attack on autopilot.

After the initial exploration and combat quests are concluded, the player arrives at a town and are immediately tasked with taking over its leadership. In this component of the game, the player builds up the town with collected resources and currency, trains new troops to add to their personal retinue, and aims to make the ruined kingdom prosperous again. Gameplay in this section is very similar to that seen in the many self-professed “hardcore” strategy titles on the social network, such as those from Kabam and Digital Chocolate. Like those games, Wartune also doesn’t do a particularly good job of explaining things, often simply tasking the player with performing various tasks without telling them why it might be a good idea to, say, upgrade their cottages. It’s also not clear how, for example, hiring 900 troops equates to having two additional party members in battle sequences.

Despite these niggling little flaws and a distinctly “late ’90s PC game” aesthetic, Wartune actually isn’t a bad game. The blend of isometric-perspective role-playing exploration and combat works well alongside the citybuilding mechanics, and it’s a nice change from the abstraction and rather hands-off nature of most social strategy games.

Where the game falls down a bit is in the way it presents itself to players. The late ’90s visuals aren’t particularly offensive to the eye in themselves (character designs aside) and the close-up portraits of characters are well-drawn, but the interface is ugly and does not scale well to the Facebook canvas at certain window sizes — text often flows off the bottom of the screen, for example, and there does not appear to be a full-screen mode to mitigate this problem. By far the worst issue with the interface, however, is the number of sparkling, glowing and otherwise attention-grabbing components designed in most cases to part the player with their money. On any one screen, you’ll see sparkling, flashing buttons to “recharge” hard currency, participate in events, earn bonuses, exchange items for better ones and various other things. It looks cheap and tacky and it distracts significantly from the level of immersion the game is seemingly going for.

In terms of social features, there is a real-time chat facility in the corner of the room. Players may also make use of special “bullhorn” items to broadcast a message with an obtrusive popup in the top-middle of other players’ screens. During testing, this thankfully didn’t seem to be overused by others and will probably be quite useful when recruiting members for guilds and the like, but the few people who did use it didn’t seem to be saying much more than “hi.”

Besides real-time chat, players may also add each other to an in-game friends list which is not dependent on them being Facebook friends with one another, and join guilds to cooperate on various tasks. The game also features leaderboards tracking which players and guilds are most powerful. There is also an asynchronous player vs player component whereby the player may go out onto the persistent world map and attack other players’ cities — when they choose to do this, they enter into a battle against the enemy player’s hero character and any troops they have in their party. These battles are often significantly more difficult than those encountered in the game’s “campaign” mode.

The game monetizes through two main ways: firstly, the hard currency of Balens may be purchased using Facebook Credits, and may be used to accelerate cooldowns on building timers or purchase premium items from the in-game shop, which does not become available until the player reaches experience level 10. Secondly, there is a “VIP” scheme whereby players may purchase a membership to the game for a variety of additional benefits, including increased rewards for completing quests, regular gift packs and numerous other benefits including the ability to bypass the cooldown timers when building their city.

On the whole, Wartune is actually a pretty good game — it just feels rather “cheap.” Those who can get past the dated aesthetic, weirdly inconsistent music (dramatic orchestral themes one moment, wailing electric guitars the next) and all the sparkly, flashing popups that clutter up the game screen will find a surprisingly satisfying experience underneath. It may not be the most polished game in the world, but in gameplay terms it’s certainly a good degree better than a lot of other rival titles on the social network and has a ton of content for players to explore in the long term, and is thus well worth a look.

Its aesthetic may look dated and its interface may be overly-cluttered, but underneath all that there’s a surprisingly good game here.

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