Do you remember when you could buy mobile games? You know, that thing we used to do where we paid once and just played the thing? Maybe you didn’t get another splash screen every ten minutes reminding you that you can buy more special coins that makes the game easier for half a second. Perhaps the developers were happy to just make a product and sell it, rather than whale fishing? Pepperidge Farm remembers, and I remember too. Sadly, those days are long gone, so I’ve had to put on my big girl pants and suck it up to review Empires and Puzzles.
Like so many others before it, Empires and Puzzles is a match three puzzle game, however it’s also got a lot of elements of the Collectible Card Game genre as well, with you collecting heroes of different rarity to battle more monsters or other players. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also got a base building and expansion section as well. I’m pretty sure Small Giant just Googled “what type of mobile games make money?” and combined the top three. They also added in Tai-Chi pandas to be certain about it.
With the mixture of genres, the game is actually pretty complex. You’ll spend a lot of your time managing resources to best upgrade your base with sources of food for your troops and iron to craft new buildings and battle items. You’ll also spend time collecting cards to get the best heroes. Your heroes can consume the cards of your crappier heroes to level up (you get XP, but your heroes don’t) and the stronger a hero is, the stronger attacks from their particular colour are. On top of this, each hero has a special skill, which could be a buff, a strong attack, or a healing function. You earn mana to cast these by matching gems and the matches will send a swathe of troops heading towards the monsters directly in front of them. You can also upgrade these troops with your cards to get even more power.
By now, you can probably see that there’s a lot of stuff going on all at the same time in Empires and Puzzles. If you were just thrown in at the deep end, I imagine it would be pretty overwhelming, but the game does a very good job of introducing you to features slowly, so you have time to take it all in. The downside to this is that the tutorial can take over an hour to get through, but when you’ve completed it, you’ll have a good grounding in what is quite an in-depth title.
As well as battling against computer-controlled opponents, you can also take on the teams of random other players. It’s not a live battle; it’s just a fight against a team of characters that a player has defined as their “defence” team. This mode is terribly implemented however, with little evidence of matchmaking. I found myself frequently going up against players who were two or three times my level, making any kind of chain of victories nigh-on impossible without forking out for microtransactions.
As you progress through the game, you’ll find the same issue with computer controlled opponents eventually. As monsters start to increase in power much quicker than your heroes, by the sixth or seventh batch of levels, you’ll find yourself up against monsters who will one-shot your characters and then after the defeat screen, the game will tell you that you might want to level up or summon more heroes, using a premium currency naturally. You could feasibly improve your team by playing the game, viewing an ad every 12 hours and taking advantage of a free summon every 24 hours, but the random nature of summoning and training up heroes means that it would likely take months to get anywhere. I found myself grinding earlier levels in the hope of rare drops that might boost my team. They didn’t come.
I did enjoy the game, but the lack of any real matchmaking and focus on prising my wallet open just can’t be overlooked. In its current state, with broken online, and an over-reliance on microtransactions, it’s not a great game, but it is a competent one and it is fun. Just be prepared to either pay or spend weeks replaying old levels until you’re powerful enough to move forward. I'm enjoying it enough to do the latter, but your mileage may vary.
Empires & Puzzles: RPG Quest (Reviewed on Android)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
A solid game which is quite fun to play, but like with so many freemium games, you will hit a paywall eventually. The online matchmaking system is atrocious and a pure pay-to-win feature but if you’re patient, the single player is quite fun, just don’t expect to progress quickly without hurting your bank balance.