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Freemium Field Test: Game of War Fire Age is even less exciting than its generic Kate Upton commercials

Andrew Hayward | Feb. 10, 2015
Free-to-play games often look appealing, but it's difficult to know at a glance whether the business model is insidious and fun ruining, or reasonable and worth pumping a few bucks into. With Freemium Field Test, we'll take a recent free-to-play iOS game, put it through its paces, and let you know if it's really worth your time (and money).

Tired of just building stuff? Your cartoonish hero and any trained troops can be sent out on quests — but all that means is tapping a button in a menu and waiting for a timer to tick down so you can collect a reward. Seriously. You don't even get a simple animation or filler dialogue: just a timer and some stats. This all continues on for hours and hours as you're prompted to build something new, take on more quests, and repeat ad nauseam. Your character and buildings grow more powerful, so it claims, but the game doesn't blossom into an interesting experience as a result. 

Where Fire Age seems to provide its pull for some is with alliances. Joining one lets you tap into a private chat room and combine resources for a greater cause. Some of the members in the alliance I joined were die-hards: discussing what to do about rivals that had "scouted" our locations, pointing out areas where we could go take resources from, and deciding the future course of the group. It felt like they were playing an entirely different game from me, because something had clearly grabbed them. They were invested, and with more than just money and time. 

Here and there, I'd see people being more personal with their conversations: talking about home life, military service, ailments, and more. There's a clear social hook to the alliances, and Fire Age has something of an MMO-lite feel to it. The game even translates written languages on the fly so worldwide players can all coexist on the same servers. Seeing people connect like that over a game that I found so banal and half-hearted challenged me to rethink the value of freemium titles like this... 

The catch 

...But only to a small extent, admittedly. I can understand the appeal for certain folks, but I still think the biggest catch is that Fire Age tries to convince players that an eventual "point" will emerge when there really is none. You're amassing power and resources, but to what end? Where's the motivation? And why would I spend money if still I don't see an objective after two weeks of steady play?

Of course, you'll have plenty of opportunities to invest real cash: Game of War may be the most aggressively monetized free-to-play game I've ever played. Each session begins with a full-screen splash ad that tempts you to buy into some limited-time promotional bundle: $5 or $20 gets you a stack of gold and a slew of other resources and items that you can use to speed up timers or enhance your alliance. In one recurring case, the "X" to close the ad was obscured by its graphical design. I don't believe it was a coincidence. 


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