Over the past several weeks I’ve dabbled in a free to play MMOG other than EVE, Forge of Empires, a browser based Eurocentric historical progression city management game with dash of PvP produced by InnoGames out of Germany. EVE, being a patient mistress, didn’t mind delivering a knowing “Give her a go, I’ll be here when you return” wink.
Accordingly, I haven’t rushed things, instead logging into either game only as desire dictated. Initially, the appeal of novel won out and I found myself logging into FOE first, but over time old passions reasserted themselves and increasingly I’ve found myself logging into EVE first. Being obnoxiously self-reflective, this dalliance has me pondering what generates EVE’s long term appeal.
Time for a little compare and contrast, but first a caveat. Though a long term EVE player, I remain obstinately niche in that game. At the same time, I’ve only played FOE for month or so, meaning this piece won’t be a thorough review of either game but rather a meditation on my experience with their Dire niche differences. Additionally, much like my time in EVE, I’m a solish FOE player so robust FOE Guild vs Guild remains outside my experience. Finally, please be aware that as I’ll primarily be big picture musing, those in the know may observe a blithe disregard towards an undoubtedly numerous number of minute pedantic exceptions to my observations. Bludgeon me in the comments with them if you wish.
Forge of Empires keeps score. Each player (and guild) is assigned a score and rank based on buildings constructed, economic activity and battles won and those scores and ranks are proudly displayed for all to see. As one might expect, Inno’s automated game score algorithms tend to spur all its players towards similar efficient paths meaning googling info on how to thrive in FOE yields numerous tips towards increasing your score and bumping your rank. Meanwhile CCP’s EVE with its vaunted player produced ‘What to do in EVE’ career chart does no such thing. Over the short term I’ve found Inno’s ‘Here, assemble my puzzle’ approach pleasant. Over the long term I’ve found CCP’s ‘Don’t ask me, follow your own muse’ approach enduringly beguiling. If FOE has a robust counterpart to EVE’s proud “Playing the Wrong Way” contingent, I’ve not found it.
Like many games, Inno’s Forge of Empires has a tech tree one climbs to enable construction and use of better quality, more powerful buildings and combat units. EVE’s skill queue is CCP’s counterpart to this common mechanic though, rather than merely hiking up the power, EVE’s queue also (mostly?) opens up alternate gameplay opportunities. In this sense, the two mechanics are not apples to apples comparisons though the accumulation method underlying the two games’ progression mechanics are strikingly similar. In FOE you passively accumulate one Forge Point per hour to expend on tech improvements. In EVE you passively accumulate skill points as mapped out on your queue. EVE, being a considerate mistress, lets you plan out your Omega queue near a long as you wish and your Alpha queue for three or four days if you’re clever. FOE, being a demanding mistress, lets you accumulate 10 forge points before capping the bucket, meaning FOE makes you sign on at least three times a day if you don’t want precious Forge Points spilling all over the floor. I complained to EVE about it during one of my sporadic mid dalliance EVE sign ons and she clucked in agreement that such heavy-handed “You must log in multiple times, every day” was most unseemly.
Truth be told, FOE’s Forge Point “Mistress now schedules your life” impositions were not her most egregious irritation. No, that honor goes to FOE’s Treasure Hunt that presents you with increasingly valuable chests to open at increasingly distant windows. Chest 1) 5 minute wait, Chest 2) 15 minute wait, Chest 3) 1 hour wait, Chest 4) 4 hour wait, Chest 5) also a 4 hour wait and Chest 6) an 8 hour wait. As chest 5 and 6 are helpfully valuable, missing a prior window hurts since missed windows reset the Treasure Hunt to the original, not terribly valuable 5 minute chest. FOE explained that she generously gives a full hour after each countdown to open the next chest before resetting the entire hunt plus an entire 4 hours on the 5th chest while the 6th chest’s timing doesn’t particularly matter since it’s the last chest in the sequence and opening it returns you to the beginning just like a missed window reset would.
“Besides,” she continues, “you don’t have to engage in the hunt as microtransactions can hand you what you’re looking for.”
Failing to find this sales pitch convincing I retort, “No mechanic in EVE is this oppressively controlling. In addition, EVE doesn’t stand there waving a score card in my face advertising how my rank suffers because I don’t log in on Mistress FOE’s schedule. Mistress EVE lets me live my life and schedule my gaming around it while you . . . not so much.”
“You’re going to leave me without engaging in a single microtransaction,” stammers FOE.
“Don’t be melodramatic,” I reply. “I come to you after seven years of EVE. Impatience is not one of my gaming traits so badgering me about microtransaction shortcuts will do you no good. Mind you, I’ve had a good look at the neighborhood you’ve dropped me in and plenty of the neighbors are microtransacting their way into gold building advantage. I’m not your money making customer, I’m your money making customer’s content. We both know this. It’s the deal we’ve made.”
As of this writing, Forge of Empires is split up into 25 different national language servers. The US server I play on has over 450,000 active players split into 22 different worlds. My world contains some 19,000 active players. Access to each world is channeled through three ‘acquaintance circles’. There can be up to 80 players in your neighborhood circle. You can have up to 80 friends in your friendship circle while guilds, should you join one, also max out at 80 players. All totaled that 240 different people you can interact with at any one time though it’s usually much less since it’s rare to have any of the circles completely filled and any particular player can simultaneously be a friend, share a guild, and inhabit your neighborhood thereby gobbling up three slots.
“240 max?” asks EVE in horror.
“Yes,” I reply, “but that’s not the worst of it. FOE has an economy but there’s no cash, only primitive contract barter so in addition to limitations on who you can trade with, you have to uncover someone in that small group who not only wants your specific items but also holds surplus items you desire. On a good day you might complete four or five trades.”
“Oh sweetie, you mustn’t tell her about our single shard,” instructs EVE. “It’ll devastate her. Poor girl, how utterly humiliating.”
“Is it true that all of FOE is two dimensional space?” asks EVE.
“When there are dimensions, yes it’s all plain surface two dimensions,” I reply.
“When there are dimensions?” queries EVE.
“Correct,” I say. “For example, player cities in your neighborhood are locationless. They are neither near nor far. Rather, should you choose to attack a neighbor, your attacking forces and their defending forces appear on a randomized two dimensional map with each combatant lined up at opposite ends of that map. Combat then proceeds by turn as each side moves one unit at a time according to a pre-established and consistent sequence.”
“How are forces marshaled?” probes EVE.
“From the Army Management menu you shuffle your units in and out of the attacking and/or defending box. Once in the appropriate box, they appear on the randomized map when called to action.”
“So logistics consists of moving a unit in and out of a menu box?”
“Well you must first build a unit before you can deploy it and that requires constructing the building that supports that unit. In addition, when units first appear on the randomized map they’re just lined up ramshackle along opposite edges so each side’s first round is usually dedicated to forming up their forces into a coherent group though long range artillery units like catapults may just start plinking away.”
“I suppose that’s something,” EVE comments.
“It’s something alright,” I reply.
“Wait a minute,” EVE remarks suspiciously. “With a maximum of 240 other players to interact with how do fights between players ever even happen? The odds that you and a willing opponent would be logged in at the same time seem vanishingly small.”
“I knew you would ferret this out,” I sigh. “Defending forces are computer controlled meaning the attacked player always puts up a fight though that player doesn’t control their defense beyond assigning what forces will be marshaled for a defense.”
“If it’s always you versus a computer it doesn’t sound very PvPish,” EVE says skeptically.
“I did say FOE has but a ‘dash of PvP,’ so I believe I’m being accurate. Importantly, defeating defenders enables plundering their city for goods or coin so setting up a viable defense is worth the effort even though one doesn’t get to control that defense.”
“Are you going soft on me Dire?” asks EVE crinkling her lips in disdain.
“Oh my no,” I giggle. “FOE’s combat is decent as far as it goes. Losses on both sides are permanent, if small, and FOE’s combat AI is reasonably clever but I’ll be honest and declare that when it comes to PvP, FOE doesn’t hold a candle to you. Lacking internet enabled face to face immediacy, no one gets the combat shakes playing Forge of Empires.”
“I should hope not,” says EVE.
“You just gasped!” exclaims EVE.
“Indeed I did,” I reply. “This is the first time I’ve exited station in nearly a month and, though I’ve seen it before, CCP’s addition of twinkling runway lights and floating billboards outside NPC stations is gorgeous. You’re stunningly beautiful EVE and after looking at cartoon buildings for several weeks, getting back to you takes my breath away.”
“I’ll bet FOE doesn’t generate fansites like Eve Online Pictures,” EVE elaborates impishly.
“I’ll bet you’re right,” I reply.
“You hesitated!” cackles EVE.
“I surely did,” I say. “After a month of turn based combat I’m a little rusty and crashing an almost certainly camped lowsec gate with a month’s accumulated product in the hold has me double checking keyboard finger placement beforehand.”
“Get the shakes?” EVE needles.
“I’m not that rusty,” I reply. “But I won’t lie, if someone had managed to pop a shot at me pre-jump I probably would have soiled my pants.”
“Are you going to introduce me to this the Forge of Empires mistress of yours?” EVE asks.
“You’ll just murder her,” I reply.
“I know,” EVE replies with a giggle. “It would be such fun.”
In the distance, FOE’s face blanches.
“You’re not being fair,” complains FOE.
“How so?” I ask.
“You’re contrasting my free to play with EVE’s long term subscription play,” explains FOE.
“I can’t escape how I play EVE nor the seven years I’ve been there so I suppose your critique has merit. Still, it seems to me nearly every compare and contrast I’ve made applies to EVE’s recently introduced no cost Alpha accounts, at least until they top out.”
“Alphas top out?” asks FOE hopefully.
“Well Alpha’s don’t have to top out. They can no real money grind their way into Omega if they wish much like I’m trying to no microtransaction my way into a Great Building with you. It’s probably no more work for a late stage Alpha than I’m putting into this Great Building goal.”
“So you’re calling this last compare and contrast a draw,” says FOE with disappointment.
“I suppose so,” I reply. “If you want to bicker with EVE over superlatives we can invite her to join us. Ask her if you can play EVE on a smartphone. That may get under her skin.”
“She’ll probably just murder me,” says FOE pointing at the woman waving cheerily outside the cottage window.
“Yeah, she does that,” I say.
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