I’m sorry, Renations developers, I’m in a cruel and vindictive mood this evening. Before I actually review the game, I’m afraid I want to down my reviewing tools and examine the press release you sent over to Mana Pool, along with your kind offer of trial accounts in the Beta.
Best reading voice on. Ahem.
‘RENATIONS is a new free strategy game that introduces many new ideas for the genre. It features four playable factions, each one with unique traits, military units, buildings and research tree. In the game you will encounter many unique game mechanics such as siege weapons, rare resources, cooperative PVE instances, the ability to form treaties, the possibility to establish embassies in foreign nations and much more.
I’m going to have to stop there, I just can’t take this seriously at all. In what way are siege weapons, rare resources, PVE instancing or making treaties ‘new ideas for the genre’, exactly? I’d have described them as bog standard, bread-and-butter staples. People would complain if they weren’t there, in the same way they’d complain if you gave them mint choc chip ice cream with no choc chips and told them it was innovative.
Not convinced? Okay, go and play (in order) Medieval Total War, Hinterland, WORLD OF FREAKING WARCRAFT, Diplomacy (the original boardgame from last century, not even an internet version) and, I don’t know, Sword of the Stars 1. Not free to play, fair enough, I take your point. Now play bloody Evony. See? You’re wrong. There is nothing new here.
Okay, bile vented. I’ll skip the next equally risible paragraph for the crowning glory: -
”This is a game that has been missing in the genre, pushing the gamers and the genre into a new direction. RENATIONS contemporary theme together with its unique storyline unveils a whole new world for the gamer. As we now draw closer to the release of the beta we can with certainty say that we are looking forward to push the limit within browser-based strategy games” says lead programmer Rikard Wissing.
Now there’s an independent review. Look, marketing statements aside, this game is to limit-pushing what the Penny Farthing is to the world land speed record. We’re not talking close, here, people.
I can see from reading a bit about where Renations has come from that it’s a labour of love. It’s been created in the spare time of the four developers, all incidentally brothers. I’m afraid it shows, though – from the rather rough translation of the flavour text through to the minimalist graphics and interface, this has very little of originality to the game. It comes away looking like a cheap cash-in for what is clearly a booming part of the games industry.
This isn’t to say it’s not perfectly decent for what it is. I’ve already gone on record as saying I’m not really a fan of browser strategy, so you can take everything I say here with that particular salty grain. Enough of my time has been spent on them to spot the traditional elements, though, and they’re all here. A generic flavour of setting (e.g. ‘fantasy’, ‘classical empire’, ‘steampunk’) gives you the background, you plonk down your initial settlement and upgrade it, a process filled with progress bars which count down over hours. Then you gradually expand, merging with the local players into some kind of rough alliance, and do battle with whatever else is out there. Random wildlife mobs, usually.
This has all of this, and it all works. The progress bars seem on the slow side to me, as does the resource rate, but all the more time to chat with whoever else is in the game. It’s pretty cheerful right now, too, lots of new folk making friends (by which I mean noobs insulting each other). The artwork is good, cartoony and welcoming, and the interface seems perfectly straightforward to me. Nothing to complain about, really.
The flavour for Renations is future apocalypse, so your choice is from four different factions all with their own strengths and weaknesses (I chose the watery post-human sea-people). And the flavour text has some interesting ideas, like using giant mutant clams as resource stores. But it’s very uneven – I still recruit heroes from a tavern. A water future apocalypse tavern? Nope, just a tavern. The place ‘were heroes are born’, apparently. Upgrade it to spread it’s fame across the (ravaged and apocalyptic) Earth so that greater and more powerful heroes come to be recruited. Yes, that’s how great generals are discovered. Inside massive drinking halls. Build a boozer the size of the Antarctic and the next Alexander will head straight for it. It’s a form of natural magnetism, I believe.
But I’m getting grumpy over a well-established, if stupid, standard rule here. I should be getting grumpy about the plastic blandness of a game that as far as I can tell, after two days of dabbling with it on and off, advances the genre in no way whatsoever. I repeat, there’s nothing broken or wrong with it, but neither is there anything fresh or new. Your heroes level up, you level up your resource gatherers, you research new technologies, you grind instances, you scout for loot – this is utterly utterly formulaic stuff. Right down to the Free To Play model, which is particularly aggressive. It has the pitch that if you don’t spend money, you’re some kind of bitch. My first choice of heroes was between a useless protector, a weak protector and a mediocre protector. Guess which of these cost in-game currency points? Yes, and he’s not even an excellent protector or a cool lightning death protector. He’s mediocre. Wow, now I really want to part with my cash.
Combat’s okay, you get a nice bit of story with your fight. But the fight is totally without interaction beyond pressing start and letting the computer work everything out. If you’ve waited four days in advance to build up and train enough troops, you’ll win. If you haven’t, you won’t, and you’ll lose what you brought with you. As ever, I haven’t got into the multiplayer aspect, where the bulk of the action and strategy presumably is in these games. But that’s because even there, it comes down to who’s spent the most time and money before clicking on ‘attack’.
Look, this boils down to opinions, and I really don’t feel like I should be sticking the boot into a game whose genre I’m not fond of. I’m an unpaid hack reviewer, I have no interest in savaging something that will clearly rake in a bit of cash for the creators. Fair play to them, it’s a decent working game. All the same, my personal recommendation is that there are better ones out there that at least offer more polish and graphical pizazz for your time, Renations feels like a cynical marketing exercise to me. Apologies if I’m wrong, but I can’t see much evidence to the contrary in this Beta version – perhaps the release will have all this fixed. But I somehow doubt it.