Empire Online: or how not to build an empire (iOS)

As a fan of the iOS platform and after seeing some of the wonders that it can produce, games such as infinity blade, or Aralon, or even how well it can produce retro games like Sonic or the Zelda clone Across Age; I find myself disappointed today. I am disappointed in a game, that would surely seem like a smash hit, that has sadly fallen short of my humble expectations. I am, of course, speaking of Empire Online, a recent venture put out by developers lakoo. In a game that promised to be the next great iOS MMORPG, I have found nothing but sweet dreams gone bitter and sour.

While the game has it’s good points, the game sadly suffers from too many downsides for this game to be able to fulfill the lofty dreams of becoming the iPhone equivalent of WOW. Featuring some very nice retro sprite animation, this game starts out strong, but very quickly takes a turn for the worst very early on. One of the first things I found about this game to be really annoying was the charming looking sprites cover up some very lazy programing. To move around in the world, which is displayed in an equally annoying fashion via portrait mode, you simply tap where on the screen you would like to go, and your character draws a line between where he stands and where your finger rests. Once you let go the character walks up or down the screen as if he is wearing skis and cannot walk up hill as much as shuffle side to side up the hill. If you’ve ever been skiing, you surely know what I mean. If I hadn’t been recently playing a few different sprite based games that feature eight distinct sides depending on which direction the character is walking, I’d just chalk it up to the limitations of sprites, but this is more likely just a lazy coder thing. If anyone here has played old genesis games such as streets of rage or golden axe, you might also remember what I’m talking about. Lazy animations that can only turn left or right, even if they are walking up or down the screen, they only look to the one direction at a time. That might have been fine in the early 90’s when we didn’t know better, but this is 2011 now, it’s time to get off of our asses and code these sprites some nice looking backsides!

Going back a step, the other thing about this game that just makes the little vein in my forehead bulge, is the fact that I am playing this game in portrait mode on my iPhone. Why not landscape, the mode almost 95% of all games are played in, and why is this game on the iPhone, when it would find a more cozy fit on the iPad? In it’s current set up, the screen real- estate is very limited, and the sprites all jumble up on top of one another, making it damn near impossible to see clearly. I spend more time going around people and objects just to get a clear view of the landscape than I do actually enjoying it. Also, with no ability to zoom in on your character, or any other portion of the screen for that matter, it is very difficult for someone like my significant other, who suffers from poor eyesight, to figure out which character is hers at first glance.

Once you get into your first battle you begin to see just how buggy the controls can be. Trying to tap on really small enemies with large fingers like mine is a hassle in this game. While I see how and why they made the decision to run the battle system in this game the way they did, I’m still not sure that I believe in it. Once you tap on an enemy, or accidentally run into one behind a bush, you see the screen fade to a darker shade, almost black, and your character engages in battle with the enemy or enemies that are just floating about. To the outside world it looks as though you have stopped moving, and swords appear above your head. This is good because it makes people not want to stop and bug you with the in game chat feature. After you succeed in killing your 125th soul in this area alone, you collect your booty and move on. Just try to remember to sell off what you don’t need often because otherwise you will run out of space. You could buy more bags, but instead of that costing in game currency, it costs real money via in app purchases. This is something to be wary of, any game that goes out of its’ way to make a buck off of you by annoying you to no end by programing the number of things you are allowed to carry so low that you feel the need to part with money that should be going towards little Joey’s braces this month. Seriously, that kid has a smile that could ruin a party all on its own.

The social aspect of this game doesn’t seem to go very deep, and you can have people join your team though I don’t see why you should. They don’t seem to join you for battles, which would make sense if they did, and they don’t seem to share key items with you, so why bother? Plus if you decide to stand around and chatter, the keyboard suddenly takes up more than half of the gaming field. If they could figure out a way to do this on the iPad and have the world map zoom out and center on your characters location so you can look out for incoming creatures while you type this might not be so bad, but this is on the iPhone and it doesn’t work out so well.

I could go on and on about the other parts of this game and how awful it is, but I think it’s just time to put this old dog to bed. From it’s lazy graphics, to buggy controls, down to game mechanics that just don’t make sense I can not in good conscience recommend this game to anyone. I give this game a 4 out of 10.

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