So I fell into this game hard. Bloody YouTube ads got me when they showed a trailer of thousands of soldiers throwing themselves fruitlessly at castle walls while defenders rained down arrows and stones on their assailants. Having been beaten back, the defenders charged out from beyond their walls and killed the remaining attackers. Defeating a larger force with superior tactics and skills is one of my weaknesses, so I downloaded the game to try it myself. (Incidentally the trailer was slightly misleading, but not so much that I quit in outrage. There was just enough truth to it that I stuck around, and that was my first mistake.)
As is often the case, there was a lot to take in. With about a dozen buttons on the UI (many of which had sub-menus and tabs), I didn’t really know what I was doing. Playing for a few days helped me figure it all out, but I also did a fair bit of googling to help me get my head around it. To save you the trouble, the basic premise is this: collect resources, construct (and level up) buildings, perform research for more efficient resource gathering/combat, build defences for your castle, and train soldiers for your army.
Your army is used for combat, utilising a rock-paper-scissors mechanic: infantry beats archers, archers beat cavalry, cavalry beats infantry. (Tactially that’s bullshit by the way, it should definitely go the other way around, but it is what it is.) In terms of who to attack, you have two choices: the environment (called Darknests on the map), or other players (for the off chance they have so many resources they can’t store them all. Or if you’re just the type to attack a stranger for the joy of it).
I wasn’t much for attacking others, provoked or otherwise. I found it terribly disheartening to wake up and see everything on fire, and spending all of my remaining resources healing my wounded soldiers before they could eventually resume normal gathering activities. It is a pain I not wish to inflict on anyone else. I quickly learned to shelter my troops overnight instead of sending them out gathering, so that at least they wouldn’t end up in the infirmary.
Unfortunately, PvP is a cornerstone of the game. Joining a guild is quite compulsory (you need about a dozen guildmates to take down even the weakest Darknest), and the average age of my guildmates seemed to be about 16. I was not particularly enjoying the conversation with my peers, and we had pretty different values due to the difference in our life stages. Furthermore, my more bellicose guildmates would often invite conflict to all of us: someone would attack a member of another guild (or vice versa), and then there will be retaliation, and then war would be declared, and everyone from my guild would attack everyone from their guild for several hours until one side had too few soldiers to continue fighting and they’d surrender. (And often the attacker wouldn’t capitulate and would continue razing villages to the ground.) It was a violent system that the game quite encouraged. This was especially obvious with the design of Wonders on the map (which boosted the stats of whichever guild possessed them, and awarded special titles and rights to that guild leader), and having events where guilds and kingdoms were rewarded for battling. I eventually realised that the game is designed so that eventually PvP is the endgoal, and building up one’s turf, heroes, and level is just a means to that end.
But I didn’t know this when I joined – I was just chasing that sweet feeling of watching NPC’s throw themselves fruitlessly against my walls. The first few hours of gameplay were dizzyingly generous, and at low levels there were almost zero wait-times. There were so many things to do, and so many resources to do them with. But as I eased into the intermediate levels (Castle Level 10 out of 25, or Player Level 25/60) the waits become longer. An hour here, three hours there, eight hours for the big upgrades… But by that time the hooks were in, and would happily organise my construction so the long ones would happen overnight, and I could fully maximise my productivity.
And that’s where things began to get out of hand for me. At almost every hour of the day, I’d log in to make sure I was taking every action possible. I rarely let more than a few minutes slide without making sure I was building/researching/training soldiers/collecting resources/doing admin, guild and VIP quests/using stamina to play hero levels/using energy to hunt monsters/collecting the treasure chests that are awarded every few minutes. There were so many things to wait for, I’d find myself just staring at my phone watching a counter click slowly towards zero so I could take the next action. (I probably spent over an hour in total staring at the screen without actually clicking anything, just watching the timer count down). Whenever I woke up at night, I’d roll over, grab my phone, and assign tasks to everyone so that I was “making the most of my time”, and this would wake me up so much that I would rarely get back to sleep.
According to my phone, I played it for an average of three hours a day over the past few weeks. That’s around 42 hours. I’m horrified by how much else I could have done in that time. But to be fair, it was super fun at first, and it only become drearisome as I had to invest more and more time for the same level of enjoyment. It’s classic addiction, and as the drip-feed of serotonin slowed down, I was willing to do more and more for my next hit. So that was terrifying.
I quit my guild and uninstalled the game this afternoon. Annoyingly, the devs don’t technically delete accounts, but I spent half an hour on the livechat giving them huge amounts of information (When did I download the game? Did I buy anything? What was the date and receipt number?) before being told they’d investigate my case and get back to me within three days. It really does seem like they’re making it hard for people to undo their progress, making it inconvenient to commit to quitting. I imagine for many addicts, knowing they can reinstall the app any time and jump back into it will be a difficult struggle.
I loved this game, but it was ruining my life so my scoring is complicated.
If you’d asked me during the first week, I would have given it 8/10.
If you’d asked me during the second week, I’d have given it 4/10.
If there were to be a third week, I’m sure I would have scored it 2/10 or lower.
Maybe for people with less addictive personalities than me would find it more satisfying, but in the end I’m grateful to have realised early that it was playing me more than I was playing it. Would not recommend.