You would be forgiven for not having heard of Travian. Successfully launched in September 2004, there’s a high chance that some of you were simply too young, or too distracted by World of Warcraft, to notice the arrival of a browser based, massively multiplayer, online strategy game. Fast-forward 14 years, and not only is Travian very much alive and well, but celebrating another birthday with a special server, known as Path to Pandora.
Strategy games with any significant level of depth aren’t under the gaze of publishers nowadays, and despite the rise in the free-to-play model, the most you can hope for is disposable gameplay that places money spent at the forefront of design, instead of creating a playing field where thought, and to state the obvious - strategy - are the cornerstones. As someone who has feverishly played strategy games since the very first Command and Conquer back in 1995 (I’m showing my age now), and who regularly dives into titles such as Chaos Reborn and Solium Infernum, it’s a sorry state of affairs when you need to reach for indie titles to find diamonds in the genre.
While Travian Games are far from an indie outfit (they’ve over 250 employees across their studios and subsidiaries), there’s no mistaking that by modern standards, Travian has all the hallmarks of a game that has chosen to buck commercial accessibility in favor of ensuring there’s an incredible amount of depth. Travian has a steep learning curve and, despite a robust tutorial, can be intimidating; this is no Clash of Clans. Perhaps such an approach might instantly make a player cautious, but for hardened strategy fans, or for anyone seeking depth greater than a puddle, it should be applauded.
I’ll freely admit that in my first foray into Travian, I spent a great deal of time reading up on the theory, chatting to the community, and achieving very little. In fact, I probably squandered half a dozen hours accomplishing absolutely nothing. With five tribes to choose from, ranging from Gauls to Huns, all with unique aesthetics and strengths, it’s not an easy decision. Having eventually settled on the Egyptians over the Teutons (I much prefer their structures and early-game), I finally found my bearings and started over.
When just starting out, you won't have much of a settlement.
Unless you’ve played it, Travian is hard to describe. With a 2D art-style that has been completely overhauled thanks to Path to Pandora (honestly, the artwork is fab), the viewpoint is layered from the top down. The map is static, and you change locations through the use of menus, with the centre of the screen acting as the anchor point. The surrounding UI is used to navigate the game world and its map, issue orders to your troops and citizens, command your armies and read reports on your heroes’ adventures. While that might not sound overly exciting, it all blends together to become an enticing warren of choices.
What sets Travian apart, besides the fact it’s a browser-based game that’s over 14 years old, is that time plays an important factor. Everything has a time value, and while this can be shortened through the use of the in-game currency (don’t panic, this isn’t pay-to-win), juggling time is fundamental to your expansion. Travian is all about stretching your tribe far and wide, but starting out in a small settlement, so managing the time-constraints of building construction, harvesting and travel are important factors in facing off against other players.
To digress a little, I wanted to touch back on two subjects: art and gold. I briefly mentioned both, but both deserve greater praise. It might seem like a small thing, but the addition of tribe specific buildings makes a large difference to the game. Seeing unique structures adds far greater immersion, and a greater sense of pride in your tribe, especially when conquering territory. Not only that, but the 2D art really is exceptional. Certainly where the Egyptians are concerned, all the structures have a clean, crisp style that are deliciously detailed. The Cranny is a particular favorite, because despite its simplicity, it oozes atmosphere (I love the little glow coming from below).
The new building artwork looks fantastic.
As for gold, I suspect many might instantly look at a virtual currency in a free-to-play game and baulk at the idea, and yet it has to be said, it’s probably one of the fairest monetary systems I’ve encountered. Time is a premium in Travian, but obtaining it quickly isn’t game-breaking, and Travian at its heart doesn’t require you to sit at your desktop waiting for completion times. You might use some gold to complete construction immediately, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s really not going to do you much good against other players. That’s part of the charm of the game: it needs clear thought and patience, without you having to constantly sit staring at the browser.
I’ve regularly found myself logging in in a morning, setting out instructions for upgrades, logging off, before returning in the evening to see what’s occurring. Would splashing gold guarantee my success, or put me leagues ahead of those around me? Absolutely not. With gold prices being so cheap, and with silver (obtained adventures and trading) readily available - which can then be converted into gold - it’s a system that’s than fair. Fundamentally, having not yet spent a penny, I don’t feel burdened with arbitrarily long wait times. For the quality of the game on offer, and looking long-term, I’d treat gold purchases as I would any subscription.
I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of Travian, with still so much I’ve yet to do. For a free to play title however, I’m honestly shocked at the tactical opportunities presented, and that’s before I even invade a real player. While its pacing might not be to everyone's tastes (it being a browser based may also put people off), but there’s no doubting that it’s absolutely worth your time.
I’ve rarely been so impressed with a new game, and it’s also especially rare for me to go away and think about what I can do next when turning my PC off. If you’ve a strategic mind that’s looking for a long-term project, you needn't look much further. If you’ll excuse me, I need to work towards building my Marketplace.
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