There’s a sector of gaming many hardcore veterans such as myself refused to acknowledge for the longest time—the browser game. These games require no money, no installation, and all they want is a little bit of your time, and maybe a cash shop purchase or two if you really want to keep things humming along. I hate this model and the very idea that a few pixels can command a price tag, but as a strategy gamer, my genre is dying and I need to look elsewhere.
Enter 8Realms, a browser MMO strategy game of sorts. Like the revered Age of Empires series, you progress through a series of ages, expanding your territory, gathering resources, and challenging your neighbors in combat. Except the whole real time part of it of course!
A Quick Start
Managing your empire in the game is simple, as every city has a similar plot of land in size. What actually populates it depends on where you settle on the ridiculously large overworld map (more on that later.) So if there’s farmland, you can build a farm, if there are hills, you can build a quarry, etc. These provide a flat number of resources every hour over time, and those resources can then be spent on populating your barren ground. Everything from a library to a barracks to an oil refinery can be built on these lands, and since there are so many buildings to choose from, you must choose wisely.
Not only must you choose wisely for your resources and land availability, but for your populace. Each age has a set population of workers that can’t be expanded on until one of the later ages. Overworking your populace will tick them off, naturally, and slow productivity or even cause riots. So as you progress, you must attempt to specialize your cities to get the most out of their limitations.
Behold my empire! I'm a bit constrained at the moment as my population is capped, and the city centre takes a whopping 20 hours to upgrade. Can't exactly make a sandwich and come back on this one.
A Slow Finale
But once you get into the classical and feudal ages, things slow down tremendously. What used to take a few minutes to build is now a few hours, and if you want to upgrade your town hall a stage, that’ll set you back a good day or two. You can buy things from the cash shop to speed up or even instantly complete these timely tasks, but the game quickly evolves from a little quirky timesink into a ‘fire it up once a day, manage, shut off’ as things start taking far too long to keep a tab open for.
Combat itself is a little strange, as there is very little in-game to tell you how things resolves as you march armies around the map. Units have offensive and defensive strengths. Who strikes first? Does defense match up against offense to determine damage? Do ranged units get free attacks? Your guess is as good as mine, and none of it is depicted in-game whatsoever. Some wikis have shed light on these subjects, but a lot of it still remains completely in the dark, and as a result, frustrating.
With alliances and guilds present, and the overworld map packing some serious square mileage, the potential for grand strategy is there. I use the term ‘grand’ very generously though, as in the campaigns you wage in 8realms will take just as many as hours as it would to march and brawl back in the olden eras. Nevertheless, 8Realms is a fun little timewaster that quickly changes from time waster to waste of time if you want to see results quickly. The game may be free to play, but unless you pay, the amount of time you end up ‘playing’ is questionable.