Elvenar is a free-to-play MMO that runs on practically any PC and any web browser. Players chose between the magically-endowed Elves or the battle-superior Humans to start their settlements, amass their armies, and grow their empires.
When it comes to typical city-building strategy games, Elvenar shakes things up with turn-based tactical combat, vast exploration of other provinces, and unique additions to resource building.
Upon starting the game, Elvenar’s introduction is very straightforward and features a well-designed tutorial similar to that of Legends of Honor. Within minutes, I was designing my village, attracting more settlers, and producing resources.
One way Elvenar differs from other carbon copies in this overpopulated genre is the addition of cultural elements to settlements. Culture buildings and edifices make your villagers happy, increase their productivity, and allow for upgrades to existing structures. This was a nice touch by the developers, as it made resource building both more complex and (if done properly) more efficient.
Overall, the game was so straightforward at the beginning that I worried it would be a little too simple, especially as it quickly descended into the typical construct buildings, produce resources, build bigger buildings, produce more resources, rinse, repeat loop. Then, it introduced the exploration aspect.
The world map is huge and filled with undiscovered provinces. To discover an area, players must send a scout to either negotiate for the land (costs gold) or fight for it. Now, I’m a little feisty when it comes to gaming and was a tad disappointed when the game insisted I negotiate the first few encounters, no matter how many times I clicked that fight button.
Whether you chose to negotiate or fight, once an area has been uncovered, the player obtains a relic. Relics can be used to boost production or unlock other bonuses in the game. Once all the relics from a particular province have been acquired, players can expand their settlement into the newly discovered territory and further grow their empire.
The Tech Tree
The tech tree allows players to further upgrade their settlements. Various branches of the tree are unlocked through Knowledge Points. Players gain Knowledge Points by exploring and collecting relics from other provinces.
Not all branches of the tech tree can be uncovered, so gamers must decide what works best for their style of play. For example, focusing points on the military-based branches creates a stronger army, whereas better buildings and factories allow for quicker expansion of your settlement.
Army Building and Battles
Elvenar employs a more hands-on combat system and turns away from the automated battle mechanics typically seen in this style of game. This is where Elvenar sets itself apart.
Human or elf, each faction has five different types of units, from melee based barbarians (mostly for attack damage) to priests and sorceresses (mostly for lowering enemy defenses). Gamers need to think ahead and utilize the strengths of each unit type to outsmart their opponent.
Much like Star Trek: Alien Domain, you are in control of the combat. As a player, I found it deeply engaging to control my units and where I attacked, and even had to consider short-term strategies to ensure victory. This is the area of the game where the more experienced gamer could be most entertained.
While the artwork felt a little rudimentary and not as detailed as some games, it was still pleasing to the eye, especially for a game that can run on nearly any graphics card (including integrated cards). Still, despite have a more than powerful enough computer and Internet connection, I found the game lagging and glitching in places — not enough to interfere with the actual gameplay, but still a bit on the annoying side.
The interface and design borders on brilliant. With bright visuals and clear direction, it somehow finds that perfect balance between being very straightforward for the newer gamer, but still entertaining for the experienced one. I was impressed.
At first, the music and sound effects created a nice ambiance in the game and even conveyed a certain charm. However, like other aspects of the game, the music quickly dissolved into a repetitive beat. Fortunately, the game has a mute button — and I used it.
Progression in Elvenar is similar to other Civilization-esque style games: develop your settlement, produce resources, and build armies to gain territory. Repeat the cycle to continue expanding, building, and conquering.
Once a player has the beginnings of a small empire, the game’s advancement nearly stagnates. When defeated, armies are slow to heal and rebuild. This can thwart any attempt at making progress for hours, even days. However, this can be great for casual gamers who prefer to check in once in a while and aren’t as interested in games that need constant attention.
Let’s be straight upfront here: it isn’t really PVP. While I could see other online players and their settlements, and even trade with them, battling is only against the game itself — not other players. The only interactive components include visiting other players’ settlements (mostly for inspiration on their city layouts) or trading resources through a Trader. There isn’t even a chat.
As a gamer who enjoys (virtually) mingling with others and battling against human foes, I was disappointed in this regard. But on the plus side, I didn’t have to worry about my settlement being destroyed by a complex-ridden eight-year-old while I was AFK.
Is it play to win?
Great question — and for Elvenar, it’s a complicated one. The game itself is Free 2 Play but the super-slow progression at higher levels can be sped up by purchasing Diamonds and other in-app bonuses. Some argue this makes the game Play 2 Win, but the more casual gamer may enjoy with the game’s leisurely evolution without the need to spend any IRL cash.
It is important to note that many of Elvenar’s long term players feel that recent expansions, changes, and upgrades to the game have made it nearly impossible for players to advance without their credit card taking a hit. For the action-hungry gamer who wants quick progression, the higher levels are where the game might lose flavor unless you’re interested in dishing out a chunk of your paycheck for more (I wasn’t).
At the beginning of the game, I was reminded of Virtual Villagers. There was lots to do and I was constantly redirecting my people to different tasks to keep my village and resources growing. As time passed, however, my settlement started to run on its own and needed less input from me.
With its clear walkthrough introduction, well-designed interface, and pleasing-to-the-eye graphics, Elvenar may be ideal for a newer MMO gamer to test the waters and learn how this style of game works. Since it requires only minimal interaction at higher levels, it could serve as a great filler between other games. For the more experienced player, it is ideal for those who find themselves strapped for time and unable to dedicate the endless hours that similar games of the genre require.