Welcome back to Facebook Game Faceoff, where we pit two similar Facebook games against one another in a battle royale, decided by you, the players. This week, we have The Oregon Trail, Blue Fang and The Learning Company's social take on the classic educational adventure game, on one side of the Octagon. Standing defiantly in the other is The Pioneer Trail, Zynga's ambitious expansion to FrontierVille, one of its most popular Facebook games.
While many wouldn't be surprised, given recent events, The Pioneer Trail draws heavy ... inspiration from The Oregon Trail. (And yes, we're talking about more than just the name.) So, to be fair, let's compare the two games on their laurels.
First, let's see how each game handles life on "The Trail"--i.e. how do players advance through the game. Second, we'll compare the two games' dedication to deep social connections through team play, a feature both tout as fresh and new to Facebook games. Finally, each game will be sized up based on their replay value, since each they both have a finite ending of sorts. Ready ... Duel!
Hittin' the Dusty Trail
The Oregon Trail was one of the first games to laser focus social play onto smaller teams of four dedicated friends. Of course, most play is done alone, and Blue Fang didn't forget it. Players' trip down the Trail, is somewhat of a linear affair in how it's presented, but there are several branching paths for players to take that require a variety of materials. This and the number of maladies that can occur on the Trail make preparation vital in The Oregon Trail.
But there are also several mini games that players can partake in to earn more resources and tools like Hunting Vittles, a shooting mini game where players survive to collect meat. Generally speaking, there are more consequences to your choices in The Oregon Trail than most Facebook games. For instance, it's possible to fail to reach Oregon City (or now the Grand Canyon).
The Pioneer Trail, however, takes more of a constant, isometric action approach to the Trail, keeping in line with the original FrontierVille. However, unlike its competitor, players take more direct control of their party members, and use them for specific purposes. Each member of the player team interacts with the environment in the same way, but yield different results. This leads to unique outcomes like new resources, and Goals tailored to the use of your different roles.
The main character, however, has the ability to change how the future of the game plays out through story scrolls, or choices the player is presented with that could have (minor) implications down the line. Most gameplay is just as it is in the original, but with certain key differences, like giganterous social missions that require a number of friends to complete. There's also a large focus on the characters of the Trail, giving The Pioneer Trail a story of sorts.
You've Got a Friend in Me
The Oregon Trail was, again, seemingly the first social game that focused on friendships (and choosing said friends) that were a bit more meaningful. Each member in your Trail team can be replaced with your friends, who can then help you in their specific role asynchronously. The more your friends help you, the easier it will be for you on the Trail--this philosophy alone causes you to consider which friends should come along.
Everyone chooses a profession in the game for friends to hire them as, and these professions offer bonuses to your friends' parties. But the level of interaction in The Oregon Trail is deeper for another reason: Friends can and will pass each other on the trail, a sort of persistent part of the game where everyone can see where their friends are at. When you pass a friend, you can drop them a line with a ration or an antidote and leave them a message.
Zynga's answer to the call for deep social connections doesn't look terribly different from The Learning Company's. While friend lists quickly turn into teams on The Pioneer Trail, the individuals have somewhat of a deeper purpose albeit inspired. While friends provide bonuses to the team in The Oregon Trail, this game puts much more on your shoulders as a team member. Friends can not only visit their friends directly, the frequency at which they visit directly affects how quickly you reach Fort Courage (without paying).
Not only that, players can help out each others' friends Goals on the Trail, as if they're actually there (though, this too happens asynchronously). When a friend visits you on the Trail, you must activate their actions and pick up their spoils. So, if you're tackling a Goal that requires lots of Meat, you can ask your Hunter--played by a friend--to search more bushes, which have a higher chance of hiding wild animals and thus Meat. It's not as persistent among all friends, but arguably much deeper.
How Much to Ride Again?
The Oregon Trail is a finite path to victory, and if the story were more demanding, this would be the end of it. But this is a Facebook game, after all, so the show must go on ... for as long as possible. When players reach either Oregon City or the Grand Canyon, they have the choice to press on to the other before winter arrives, which immediately extends the gameplay. However, there is always the option to play through the game again, as most of the quests you find along the way require multiple playthroughs.
There's also the overall competition, how quickly your friends make it across the Trail and what they find. Not to mention there are achievements to keep track of and boast about. There are also plenty of parts to find for your Wagon, which is fully upgradable and customizable. And with the amount of branching paths this game offers with hidden quests along the way, there are plenty of reasons to play the game over and over. You did it in grade school, and this is only better.
This Frontier expansion-turned-full blown game offers a few reasons to keep playing the game, though not many. First are the Leaderboards, really. This persistent measure of your progress against your friends will be your inspiration to try harder and get that high score, no matter how many replays it takes. (At least in theory.) However, things like Hidden Missions and Story Scrolls are reasons to play through again as well.
Zynga also plans on adding more extensions to the Pioneer Trail storyline, though, which will inevitably extend the appeal of playing over again. A new team member will soon be revealed, as well, and we have a feeling it's going to be the Banker. This too should make replaying the game a good time, but Zynga will have to rely more heavily on its story than ever to keep this new content alive.
Both The Pioneer Trail and The Oregon Trail offer polished visuals and presentations as well as dynamic, more meaningfully social gameplay experiences. However, The Oregon Trail offers far more options and meaningful decisions. The concept of time in this game provides a certain weight to every choice you make, and requires far more smarts and planning than Zynga's outing. It makes for a more rewarding feeling each time you arrive at Oregon City, beating your best time or dodging certain dire conditions along the way. That and the game's numerous quests and achievements make a second playthrough slightly more attractive. And for all that, our vote goes to The Oregon Trail by Blue Fang as winner of this faceoff. But, this isn't about us (at least entirely). It's about what you, the players, think. So, let's leave the final decision on the victor is up to you:
The Oregon Trail or The Pioneer Trail?
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