At first glance, Armies of Magic looks like many other core social titles. After spending some time with it, however, it's clear that there are more genres blended together under its roof than initially thought. Playdom's strategy game starts like a standard city-builder, allowing players to gather resources, craft new buildings and arrange it all in wonderful ways. Then a farming element comes into play. Crops are planted, harvested and later used to gain experience and in-game currency. The experience points grant access to better units and buildings, and currency is used to build and buy items, troops and to pay for research.
Players can also access a world map that represents a linear path of questing and combat. This could be seen as a single-player campaign, something we'd normally find in a single-player game. To move further into the map and down the road toward glory, players participate in tower defense-style combat. The troops that were researched and paid for with farming are now placed onto a side-scrolling battlefield, but must be paid for through mining crystals during the battles.
First, miners are released onto the field to start gathering crystals. Next the troops are pushed out, hopefully in an order that will keep the battle flowing and deaths minimal. As more troops die, crystals are used to put more onto the battlefield. If a player doesn't use enough miners or enough troops things can be thrown off--and fast. It's an interesting take on side-scrolling tower defense, but also represents some cool twists in time-management. All of the different elements in the game must blend together in order for players to continue successfully.
Does Armies of Magic, and titles like it, represent a blending of genres that will become a new genre? Will each new title have to offer several different styles of play in order to keep up with the titles before it? Players might grow used to the variety in games like Armies of Magic, so it's possible that other games will be seen as one-trick ponies. In addition to that, social games, almost by default, include some sort of multiplayer or player versus player (PvP) combat. That said, you have several different variables that all could lead to a muddying of the social waters.
This is all part of a familiar cycle. Social games will become more complex as they grow in popularity. Players will become overwhelmed with games that offer too many different ways to connect, play and organize. Soon enough "old-school" titles will come out that only feature two or three systems, and players will rejoice the return to simpler times. Remember FarmVille? Ah, to return to the days of logging in for only a few clicks. The same cycle happens in almost every genre of gaming, but does Armies of Magic successfully blend all of these systems, or is it a confusing mess?
It flows well, mostly thanks to linear questlines and helpful popups we've come to expect from social titles. The first few hours in the game are spent figuring out how to balance building, farming, completing quests and tower defense strategies. Later, the game becomes much easier to understand, and the fun really picks up.
For some, that will be arranging their city, but for others, it might be attacking and completely owning real-life friends in battle. The game lets players add those friends through Facebook, or they can jump into battles with strangers using a matchmaking system. It will soon be possible to create custom battles as well. PvP will likely play a huge role in this game.
It will be interesting to see how developers keep up with the demand for multi-system, multi-genre games like Armies of Magic. As mentioned earlier, social development follows cycles of development like any other genre. How complex and multi-faceted will these game become before the audience looks for a return to more simplistic gameplay? It's possible that there is room for both. Then again, we've yet to see a first-person-shooter blended with a farming sim.
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Beau covers MMORPGs for Massively.com, enjoys blogging on his personal site and loves social and casual gaming. He has been exploring games since '99 and has no plans to stop. For Games.com News, he explores the world of hardcore Facebook and social games. You can join him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.