Build cities in colourful fantasy world! Elvenar is a free-to-play MMO browser game, the latest from the InnoGames studios, known from titles such as the extremely popular Tribal Wars, or the continuation (Tribal Wars 2) released a few months ago. Player starts with a small, insignificant village and has the chance to develop it into an enormous, prosperous kingdom. The title combines key elements known from other genres (such as RTS or RPG games), and thanks to the graphic design has a fairytale-like feel to it.
As with most games from this genre, a player starts the journey with a small village consisting of only a few buildings, and has the opportunity to transform it into a prosperous, peaceful (as, at the current stage of the game development, the game does not allow any hostile interactions between players) kingdom. At the beginning player has access to only a very limited construction space, but there are no means of expansion (like capturing new villages, planets or islands) like, for instance, in the previously mentioned Tribal Wars, or OGame. That does not mean that player will be forever restricted to the small terrain around the castle – those can be easily expanded, even at the beginning of the game.
After creating an account (and selecting a race – there are two, elves and humans, but the differences are almost purely cosmetic), some of players may have a problem with understanding the game – the gameplay interface is full of various indicators, and the construction menu is divided into categories, which, especially at the beginning, might be unclear. However, just like with any F2P browser game, Elvenar won’t leave the player without help, offering an easy, although completely sufficient tutorial explaining most of the in-game mechanics and buildings work, as well as containing useful tips about the gameplay. Over time, the tutorial changes into a series of quests given to the player by various characters – completing them awards the player lavishly (the whole system resembles the one, that can be found in the last game of the studio, Tribal Wars 2).
The economy is surprisingly simple, as it is based on two resources (Coins and Supplies), which are used to construct buildings, or to manufacture other goods, but it is at the same time an interesting solution, as there is no “fragmentation” of significance of some resources, which can be found, for instance, in Anno Online, where the player has access to over 50 different types of goods – it leads to silly situations, in which you have plenty of most of them, but lacking a single one can place the development of the whole settlement on hold. This doesn’t mean that there are only Coins and Supplies in the game – there are other Goods (such as steel, silk, or magic dust), which are used to complete special objectives, called Encounters. Additionally, there are also Relics (given to the player in turn for completing the mentioned Encounters), which can be used in order to boost the effectiveness of certain buildings.
As mentioned earlier, player has the ability to increase the size of the starting settlement. There are three ways in order to do so: spending Crystals (a premium currency, which must be bought for real money), researching an appropriate technology, or by seizing control over provinces, by completing Encounters. Those are simply mini-quests, possible to complete in two ways: paying a tribute (Coins, Supplies and an additional resource), or by defeating the army that guards the terrain on which the Encounter takes place. In return player clears the Encounter and gains a Relic and a knowledge point. Each province is divided into 8 such Encounters – when all are clear, the province is “captured” by the player. But it’s not that easy as the province must be first discovered by sending a scout there, and then you can start completing Encounters – at first the costs of sending a scout are minimal but they quickly grow to enormous amounts, and the player has to decide whether to use those resources to scout a new area, or to use them to construct a new building – there are numerous hard decisions, especially at the beginning of the game, to make.
A few words about the process of building construction. There are numerous buildings in the game, divided into groups, depending on their function (increasing the population of the settlement, generating basic resources, or hiring soldiers). Fortunately, unlike the previously mentioned Anno Online, you won’t be given several identical buildings, with the same purpose (such as Coin generation) – instead, aside from cultural buildings, each resource or good is produced by a single, unique building. In return each of those can be upgraded multiple times, and each of such improvements increases the overall effectiveness of the building (i.e. increasing the amount of people a Residence can host).
The previously mentioned culture is an important function as well. It can be raised mainly by constructing buildings from the Culture tab, or by upgrading some of the “normal” buildings, and it influences the overall effectiveness of the whole settlement. By constructing the buildings from that tab, the culture increases and “levels” up from time to time – each level increases the percentage of influence on the production of all the goods in the settlement. Those boosts are enormous (with a little bit of work and resources, you will be able to increase the productivity by half!), meaning that sometimes it's worth to just increase it instead of raising new production buildings. A word about technology – you can research new units, buildings, as well as increase the effectiveness of the existing ones (the whole tech tree resembles the one that can be found in the Civilization series). There are dozens of different things to unlock, and the whole process is done by spending knowledge points acquired hourly by purchasing it for Coins, or by completing Encounters.
Army is equally important. Hiring soldiers may seem to be pointless, because of the fact that (at the current stage of the game development) you can't fight with other players, but the army is enormously helpful when dealing with Encounters – a great deal of them requires you to pay a huge contribute to complete them without using force, and the problem can be solved without spending anything (aside from rebuilding army, but that process isn't costly) with your army, sending it to defeat the army protecting the given Encounter. At the moment, there are only 5 types of units for each race (and twice as many neutral types, protecting Encounters), but they differ greatly from one another. Each unit represents a different type (such as melee units, or shooters), meaning that it will do well against some types of enemies, while getting utterly defeated by another one. Some units have special abilities, such as weakening attack, decreasing the attack power of target – thanks to that, encounters are quite complex.
Combat system greatly resembles that known from the Heroes of Might & Magic franchise (or the browser installment of the game, Might & Magic Heroes Online). As soon as the encounter starts, the player is transferred to a battlefield, divided into fields (known as hexes), and units from both camps are set on the opposite sides of the arena. Encounters use turn-based combat system, and the order of unit movement depends on their Initiative stat (the higher the stat, the quicker it will be able to act). Encounter ends when one of the armies gets defeated, or if the player surrenders and runs from the battlefield. Battles can be automated, but the player will lose a lot more units this way – it is advised to complete them manually and plan your every move in advance.
Player interactions, given the fact that it's a game at an early state of development (beta), are few and are limited to trade, sending private messages, as well as providing assistance to your neighbors (the whole process resembles the one, that can be found, for instance, in the Farmville browser game – a player visiting your settlement can increase the effectiveness of your builders for a short while). As with any free-to-play browser game, the title allows the player to use real money to make the game a little easier. Fortunately, the system resembles the one found in Tribal Wars, where players are unable to gain any significant advantage over those unwilling to pay, even if they waste enormous amounts of real money in the process. Diamond are mainly used to speed up the construction / recruitment process, so you can enjoy the game to the fullest without spending a penny.
If you are looking for a game, which does not force a player to spend insane amounts of real money in order to be “someone”, and a title that combines key elements of various genres, Elvenar is definitely for you – dozens, if not hundreds of hours of gameplay guaranteed.
Here's a couple of tips & tricks that may come in handy:
• Regardless of whether you are doing good, and you understand the game, complete quests – those offer enormous rewards, which will speed up your development.
• At the current state of the game development, you can't fight with other players – you don't have to worry about getting attacked in the middle of the night.
• Focus on upgrading the items for your main character, but don’t forget about your Partners – they can easily turn an encounter around, and a couple of levels of upgrades to their equipment won’t cost you anything at all.
• Try to complete Encounters with both diplomacy, as well as army – some of them are easier to complete with one method, while others will require you to pay insane tributes, while you will have no problem defeating the army protecting them.
• Don't waste Diamond to speed up construction, or to expand your territory – it's better to use them in order to unlock additional builders, so that you will be able to construct more buildings at the same time.