With the closed beta approaching XMMORPG were given the opportunity to dive into the turn-based MMO world of Ecol Tactics Online; but is it another shallow browser-based MMO or is this a game that could see the return of such a fabled genre?
It's not the greatest time in browser-based gaming, the industry has been flooded with mundane titles. Games that lack any real innovation and most of the time exist purely for the purpose of an overpriced micro-transaction system. So it's safe to say that I approached Ecol Tactics Online with a bit of skepticism. I've played a few of the titles from GamesCampus, such as 9Dragons and Asda 2, and although I enjoyed them both, I didn't really find them to be genre changing.
However, it took about 3 minutes for Ecol Tactics Online to change my opinion on browser-based gaming. The game doesn't waste any time showing it's strengths, presenting players with a lengthy introductory cut-scene displaying some of the highly detailed ability animations and introducing one of my favorite aspects of the game, the dialogue.
Outside of Runescape, I can't recall a browser experience that I actually felt had any effort placed into the story but Ecol Tactics Online approaches typical quest dialogue with a sarcastic twist. Not only does it manage to conjure vivid images for the story itself, but it does so without being so ridiculously epic that it's out of control. Even the typical approach to questing, killing certain monsters or speaking to certain NPCs, is revived thanks to the unique approach to dialogue. I've played several hours of Ecol Tactics Online and I've never skipped any of the dialogue or rushed through any of the quests. Individually they're an exciting experience, and collectively they manage to deliver an innovative approach to storytelling.
It doesn't really matter how great a story is, people won't play a game without any substance, but Ecol Tactics Online doesn't disappoint. The game revolves around a turn-based combat system, similar to games like Final Fantasy Tactics and the recently released Banner Saga Factions. Characters take turns in performing various actions, including movement, abilities and item usage. The depth of strategy is unparalleled thanks to the variety of enemies and the impressive selection of Mercenaries.
The depth is improved by a variety of unique mechanics such as Formations and location-based effects. Formations rely on a players skill and ability to get their Mercenaries into certain Formations on the battlefield. For example, 2 Archers in close proximity perform a duo-attack that results in a guaranteed critical hit. There's a good variety of these Formations and players will have to discover them through experience. Location based effects are similar to that of other turn-based games, players can deal extra damage by attacking from the rear or the side, and certain elements on the battlefield influence the game mechanics, such as water reducing movement range.
Every player begins with a Captain, a unique character that can switch between the different classes depending on the equipped weapon. However, as the game often places multiple enemies in your path, you'll have to hire extra Mercenaries to aid your cause. There a several types of Mercenaries, each of which have access to different abilities, skills and passive effects. Sadly you cannot currently edit a Mercenaries abilities or equipment, but they are different depending on the rank of that individual Mercenary; a system that offers enough variation for beta but with plenty of potential after launch.
Players unlock new Mercenaries via a randomized card system. There are 3 different boards of Mercenaries, General, Advanced and Special. Each board offers a different quality of Mercenaries, with the Special board being the most expensive, requiring premium currency but offering the best chance of returning a rare character. The other boards can be used with in-game currency, and the items required for the Special board can be collected from quests and other players. It has an almost addictive quality to it, urging the player to continue to spend in order to unlock more powerful companions. There isn't a huge choice in regards to spending gold so it works out really well.
Despite all its brilliance Ecol Tactics Online is hindered slightly with the micro-transaction system. Mercenaries can only level up with premium items, and although these can be earned in-game and traded with other players, it's quite often easier just to hire a new Mercenary. This removes the bond that players make with their characters, favoring specific Mercenaries after they get you out of a tight spot or hit that critical to complete the mission. However, this is not an issue GamesCampus are blind to as they have introduced daily rewards and other easy ways of obtaining premium items.
Ecol Tactics Online definitely has the potential to bring turn-based strategy gaming back to the forefront of the browser appeal. Although some flaws are apparent with the micro-transaction system, the efforts to reduce the impact it has on players is more than enough to keep free-to-play gamers interested. The closed beta begins on March 7th and if you're interested, you can grab a key on our MMO giveaway page.
GamesCampus also recently announced the release of the Founders Packages. These limited edition premium features offer a variety of incentives for players, including the opportunity to have your character immortalized in the game via a statue in the hall of fame.