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March 13, 2012
GDC 2012: Forge of Empires Preview

By Jason Van Horn

If you've ever played a browser-based MMO before, chances are you've probably played at least one game in the city/civilization building genre. The only thing that really changes from one game to the next is the time and place of the game: Asia, Medieval times, ancient Rome and World War II are but a few of the settings I've played a number of times. The one thing I haven't seen is an all-encompassing city building game that spans multiple generations or "ages" much like the Civilization series...or at least I hadn't until Forge of Empires.

Forge of Empires starts you off in the Stone Age with nothing more than the idea of a community and a few sparse buildings; you can build huts to increase your population, create different types of pottery to improve your resources, and make a monument in order to raise the happiness of your tribe. Like many games in the genre, you'll have some helpful advisors - who will give you quests (of a sort) - guiding you down a generalized path you need to walk in order to improve yourself and steadily grow in power.

Growth is accomplished in two main ways: war and research/development. In terms of war, after gathering enough troops together, you can scout neighboring areas and attempt to overthrow them using the strong power of your army. Once you've decided to go to war with someone, battles are presented as a large map featuring hexagonal tiles that you can move about on. For the most part moving around is based on positioning and staying outside of the enemy's reach while getting in to get your own attack off. The one exception is that some tiles are blanketed with things like trees, which can give your troops a defensive advantage if they're there during a fight. Troops also have a Paper, Rock, Scissor mentality to them as some troops have advantages over some and weaknesses to others. While you're limited to just spear throwers during the early portions of the game, you'll earn access to later units like warriors, soldiers who use slingshots, horse riders and more. If a unit takes damage during the course of a fight, they can heal up until they're back at full health, but if a unit is lost it's completely lost and you'll have to train some more.

The research/development portion of the game is much more in-depth, but it can take a long time to see the fruits of your labor. The progression of your community starts out in the Stone Age, which then transitions into the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Early Middle Age, High Middle Age and then finally Late Middle Age. You'll find a ton of projects to research, ranging from new ways to produce resources, house more citizens, and create new unit types. In order to learn a research project you must first spend the necessary amount of action points, which very slowly refill over a set amount of time. So if a building costs five points to research, you'll have to pay those up, or you can spend what you have, wait until time refreshes your point pool, and then pay the rest off later. Some research projects require more than just action points, as some require you to pay out so much money or so many resource points in order to fully finish it.

Money is easy to obtain in the game either through fighting a neighboring country or merely clicking on your civilization's housing whenever a gray crate appears above it. Gathering resources, however, takes forever and will often cause you to sit around for hours with nothing to do. You can do some fairly quick resource projects, but these don't give you a whole lot, so the best thing to do is go for the 8-hour or day projects in order to get a lot of resource points with little work. The problem is that if you accidentally forget or let too much time pass, the goods you built in order to gain resources will spoil and then you'll have to queue another project up and wait around yet again; also I'm not sure why something like pottery would necessarily spoil in the first place. Waiting around is a natural part of the city building genre of games, but in Forge of Empires getting anything done seems as if it does take quite a bit longer.

Unlike some other games in the genre where plots of land are already in place and you just have to spend money in order to build there, Forge of Empire's building system harkens back to the old SimCity games as you can't place structures about your plot of land without giving it any thought, as you must connect structures to your main base by using roads. So if you place a building in the farthest corner of the map and don't have any roads connecting to it, the structure will simply sit there waiting to be completed until you have managed to get a road attached.

Forge of Empires should be going into closed beta sometime relatively soon, so if you're looking for a new, more all-encompassing look at the growth of a civilization through the ages, Forge of Empires is one to keep an eye on.



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