Tobold's Blog
Sunday, December 22, 2013
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

MMORPGs frequently resemble each other in terms of gameplay, so that you'll hear that this or that game is a "WoW clone". But if you actually play those games one after the other, you'll notice lots of differences; for example the user interface is often different, even if it follows genre conventions. If you want to see *actual* cloned games, you need to look at Asian games. I recently got an advertisement from Perfect World Entertainment to try out Elemental Kingdoms. And as I kind of liked the game and started to look into it, I stumbled upon two other games: Lies of Astaroth from iFree Studio, and Elves Realm from eFun. Now I have no idea how these three companies are connected, but the three games are complete gameplay clones of each other. Basically it is exactly the same collectible card game with exactly the same user interface down to identical tips on the loading screen, but with three different sets of trading cards in different styles.

Both Lies of Astaroth and Elemental Kingdoms run on my iPad, and I tried both to see what they were about. LoA has more cutesy graphics, while EK has more of a high fantasy style. Cards names and images are different, and so are the maps and other images in the game. But apart from that graphical difference, the games clearly work on the same game engine, with every single UI element being exactly in the same position and doing exactly the same thing in those games. I couldn't check Elves Realm, as it apparently is only available in some Asian iTunes stores, and the Google Play version isn't compatible with my smart phone (presumably it needs an Android tablet). But as far as I could see from a YouTube video, it actually is exactly the same game with exactly the same cards and graphics as Lies of Astaroth.

Apart from the clone weirdness, I kind of like Elemental Kingdoms. A collectible card game consists of a deckbuilding part and a playing part. Both were equally important and challenging in Magic the Gathering, which I liked a lot. In Hearthstone the deckbuilding was much less important than the playing, and I couldn't warm up to that. In Elemental Kingdoms and the clones, deckbuilding is far more important than playing. In fact you can do most battles by pressing the prominent Autoplay button. But the deckbuilding is important, as you get very few cards in a deck, start with only 1 card in hand, and draw only 1 per round. While the random order in which you thus draw the cards can make a difference, it is extremely important to have built the best possible deck for the situation, especially if you want to beat the special conditions of the harder difficulties.

Other than that the games suffer from the same problem as every other collectible card game: It is kind of pay to win. Yes, you probably could get all cards from playing endlessly, but the temptation to spend money on boosters full of cards is great. But if you can live with that, Elemental Kingdoms is fun enough for a free to play mobile game. If you want to try it out, you can use my invitation code of 44vhwv (you enter that when you choose the name for your character).

I must give Hearthstone a try - I prefer the playing to the deck building.
I played Magic the Gathering a good bit in the 90's and I remember that playing was a very important aspect of the game. Collecting and building were also important but judging when it was best to use a key card or hold it was critical. Some deck types played more easily than others but there was still plenty of important play decisions to be made, especially outside of dueling.
See also Pirates: Tides of Fortune. And Stormfall: Age Of War. They're both FB games and they are in effect, the same game with a different background/graphics etc. But gameplay wise, there's no difference whatsoever.

I've been trying a few of these (not Hearthstone, not really into Blizzard anymore). And Elemental Kingdoms I'd like to... but I have neither Android or iOS on any device. It's a shame they don't have a Win8 or web app. Ah well. Their loss. Also, been looking at the HoM&M based Duel of Champions that is pretty deep, too.

As far as the rose sentiment... I think it still sticks. Sure, the games may not be EXACT copies of each other, but the underlying base is still exactly the same. If you have chicken every day, and one day add a different sauce, that may spice it up a bit, but you're still eating chicken. :)
elemental kingdoms is made by Time2Play studio, which is the division of iFree Studio that made Elves Realm/Lies of Astaroth. The core mechanics of the game are the same, but the new features are/will be different. It's save to say even a lot of cards are also the same, only with other names, or the name is there, only with other skills. Elves realm and Lies of Astaroth are indeed excactelly the same (ok, Elves Realm is the Asian version), but Elves Realm is a few steps ahead of Lies of Astaroth
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