Castle Clash is great example of everything nauseating about freemium gaming. Sure, it may look like an intriguing mix of social game, grindy RPG, and competitive tower defense/RTS from the outside, but a freemium game is what it is first and foremost. And don’t misread me, it’s not the freemium itself that annoys me, but that the gameplay is completely subservient to the pay model by design. Castle Clash employs a series of timed paywalls throughout play, and is woefully unbalanced by the worst sort of game breaking pay-to-win tactics. All that and, stripped of its tricks, it’s just a mediocre game.
Let’s start with the good, which is to say the okay. The art team did a respectable job of bringing some life into the game. The graphics are colorful and cartoonish 2D fare, similar to Blizzard’s earliest RTS efforts but with a little style of their own. The heads of the women units are bigger than their bodies, for whatever reason. There’s nothing incredibly compelling about the sound, but nothing grating either. The mages make an obscene groan when they die, but otherwise it sounds like what you’d expect a generic fantasy RTS to sound like. The music is phoned in whimsical fantasy stuff.
You play by building a base and recruiting an army. Put up your walls, barracks, town hall, gold mines and mana factories. Buildings are on a timer, and you can only build two things at a time (unless you get another goblin builder with gems; aha, the IAP currency). Your gold mines and mana factories slowly accrue their respective resources, which you spend on units, more buildings, and unit and building upgrades. There are also some other resources for hiring and upgrading heroes, which you receive for success in battle. You don’t need any of these resources if you buy gems, of course, which can be traded at any time for some of every resource in the game
The actual strategy portion of the game is lackluster. You fight the enemy by dropping your dudes one by one outside a base and watching them whack whatever is nearest to them. There’s a little bit of Rock-paper-scissors to the unit types, but dumping your guys on a scene and watching what happens is the meat of it. Then you wait for timers so you can do this again, or spend gems to play more. Granted, it’s cool you get to build and arrange your base defensively, and raiding other people’s bases for gold is slightly entertaining, but in the end the base building is a lot like putting together a Farmville farm. It’s emergent and social, but only on the surface, a lot like the thrill of great lawn care.
The worst thing is the IAP set up, which essentially turns Castle Clash into a pay-to-win game. These gems don’t seem like a problem early on, until you realize everything take exponentially longer to upgrade. First it’ll take 40 seconds to build something, then five minutes to upgrade it, then 15, and so on, until you’re waiting a week for your stupid arrow tower to get a little stronger and turn a different shade of blue. Unless you throw down gems, of course. This goes likewise for unit upgrades. In fact, the only thing that you can’t upgrade with gems is your hero’s level, so there’s that.
Worry not, impoverished friends. You can also earn gems by signing up for Hulu and FreeCreditScore.com, doing some online shopping, or downloading other crappy freemium games. Hell, they’ll give you hundreds of gems if you do some of their social media grunt work so the game will go “viral.” Or you can rate the game five stars on the Play store (small wonder it’s rated 4 ½ stars there…). Of course, if you care at all about the leader boards or any competitive part of the game there’s bound to be bitterness, since the person who spends the most money is going to be top dog by default.
Then again, does it really matter who is top dog? There are no clans, regions, or anything to make the competitive part more interesting. Just a few million little tower defense towns maintained by esteemed generals like Alejandro123 and Stronghammer69, ranked by order of relative strength. Accordingly, the in-game chat is a chicken coop packed with confused new players and desperate teenagers asking if any horny girls would talk to them. If you try to scroll down to see what anyone wrote, it annoyingly forces the chat window back to the top as soon as someone else says something.
Still, I guess it’s something that you can have about as much fun with this as you’re going to have if you don’t buy the stupid gems. You just have to wait longer for things to go anywhere. But balance? Immersion and longevity? I’m sorry, you’ll have to speak up. I can’t hear you over the crackle of burning money. This is casual, Zynga-inspired tedium, a series of repetitive daily tasks masquerading as gaming.