For every shark that thrives in the mobile free-to-play market, there are remoras that ride its fins and eat the leftovers. Clash of Lords 2 is one of the remoras, and its shark is called Clash of Clans. It turns out that the RTS genre is one of the most effective ways to clothe transactions, so Clash of Clans took the original building-and-maintenance gameplay of Farmville and added competitive and strategic elements by giving you the ability to siege other bases and defend your own base from attacks, an innovation that made Clash of Clans a household name with commercials on CBS and a consistent top 5 spot in the Google Play store’s highest grossing list, so it’s no surprise that there are at least two games that set out to resemble it as much as possible.
Ready for a twist, though? Clash of Lords 2 is actually much better than Clash of Clans in just about every way, to the point where Clash of Clans feels like the one that’s a cheap knockoff. This is very faint praise, because Clash of Clans is not that good, but it’s really something to see an Atlantic Rim that’s actually better than its Pacific counterpart. The music is better, the graphics are better, the characters don’t look like they’re dead inside, and it has a bunch of gameplay improvements.
The biggest of these gameplay improvements is Clash of Lords 2’s heavy focus on hero characters, each of which are collectible, come in tiers like loot, and have different special abilities and stats. This is taken straight from MOBAs, but it works well with the Clash of Nouns blueprint, and it allows for more in-depth management of your forces. There’s a pretty healthy level of customization and things to do, and combat is deeper than most mobile games allow for, but it’s not too long before you get reminded that you’re playing a pay-to-win mobile game and it wants your money.
This is where good presentation becomes irrelevant, because Clash of Lords 2 and games like it aren’t designed to be finished products; they’re designed to be services. Games as services means your financial relationship with the game doesn’t end with a single upfront purchase, it lasts for as long as you play the game, which means that things like endings, rewarding your skill, and traditional game balance are suddenly unprofitable. The designers stand to make a much more profitable game if they stuff it with transactions and try to hook you.
All of the usual pay-to-win stuff is here: notifications outside of the game, bonuses for checking in every day, gems that you pay for with real money, spending gems to speed up the building process, you name it. The main thing that sets Clash of Lords 2 apart in this respect is that it has way more than two currencies, running with something more like a quadruple-currency system while also handing out experience rewards and collectible heroes. In addition to gold and gems, there are souls and rings, often used for basically the same purposes. This avoids the conventional free-to-play trap where you obviously aren’t being given adequate rewards for playing the game, but comes with a new set of drawbacks. If you want extra souls or rings without earning them as objective rewards, you have to go into a bar and spend gems to play rock paper scissors with the game. This is easily the sketchiest part of Clash of Lords 2: rock paper scissors would be very easy to rig, and there’s no other reason to have it in there as a mechanic. It might very well be a fair game of rock paper scissors, but would you play rock paper scissors with a computer if money was on the line?
So, yes, this game is better than Clash of Clans, but that doesn’t make it any less of a racket. Furthermore, for all my praise of Clash of Lords 2’s presentation, it must be said that this game is so similar to Clash of Clans in so many ways that it almost qualifies as a reskin. So while it’s not without its aesthetic and gameplay successes, it can never escape its nature: a clone, a cash-in, a copycat, a remora. Why bother with games like this when there’s a whole ocean out there?
Is it Hardcore?
Weirdly enough, it’s better than Clash of Clans but also way too similar. Too bad about the pay-to-win cash-for gems stuff.