One Amongst Millions
Like another hapless survivor joining the legion of undead, 37 Games’ First Refuge: Z submits yet another base-building strategy MMO to join the ever-growing horde. Recruit survivors, manage your resources and expand your outreach lest you fall prey to the dead or succumb to the raids of other players.
First Refuge: Z is about as cookie-cutter as they come, albeit some slight (and I can’t stress that enough) differences. Like many mobile MMO strategy games, players spend resources on building upgrades, which produce more goods and resources, which are then used to train troops and upgrade buildings, repeat ad infinitum. First Refuge: Z also follows the recent trend of adding collectible Heroes—unique characters with different traits and special combat abilities used to lead armies in the overworld map and clear out empty rooms on your base. While rare, players can buy Hero cards or win them as rewards for quests, giving players something to strive for should they enjoy summoner, aka hero collecting.
Researching technologies works just the way you’d come to expect from an MMO strategy base-builder. Players spend resources to upgrade their base efficiency, troop effectiveness and resource production. The tech tree is pretty bare-bones, so don’t expect anything out of the ordinary. Most if not all of the research choices offer only static percentage increases to existing buildings and troops.
It Feels Like We’ve Been Here Before…
Combat is about as exciting as watching paint dry, but at least with paint, you might get to see something different if you inhale enough fumes. You can either send your troops out to explore points of interest, occasionally clearing out zombies and finding caches scattered around, or send heroes through the unexplored depths of your base to clear out stragglers and find new Residents. These base encounters playout with your squad of heroes mowing down waves of undead while spamming special abilities on cooldowns. At first, you do have some control, at least when you time your special attacks. Still, eventually, the option to auto-manage battles appears and handles what little there was for you to do.
For the most part, First Refuge: Z does precisely what the standard mobile MMO strategy does and not much more than that. I cannot stress enough just how average this game is. Even the zombie apocalypse setting does little to differentiate it from the throng of similar strategy MMOs, much less other zombie games. The Alliances between players, the raiding of strongholds, and the cycle of exploring and clearing areas are all here. You could easily take every mechanic present, slap a different coat of paint on the setting change the title a little, and Refuge would resemble any one of scores of similar such titles. And there in a nutshell you have the formula behind the glut of factory-standard “strategy” MMOs that plagues mobile gaming.
Anything You Can Do, Bethesda Can Do Better
However, one thing helps First Refuge: Z stand out amongst the mob, although this isn’t saying much. It’s not wholly original. Unlike most base builders, First Refuge: Z allows you to set your residents to work in the rooms of your base. Equipped with different skillsets, residents can occupy bakeries to help produce food or monitor armories to enhance troop training, so on and so forth. Managing who works where is critical to maximizing the efficiency of your base and its resource production. However, this was something that already debuted in Fallout Shelter way back in 2015. First Refuge: Z attempts to capture the same appeal. Unfortunatley, it lacks the charm, polish and originality Bethesda accomplished half a decade ago.
First Refuge: Z doesn’t have much going for or against it. It’s a game so inoffensive and bland that there isn’t all that much to say that you couldn’t also say for any game within the same subgenre. The graphics are decent for a mobile title with some quality voice acting to boot. The monetization is forgiving and not all that egregious. The game awards premium currency and high-end resources at a good pace. However, those who spend will have an advantage over those who don’t. Free players can get around this by maintaining strong communication and assistance via their alliances. Still, a like-minded alliance of big spenders will almost certainly steamroll any defense a more frugal group could put up.
What First Refuge: Z brings to the table isn’t anything special or new. Everything from the core gameplay mechanics to the zombie apocalypse it’s set in, other developers have done ten times over. It isn’t the worst game ever made. However, if you ever wanted to see something so baseline and overwhelmingly average, this is it.
Is It Hardcore?
No, anything this game does many others can do much better.
First Refuge: Z attempts to combine the boiler-plate gameplay of MMO strategy games with base-management mechanics so shallow they may as well not exist. Unless PvP is vital to you, just get Fallout Shelter instead.