The very first time most people play a freemium sim, they reach a point where they think "that's it?" After all, you've put time and possibly money into growing your crops, building your tower or expanding your kingdom, and then you want to, you know, do something with them. It's a feeling that passes, but it's always a bit of a letdown.
Battle Nations [Free] blasts that letdown into bits, because while you build up your military base you're also building up an army, and that army gets to fight. It's part freemium builder, part turn-based strategy game. You use the money you earn from the crops you grow to build your army and keep it in tip-top shape. Then you bring the hammer down on friends and foes alike.
That's "friends," not "allies" -- there is a multiplayer component to Battle Nations, and there are people actively playing it. You fight AI opponents during the campaign, but you can also fight friends (through the Z2 network) or strangers whenever you like. In my experience, the game has effective matchmaking. I was always paired with an opponent quickly, and they were always around my level.
The battles are far more interactive than most freemium war sims. Each battle presents a small grid for placement and all your available units. You choose which units to bring out for the fight and you choose where to place them. Then, turn by turn, you pick a unit to fire with and a target. The units all have their own strengths and weaknesses - some are stronger versus humans or machines, some have large areas of effect, some have more health or do more damage -- all the basics you'd expect from a strategy game.
This doesn't add up to a lot of depth, and the battles are brief. But they're fun, and quite dependent on your choices. Turns versus players are limited to 20 seconds, so waits are short and sweet, and the rewards for combat are huge. And there's another interesting thing at work in the background -- losing a unit in battle has a real cost that might be counted in time or money. This makes every decision much weightier. Do you bring out your best units, knowing if they get killed you're in for a long haul to bring them back?
This is where the farming sim meets the strategy game. Units have a cost to build and to heal. Between battles, you need to build up your military base, seek out and farm resources, and feed and house your army, all with the typical build, wait and tap setup. Resources -- money, stone, wood, oil and iron -- are needed to buy units, and they take time to train. Healing them after battle also takes time, and can be brutally expensive. It's a balance that works surprisingly well and left me itching to get back to the fight on a regular basis.
Nanopods, the premium currency, are pushed at every turn. Purchases are never strictly required, but the sales pitch is stronger and more compelling than I'm entirely comfortable with. You can speed up any action with Nanopods, and many things can only be purchased with them. Never necessary things, but some strong units and useful buildings are locked behind the pay wall. Nanopods can also be used to heal in battle, but only versus AI. Battle Nations provides many compelling reasons to make a purchase, and meters free Nanopods out at a glacial pace.
But I found that I didn't particularly mind. I haven't bought Nanopods yet, but I might -- since they let me get back to the fight quicker, there's an actual reward for using them. They also let players move through the story a little faster, which means leveling up faster and getting access to better troops and new things to build. Speaking of the story, Battle Nations actually has one, and it's extremely tongue-in-cheek. It makes a great accompaniment for your time in the game, giving you a good reason to keep moving forward.
The only thing holding me back was the loading. Battle Nations sits on the excessive side of the loading scale, with long waits not only whenever you load the game but also whenever you move from area to area. Granted, the game's primary mechanic involves waiting out the clock over and over, but waiting through the loading only to see that I then need to wait to do anything interesting is a pain.
Otherwise, Battle Nations is freemium done well, offering more entertainment for your download than most of its competition. Z2Live seems to have gone in to this game without a hint of contempt for its players or model, and as a result they created something fun, strategic and occasionally funny. So I'd recommend giving it a try if you enjoy the occasional war game, and reporting back once you've scouted it out.
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