The Legend of Solgard

Being famous for games like Candy Crush Saga and Farm Heroes, it would be safe to say that I haven’t been too interested in titles that King has produced. The last time (and only) time I’ve talked about the company was back in 2015 when they were acquired by Activision/Blizzard. Having written them off completely, I was surprised to find they released a new title this month, and I was intrigued because not only is it a Match-3 style of game like many of the titles the company has already produced, but it also mixes in RPG and “gotta catch em all” elements. If you’ve every played a game like Puzzle Quest or Gems of War you’ll sort of know what to expect. The game in question, is Legend of Solgard.

I really learned to love this style of game with Puzzle Quest 2, a game that was gifted to me way back in my early Steam days. It differed a bit, because the battles were you against a single enemy and the gems you would match would correlate to attacks or spells you could cast. When the battle ended you’d move around on a map until you hit the next encounter. It was a fun game that I spent a lot of time with nearly a decade ago. The same company made other games in a similar vein, Gems of War being one of the newer iterations. I believe they were also responsible for the Marvel and MTG puzzle quest games, but I’m uncertain and too lazy to look at the moment. Another cool game in this genre was Ironcast, which made the match-3 correlation by powering your Steampunk Mechs actions. This game is similar enough to these titles I’ve mentioned but does it’s own thing pretty well.

The tutorial explains things well enough, but if you’ve played similar games you’ll be able to jump right in quickly. You’ll start each match with a variety of unit types that match up with one of the four basic colors that comprise your bestiary. Matching at least three of them puts them into an attack position, which occurs after you use your three moves. There are lanes in which your creatures (and the enemy’s creatures) inhabit, and they will attack in a straight line (unless an ability allows something else to happen). The goal of each level is to destroy the portal on the enemy’s side of the screen, and you’ll have to break through their defenses to do so.

The four colors are red, yellow, green and purple. It seems that each type correlates to a sort of class system, but I haven’t dug deep enough to confirm that. The red creatures seem to be melee, yellow are swift, green are defensive and purples are magic oriented. You’ll start with a few and open others eventually, as each match rewards you with gems that eventually unlock the new creatures. Those same gems will also upgrade your existing creatures and as they are upgraded they get abilities that change what happens when they are merged into their attack position. Most of the time this is an ability that triggers upon merging, and usually with shoot something either directly forward or at a random spot on the enemy’s side. Your player character also gains experience and unlocks abilities, the only one I’ve seen so far shoots a spear at a random enemy.

The campaign map is rather large and I’ve completed 25 or so levels. Most are pretty straightforward, but occasionally you’ll come across a boss fight, and those are a little more challenging. You’ll also eventually open up other Match-3 mechanics, like making t-shapes, squares and horizontal matches that produce different effects. They have been pretty good at keeping things simple and adding new mechanics sporadically so people who have never played this sort of game should be able to adapt quickly.

Of course being a mobile game, there’s a cash shop. Hell, these days it doesn’t matter if it’s even a mobile game, there’s usually some form of microtransactions so we’re used to this. It doesn’t seem necessary to buy anything, but I guess if you enjoy the game and want to throw the devs some coin there’s nothing wrong with that. There are chests, gems and gold to buy so similar to what you’d expect out of other games (Clash Royale offers the same sort of thing). There are also daily quests that are easy enough to complete and give you gold/xp and chests. A daily login bonus usually provides the creature gems and upgrade dust (used to level up the beasts’ abilities). There is also a guild feature. I joined a random one and am not sure of the benefits as of yet. There is a gold donation option which looks to give all clan members bonus stats, and there are guild boss fights but I’m not high enough level to participate just yet.

This would probably be enough to keep the game interesting, but King went ahead and added additional layers. At a certain point you open up the “Treasure Caves” which is a zone that is filled with jars and coffers that contain loot. You make the matches and attack those containers to break them open and grab the goodies inside. No challenge, but a nice way to level things up, though you can only do so a couple of times a day. There is a whole screen full of other game modes that are fairly self explanatory but don’t unlock until a higher level. I’m sitting at level 5 at the moment and am about half way through the first campaign, so I’ll get to these bits eventually. I’ve been liking having additional games to play on my phone outside of Clash Royale, and am surprised that I found something else that has kept my attention. I’d recommend it if you like Match-3 games, it’s quick and fun!

King + Blizzard: A Perfect Match

The news is pretty fresh, so you may not have heard: Activision just bought King, the company responsible for that whole Candy Crush thing. Admittedly I haven’t played any of King’s offerings, much like I ignored Zynga before them. Facebook/browser games are mostly throwaway experiences. From the variety of games I’ve experienced on mobile devices, the same can be said. Timewasters, and nothing more aside from a few rare gems.

I have however, spent plenty of time with Blizzard (and Activision) games. Call of Duty aside though, this is a post focusing on Blizzard and King, and how they are a perfect match for each other.

Unable to claim the title of “the first person to say that,” it’s pretty clear that Blizzard titles are basically accessible and polished experiences you’ve already had elsewhere. Their newest games released in the past few years are easily comparable to other titles in the genre who already had a foothold in the market. As a matter of fact, all of their titles are accessible and polished versions of established genres, but let’s start from the newest offerings:

Overwatch – FPS Arena Shooter, similar to Team Fortress 2.
Heroes of the Storm – MOBA, similar to League of Legends/DOTA2
Hearthstone – CCG, similar to Magic: The Gathering

Those titles alone are painting a picture that goes back to Blizzard’s humble beginnings. I’m sure you can see the correlation between Dune II and Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. Even The Lost Vikings is similar to other platformers of the era. The big gorilla in the room though, World of Warcraft, is similar enough in its approach to prior MMOs, but added that blizzard level of polish and accessibility.

That isn’t to say that Blizzard doesn’t make good games. I absolutely adored Diablo and still do. It still does it better than most Action-RPGs out there, and it established the “formula” despite taking elements from various action and adventure games that preceded it. We also can’t say that it isn’t innovative to build on what came before, because that’s been the formula for our entire existence. But in this era of all-you-can-eat gaming, standing apart from the pack means doing something different, and copying what is already successful and getting the perfect storm effect once doesn’t mean it will happen regularly or ever again. I think Blizzard needs to start thinking outside of the box, and this purchase could be part of that.

As I said earlier, I haven’t touched any of King’s titles, but I’ve played enough Bejeweled to know what Candy Crush Saga is all about. In doing some reading and formulating this post, I came across this article that sparked my train of thought in the first place. Go ahead and read it. If nothing else, scroll down and look at the pictures. I’ll wait.

Back? So you’ll have seen how King has been taking the Blizzard method of polishing an existing idea to a whole other level. They don’t make a genre more accessible, they straight copy games, change a few assets and call it their own. Then they monetize the shit out of it and call it a day. Their existing catalog of games are all copies of another game, or sequels to that copy. How they haven’t been sued more I don’t know. It’s as bad as the rest of the mobile games market though, in that anything that becomes popular sees a billion straight copies on the market within days. But I digress.

Does anyone else see the correlation I’m getting at thought? It seems these two companies made their fortunes off of copying others’ ideas and putting their own spin on it. It’s only fitting that they are basically the same company now.

I’m just curious to see if this makes the mobile marketplace better, or if the Kingly influence makes Blizzard a worse company in the long run.

Some further commentary from round the blogosphere:

Keen and Graev
The Ancient Gaming Noob
Syncaine