Game: The Battle of Polytopia vAtlantis
Developer: Midjiwan AB
IAP: $0.99 - $2.99 per item
The Battle of Polytopia is a streamlined and visually delightful turn-based stategy title that lies within the genre of 4X computer gaming. The term '4X' was originally coined by Alan Emrich in his September 1993 preview of the PC game Master of Orion for Computer Gaming World magazine, which inherently stands for "explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate". Players generally compete on a global map to dominate and remove all opposition by employing various methods of strategy and tactics to ultimately win the game. Polytopia takes this formula with a somewhat more simplified approach, while delivering an aesthetic experience with a wide range of challenge that should suit nearly all armchair grognards. With its vivid colors, attractive new generation style of polygonal graphics, and wide variety of Tribes to control, Polytopia strives to place a contest of global domination within a tidy package of approximately 32 megabytes in the palm of your hand. While not being as robust and complex as such staple 4X PC titles such as Civilization or the like, Polytopia offers a fun and engaging conquest romp that could easily fit within a lunchtime break. Touting a 4.7 rating on Google Play with almost 15,000 ratings is no easy feat, and was enough to spark interest to generate this review to see what makes this game so apparently popular. My numerous sessions with this game revealed some interesting observations that deserve to be mentioned to true fans of this gaming genre, but ultimately the verdict will highly depend on one's tastes, tolerances and frustration threshold. As we delve into this review, that last statement will become more understandable as there is more than meets the eye in Polytopia. Given that disclaimer, let's gather the troops and prepare for battle!
Polytopia's game world, units and general production values are notably stunning, catering to today's generation of gamers with a cartoonish polygonal style that amazingly pops off the screen, and runs efficiently even on older devices. There is a total of ten selectable factions in the game called Tribes; all of which offer their own unique graphical themes and art that differentiate them from each other. Polytopia also offers four difficulty levels for single player games; Easy, Normal, Hard and Crazy, that cater to your level of taste and experience. Two game modes are also offered for single player games; Perfection and Domination. Perfection turns you loose on the map to create the most epic empire you can within 30 turns, then posts your score on the global Leaderboards for bragging rights and personal best scores to beat per Tribe. Domination has no turn limit, and challenges the player to conquer up to nine other Tribes on the map to win. Setting up a game that is comfortable and not too frustrating largely depends on the difficulty level and number of opposing Tribes on the map. There appears to be a massive range of difficulty between these settings that vary from extremely casual to completely insane, and need experimentation to find your optimal preference. I had a fantastic hour-long winning game with ten total Tribes in Normal difficulty (victory screenshot below), but have yet to win a single game with one opponent on Hard difficulty. This is coming from someone who has played turn-based 4X games since the early 1990's, and can handle it thick and heavy with a solid challenge. Your mileage may vary, but the developer isn't fooling around with the Hard and Crazy difficulty settings, let me tell you right now.
Maps are randomly generated in the form of square tiles that are peppered with various forms of fauna and flora that are collected and seamlessly converted into monetary resources to build up your empire. As your Tribe accumulates wealth, there are dozens of unlockable upgrades available for purchase within a skill tree that enable your Tribe to expand and progress. As some of the upgrades are visually unique per Tribe, they are generic in nature with no unique characteristics differentiating between Tribes whatsoever. Random settlements that are generated across the map are obtainable only through conquering them over the course of a turn, but never initially built by Tribes. This mechanic defeats the exploit of base-spamming, which can be an annoying tactic in this type of genre. Occupied settlements will automatically bloom into different stages of magnitude through population growth and accrued wealth, effectively expanding a Tribe's territorial boundaries in which you are only allowed to develop further. In frequent cases, Tribes are at the mercy of the map generator that can deal you an almost laughable deficiency of land to harvest and develop; mostly seen in harder difficulty settings, though resources are distributed evenly in all difficulty modes. As you encounter opposing Tribes, combat usually ensues immediately with amusing slapstick animations to resolve combat skirmishes, minus any blood or gore. There are no buffs or bonuses given for terrain, no special units per Tribe, but simple number crunching per engagement. This usually results in 'eye for an eye' exchanges between Tribes, which will always have you creating more units to restore the casualties. This will have you balancing between city development, unit quality and troop count. Upon finishing a game, regardless of result, you are finally presented with a stats screen and an Angry Birds type of three-star ranking system that is saved per played Tribe.
As of this writing, multiplayer options only include a local 'Pass and Play' hotseat mode that is played on one device between players; no WLAN or online matches are possible at this time. Up to four Tribes can compete during one multiplayer game in two different game modes; Glory and Might. Glory declares the winner of the game who is first to score 10,000 points over all Tribes. Might declares the winner of the game who captures all capitals of participating Tribes. I suspect that this hotseat mode was included as online players would have to sit around waiting for the other players to finish their turns, or perhaps network options were beyond the technical scope of the developer or project. Regardless, it would be much more fun and social in person than to stop and do nothing after every turn. Anyone who has ever played a multiplayer game of Heroes of Might and Magic knows exactly the boring grief I speak of here. Love the game, hate the wait! I feel that to experience a proper session of Polytopia, a multiplayer game would be best to ensure that all players are held accountable to the rules, and to establish a perfectly balanced session. All Tribes essentially have the same units with no deviations other than map placement. It is worth noting that the single player experience on Hard and Crazy difficulties is nowhere near balanced or fair whatsoever. The AI Tribes do not follow the same limitations the players must abide, and it's quite obvious the AI can churn out top-tier units in just a few turns. Knights, Ships and Catapults are deadly top-tier units that require many turns and resources to produce. In Crazy mode, you will be swamped by these units from the AI after a mere four turns, and they will destroy your units with a single hit. It's impossible to defend against, and the only recourse is to build the same units to take out the attackers, which is even more impossible since you are stuck with money and turn limitations. Even more baffling, your score takes a handicap hit due to the set difficulty, so Hard mode will give you only 60%. This means that achieving a three-star rating for a Tribe either requires a win in Crazy difficulty, or super human abilities in Hard difficulty. After dozens of games, I gave up even trying to earn three stars. Ironically, no rewards are given for even doing so. This leads me to the 'ticks and fleas' portion of Polytopia, and affirms my statement earlier of player tolerance and frustration.
Polytopia is a free download that offers four Tribes unlocked out of ten, which is enough for full multiplayer at least. Five other tribes are IAP at 99 cents each, and the Luxidoor Tribe is $2.99 for a grand total of $7.94 for a complete Polytopia experience. Basically, each Tribe has the same units with different models and terrain graphics, nothing else. No special units, no unique skills, no playable difference. The AI does indeed 'cheat' in Hard and Crazy difficulties, making it almost impossible to win, let alone earning the highly coveted three-star rating that rewards the player with nothing but an achievement. No unlocks, no fireworks, no dice. The largest map size is locked at 324 tiles, which allows for much faster games, but many would like to see this expanded for more of a complex simulation. With ten Tribes competing at once, you are bound to engage an opponent within your first few turns. There is no online or WLAN multiplayer options, so either curl up in your favorite chair or get on the phone to call your buddies over. Have them bring plenty of food and drinks because it will be a long night. Then there are the online Leaderboards, which have already been hacked by one player with impossible scores; effectively paving the way for others to follow suit. If you ignore his scores, you'll be just fine. The big question now is how did I arrive at a four-star rating, and why is Polytopia 4.7 stars on Google Play with this dog being full of fleas? The answer is that Polytopia is a fun dog, fleas and all. When you dial up the settings that suit your challenge level, it is quite engaging and entertaining from start to finish. This takes some trial and error, however, but once you get to know the game, it will happily serve you with any challenge you may desire. There is a certain indescribable addiction factor when you get involved with Polytopia; the dreaded 'just one more turn' syndrome that can keep you up past your bedtime that decent 4X games can inspire. This is the sign of a good and well-crafted game, no matter how many fleas fly off the dog. If you are a fan of 4X games, or even strategy games in general, Polytopia should be on your list to at least try out for the sake of prosperity. Just do yourself a favor and don't start your first game on Crazy difficulty.
- A beautiful and well-crafted 4X game.
- Diverse range of difficulty levels for all.
- Ten different Tribes with unique graphics.
- Addictive gameplay with hotseat multiplayer mode.
- Free to play upon download, even with full multiplayer.
- No WLAN or online multiplayer modes.
- No unique skills, units or perks per Tribe.
- Ridiculously difficult in Hard and Crazy settings.
- Map sizes could be larger for more engaging games.
- Unlocking the entire game is a bit on the pricey side.
Device/OS used: Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note 3, Nexus 7 2012 & 2013, Nexus 10 / KitKat v4.4.2, KitKat v4.4.4
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Mobilism: The Battle of Polytopia vAtlantis b1008011 [Unlocked]