The next couple of entries in this notebook will deal with a platform that is not known for its high-quality games: Facebook. At first Facebook seemed a fad, likely to be replaced and made obsolete the same way it had replaced MySpace. As time passes however, it seems that Facebook will not disappear so easily. Companies like Zynga have already made huge fortunes from games created for Facebook. These are stereotypically somewhat shallow and formulaic, though they do interesting things to incorporate the social aspects of Facebook into their gameplay or scoring mechanics. Now, the success of Zynga and others has attracted the attention of companies that have previously focused on more traditional platforms and game types.
One such company is Electronic Arts. Through their EA2D branch they had already explored using Flash-based games to advertise their retail titles. Among these flash games was Dragon Age Journeys, created to promote EA/Bioware’s Dragon Age Origins. A second game in the Journeys series was long-promised, but EA decided to target Facebook instead. Instead of a direct sequel to Journeys, the game became Dragon Age: Legends, a full featured roleplaying game played through Facebook.
I have been consistently impressed with DA:L. At its core, it’s a simple tactical RPG somewhat reminiscent of the classic 2d Final Fantasy games. Inventory management and real tactical considerations come into play in these battles which can be quite difficult. It’s a repetitive game, but it does keep up the pressure with the encounters becoming noticeably harder as the player progresses through the areas. But while this core gameplay is solid and at the very least competent, it’s the secondary mechanics and clever Facebook integration that set it apart. Like many Facebook games, encouraging “friends” to join the game produces tangible rewards. Unlike most games, it’s not a simple matter of getting the largest number of people. The characters created and customized by the players friends become recruitable party members complete with their current level and the skills, inventory and abilities your friend has equipped them with. Once recruited for a battle, these friend characters have a cool down period of a few hours, so if a player wants to keep battling, he might want to have a lot of friends join the game; but of course joining is not enough; a first level ally is little use to a player taking on challenges suited to level 10 characters, for example. I find that this makes the social dynamic of a game like this feel much more meaningful and I applaud EA2D for coming up with it.
Additionally, DA:L has a crafting system that ties into a castle building mechanic that might be considered a separate game in its own right. This crafting mechanic can even be accessed via a mobile website so that even if you can’t log in to play, you can at least get your serfs making you the proper potions for your next battle. The whole experience feels well thought out and uniquely suited to the Facebook platform. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t pop into the game for a quick battle or two. The general user friendliness and segmented nature of the game means that I can usually sneak in a bit of game time even in days when I am otherwise too busy to play.