|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Becky Cunningham
So-called "social gaming" has become a bona fide phenomenon, with social network games such as FarmVille and Mafia Wars attracting millions of fans and raking in the profits. Despite this fact, social games haven't made much of an impression among core gamers. Russian developer Nival, which has previously made strategy games such as Heroes of Might and Magic V and Silent Storm and has published a number of massively multiplayer games in Russia, aims to fill that gap with their upcoming social strategy game Prime World.
At its base, Prime World is a multiplayer strategy role-playing game inspired by the popular Warcraft III mod, Defense of the Ancients (DotA). Players will fight in player versus player (PvP) matches on maps with specific win scenarios. Each player will control a hero, and will work with a team of players to fight against enemy NPCs and opposing teams of players. Whichever team meets the map's objective first wins the game. The objective might involve wiping out the other team or teams, but it could also be another challenge, such as fighting a tough boss monster.
There's a fair bit more to the game than that, however. Recruiting and training heroes is a game in itself, and is accomplished by building up a castle. Different castle structures will attract different kinds of heroes, but the castle is more than just a training ground for the PvP game. Players will be able to visit each others' castles and go hunting or throw parties. Their heroes can also group up and go on quests, gaining experience and resources. The castle is meant to provide a full gaming experience in itself, appealing to fans of the current crop of Facebook games as well as to core gamers who will use the experience to prepare for the PvP segment of Prime World.
The castle is one example of how Nival plans to take social network gaming a step further into more traditional gaming. Rather than simply sending notifications to friends on Facebook or watering each other's farms, Nival hopes to encourage social network friends to actively group and game together. Of course, it can be quite a challenge to encourage new or casual gamers to participate in the highly competitive situations presented in real-time strategy RPGs, so Nival has tweaked that experience to appeal to different types of gamers.
Traditional or hardcore Prime World players will probably want to be on the front lines of battle during PvP, but there are other activities for players who are just getting used to the game or simply have different gameplay preferences. During battles, players can stay close to the base and play an action puzzle game. Succeeding in that game will grant special buffs to the team, allowing casual or puzzle gamers to contribute to the team effort. There will also be special support heroes who are designed to be unattractive or difficult targets for enemy combatants, giving players the chance to take a support role without immediately falling victim to the "kill the one in the dress" phenomenon.
Nival will even be adding a gender component to the social gaming features in Prime World. Male and female heroes who group together will be given bonuses and advantages, and Nival seems particularly interested in promoting boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife teams. However, players won't be constrained by their real life genders. Hardcore female gamers can play on the front lines and won't be forced to take a support role. Similarly, male gamers who enjoy support roles or puzzle gaming are welcome to perform those tasks as well. Both male and female characters will have the ability to heal the opposite sex in combat, encouraging cross-gender play on the battlefront as well as in terms of vanguard and support roles.
One big question about Prime World is how its payment model will be implemented. The game will be free to pay with optional microtransactions, which is a game design minefield that Nival will need to tread through carefully. Hardcore gamers tend to reject games that give advantages to players who make real-money purchases, and casual gamers want to feel like they have a reasonable amount of customization options without paying money. As long as the payment model is done well and the various features in the game are polished and fun, however, Nival could have a trailblazing success on its hands. Few companies have attempted to directly merge social network gaming with traditional gaming in this manner, and it's great to see a game that welcomes gamers with varying levels of experience and different gameplay preferences. Prime World just might be a social network game that's worth a look for a wide range of gamers.
CCC Contributing Writer