MSRP: Free to play with in-game purchasing
Platforms: Windows, iOS, Android
I’m going to start this off with a little bit of a rant. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan of microtransactions and in-game purchases, I am glad that free to play games exist, and I know there’d be a lot fewer of them without ways to spend money in game, and a lot of the time, it’s far less intrusive than having a game full of ads. However, it seems like just about every free to play game that gets released on Steam gets bombarded with negative reviews because the game developers want to actually make money on their work. It boggles my mind.
Ok, so, Gems of War is a free to play game that combines a little bit of RPG, a smattering of collectible card game, and a whole lot of match-3 game play. The CCG elements add a little twist, but it’s certainly nothing novel – the original Puzzle Quest came out way back in 2007. However, it is a combination that works well to bridge the gap between casual and more involved games.
There’s a sizeable quest-based PvE campaign, as well as a couple alternate game modes that unlock as you level up. You also have the option to join a guild and participate in PvP content, however, there’s a lot to do even playing solo and without spending a dime.
If you do decide to put some money down on the game, your first purchase will unlock the first VIP level, awarding you a permanent XP bonus, additional gold to your daily log in bonus, and additional gems on any gem purchase. Gems are the paid currency of Gems of War, and with all the items and bonuses on offer, it’d be easy to get very spendy very quickly, if you’re so inclined.
That said, my initial impression is that Gems of War is less pay-to-win and more pay-to-speed-up. You can absolutely be successful in the single-player content without spending money; however, I expect that trying to jump into PvP too early might be a frustrating experience. But the choice to grind out levels and rewards looks to be just as feasible as tossing a whole lot of cash at your screen.
The workings of the game are well explained, and the three board tutorial is mandatory, but doesn’t take too long. The early levels are simple, possibly even too simple, and the setting to show possible moves is on by default, but can be switched off in the options. Completing some quests will award you with a new creature card that can be used as part of your party, and creatures use different colored mana and have different abilities. You will also get equipment for your player character. However, matching skull tiles is probably the most dependable source of damage, and keeping your opponent from being able to make skull matches is almost as important as making them yourself.
Nothing about Gems of War blew my mind, but it’s not a bad game. It doesn’t seem impossible to play without a large money investment, and there are fairly inexpensive options if you find you enjoy the game and want to give back to the developers. If you expect the world on a silver platter in a free to play game, well, you’re likely to be disappointed. However, if you look at free-to-play titles as the most generous of demos, you’ll be sure to find a purchase that suits your perception of the game’s worth.