Review: Battleplans18 Jul 2016 6
Released 06 Jul 2016
I doubt I’m alone in the fact that bright, simplistic art styles in mobile strategy games often set off red flags in my head. So when the rather dull named Battleplans was brought to my attention in all its cell shaded glory I could feel the Vietnamesque flashbacks to Boom Beach and Clash of Clans coming on (You weren't there man). Battleplans is fast paced RTS with some MOBA inspiration thrown in for good measure, brought to us by C4M in their mission to never develop a game in the same genre twice. Free-to-Play veterans En Masse have acted as Publisher.
It opens with a thankfully brief tutorial where you are introduced to the combat system. You, your first hero (Balthor the smashy hammer wielding dwarf/Viking) and his little squad of spear wielding... Jawas things?... Are tasked with wrestling an area from the clutches of the supposedly evil skulls tribe and freeing Mason (another hero whose service you gain upon completion). This is achieved by capturing two crystals on the map by the end of the sixty second timer.
Crystals are captured by simply marching units into their little zones of control. Holding them involves stopping enemy units from doing the same. This is Battleplans’ only game mode and where the meat of the game really lies. While there would be nothing wrong with that in a game that had a decently high skill ceiling and a lot of room for nuance, this is not such a title and so suffers as a result.
Battles are quick and frantic affairs, being between sixty to eighty seconds in length depending on map size. From what I've seen so far, they involve between two to four units on each side battles can easily be won and lost by a clever initial deployment, or a misjudged first engagement. Unit controls are simple and immediately accessible – press & drag to move, hover your finger/cursor over an enemy unit for a few seconds to trigger hero abilities. This over simplification of orders was quite frustrating at times as the lack of attack options were sorely missed and made micromanagement feel a bit awkward. Selecting units can also be difficult when squads are clumped together and it wasn’t uncommon for my ranged units to end up in close combat because of this.
Heroes, with their big stats and abilities, are undoubtedly the biggest contributors in deciding who comes out top when the cell shaded dust settles. They range from tanks like Balthor, to ranged support units like Taigar, to hard hitters with low defence like Freya. So much like with Battleplan's distant MOBA cousins, team balancing is key to victory. Heroes also lead units of smaller, weaker mobs who can be upgraded or switched out for various types such as infantry, archers, and cavalry. When a unit joins into close combat with the enemy it becomes locked in, meaning you are unable to move it until someone has lost; though this rule does not apply to units led by ranged heroes if the hero isn’t bogged down in close combat.
One small qualm I had was that certain terrain, namely forests, had a bad tendency towards blocking health bars from view making it hard to tell who’s winning a fight or even who’s in the fight. Battleplans’ aforementioned accessibility and simplification becomes somewhat of a double edged sword. After just a couple hours the games’ lack of depth in both single and multiplayer starts to really become apparent.
Raiding AI controlled forts and settlements in single player is laughably easy until about chapter eleven in the campaign where the difficulty suddenly spikes. It is a good way of earning gold though which can be used to upgrade heroes, units and your camp. Campaign missions also give you other rewards on top of gold such as free heroes, premium currency and turtles which transport your units to raids (you start with two but can gain more and thus field more units as you go along). So it is worth playing them through, just expect monotony to set in pretty quickly. I’d love to say that the story and lore helps to keep you invested but both are fairly non-existent: hardly a surprise for the style of game.
Multiplayer, where I feel Battleplans will sink or swim for a player, is much the same as solo-mode aside from the fact that your wits are pitted against those of your fellow humans. However when you wrestle an outpost (represented on the over-world map by a stone) away from their previous AI or human owners you are tasked with defending them against further attacks. This is where the titular 'battle plans' come into play. In these you set up your units and give them orders (which can be delayed to set up feints or ambushes) so they can fend off other attackers. You can practice on your own defences, which is a nice touch, although generally battle plans have a wide variance of success.
Capturing and successfully defending these outposts also rewards you with war-points, which you'll lose if you then fail at either task. War-points give you a place on the leaderboard and being near the top of one when the timer runs down will net you you gold, premium currency and trophies. The closer you are to the stop spot, the better the rewards you reap, and wars typically last a couple of hours. Trophies accumulate after every war and should you earn enough you’ll be bumped up into a higher leaderboard with a fancier name and greater rewards.
Your camp where you train troops, upgrade heroes and their respective squads, upgrade the output of your goldmine and do other management taks. Each hero comes with a little video explaining their powers and how best to use them, although for me all of these videos were strangely devoid of sound. All upgrades cost gold and require you to wait for some time until they are complete unless you want to use premium currency for it to be finished immediately. At first wait times aren’t too egregious but before long Battleplans falls into the tried & true F2P grove. The noticeable jump in upgrade time from two, to ten, to twenty minutes in some cases is a little disconcerting and seems nothing more than a ploy to get you to waste precious premium currency before having to buy more. This also isn’t helped by the sudden difficulty spike I mentioned before that quickly turns the game into a grind as upgrade prices start to soar as well. The only thing that exclusively costs premium currency is recruiting new heroes.
The oddest thing I found about Battleplans was , outside of raiding and defence, there is no interaction between human players. I understand that the lack text chat circumvents a lot of potential abuse and hurt feelings, but I'd go as far to it’s perfectly possible to play the game without ever actually going up against another player since taking stone forts is not mandatory. This is a rather puzzling design choice as games like Battleplans often live or die on their communities and I hope C4M do something to remedy that in the future.
So keeping in mind that it is in its infancy I would say Battleplans is game to keep an eye on for the moment. It’s a game I wish I could like more and it’s a commendable effort from a studio with no prior strategy titles under their belt. But I fear a combination of its sometimes frustrating F2P model and its overall lack of depth may bring it grinding to a halt sooner than expected. Hopefully with age and continued support it will prove me wrong.