Thursday, May 2, 2019

Gems of War Deserves More Love

Free to play games have a bad reputation, and deservedly so, because they're stuffed full of microtransactions and hooks to get you to pay real money for in-game currency or items or other things because they're fun and addictive and you want to keep playing but you inevitably hit a bottleneck somewhere along the way that pretty much requires investment in MTX in order to proceed. That's gross and bad and wrong. They're badong, if you will. Sometimes, though, free to play games are actually super well balanced and fairly designed so you can have tons of fun with them without spending any money at all. Gems of War, available on Switch, PS4, and Xbox One, is one of those rare FTP gems and it absolutely deserves more love. 

Originally releasing on current-gen consoles in 2015, Gems of War is an evolution of the popular Puzzle Quest series that combines a simple match three puzzle game with RPG elements. In the years since its original release it has seen a lot of refinement to the interface and art style and is a much better game in 2019 than it was when it launched. It has also had a TON of content added to it as there are currently hundreds of cards to unlock and a lot of depth and strategy. I also have to say that the artwork on the cards for all of the monsters and characters is absolutely awesome.

The gist of Gems of War is that it is a medieval fantasy RPG mixed with a card collecting deck building game mixed with a match three puzzle game. You build a team of monster / weapon / character cards, all of which have unique stats and attacks, and then take turns matching gems on an 8x8 puzzle grid as you "fight" an enemy team. By matching gems of the proper colors you build up magic attacks for your team, earn gold, or attack the opposing team. Once all of the opposing team's characters are defeated, you win. You enter kingdoms via an over world map and each kingdom has a bunch of "story" missions as well as challenges and other things to accomplish. There are a ton of kingdoms, a ton of missions, and just plain tons of stuff to do and all of it rewards you with new cards and currency to keep investing in your team. The idea is that you get cards you like and build a team you like and them upgrade them and level them up to be more powerful.

The microtransactions come in from the fact that there are multiple currency types - gold, souls, and glory - and multiple upgrade materials - food for pets, ingots for weapons, stones for characters, etc. - and you can pay real money for all of them in order to make faster progress. I have to admit that the game in somewhat intrusive in how aggressive it is in shoving the MTX in your face, too, as there are constant reminders about special limited time promotions and that you can buy new cards or can buy upgrade materials. Weaker-willed players might be tempted.

For me personally, however, I've never even been tempted to spend real money and have played for well over a hundred hours of Gems of War between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions. The game gives you just enough new stuff to keep you trucking along as long as you aren't impatient. There is always another kingdom to conquer or side quest to play through that I have been thoroughly entertained without spending any real cash. Once you figure out the flow of the game and know how and when to upgrade stuff, and what side modes to play - a treasure hunt mode where you just play as many turns as possible and an arena mode where you fight through a succession of battles with a random team are standouts - Gems of War is incredibly fun and addictive and rewarding. 

I can maybe see the temptation of spending real money if you plan on playing PvP multiplayer, however. You probably aren't going to have good enough stuff to be competitive against other players, so the desire to spend money is definitely there. PvP is totally optional, of course, so if you don't care about fighting other players you can ignore it entirely, which is what I do.

I've barely scratched the surface on all you can do and why it's so addictive, but my point with this article is this - Gems of War is incredibly genuinely fun and I want more people to play it. Don't worry that it's free to play and stuffed with greedy microtransactions. You can ignore all of that and have a great time. If you like match three puzzle games. If you like collecting cards with awesome artwork and building teams of unique characters to suit your playstyle. And if you enjoy relaxing games you can put on and play for hours, well then Gems of War is easy to recommend. Gems of War really stands out in the free to play genre as being higher quality but also still being incredibly addictive and fun and viable even if you don't spend a dime on it. Whether on PS4, Switch, or Xbox One, you need to give Gems of War a try.