Publisher: Microsoft Studios / Developer: Toylogic / Price: Free-to-Play / Played on: Xbox 360 / ESRB: Teen [Violence, Blood]
How does one accurately gauge the value of a game that’s free? While you can download and play Happy Wars on the Xbox 360 without paying one cent (aside, of course, from the mandatory Xbox LIVE Gold subscription), the real question at hand is whether or not Happy Wars is worth your time. While the answer may be different for different people, I suspect the majority of gamers might feel like they’re getting just about what they’ve paid for.
Gameplay and Control
The gameplay format of Happy Wars should be pretty familiar by now: it’s a multiplayer online battle arena, or MOBA, that pits you and your allies against enemy hordes, all with the goal of destroying the enemy’s base tower secured within their castle walls. Each battlefield features a number of tower-building locations, and the more towers your team builds and controls, the better your chances are for victory. The towers function as spawn-points for when you die, and if time runs out with your team controlling more towers than your opponents, you win. Victory means your team balancing the struggle to maintain or add to your towers, defend your castle, and destroy the enemy’s base.
There are three classes available—warrior, cleric, or mage—and they function mostly as you’d expect. The warrior is a melee combat specialist, while the mage is better with attacking from a distance and providing combat support. Clerics are the most interesting class in terms of defying expectations: in addition to the standard healing and buff spells typical of clerics in other games, Happy Wars’ clerics can create ballistae, battering rams, and ladders to storm enemy castle’s walls.
As you play, you gain experience and earn higher ranks as well as weapons, shields, armor, and accessories. Experience points can also be cashed in at the blacksmith for equipment upgrades, as long as you have sufficient materials, i.e., other items you’re willing to sacrifice.
The game’s controls are relatively simple, with standard attacks mapped to X, while individual special moves trigger with A and B, with team specials on Y. Overall, the controls respond well, and I never felt as though I couldn’t do what I’d wanted at any given moment.
It’s all pretty standard for the genre, and there’s certainly nothing crucial missing from the package. That said, the first few times I played, I became extremely frustrated since I had little to no idea as to what was going on. The battlefield can become extremely chaotic as the armies clash and spells start flying. But the more I played and got used to random tornadoes generating, or the appearance of a milk carton inexplicably covering my character’s head, the more I was able to keep up and actually enjoy myself.
Even still, there were plenty of game sessions that felt extremely unbalanced for one side or the other. Teams rarely had the opportunity to swing the game to their advantage, even for a brief period of time. And like any game with upgradeable characters, some players seemed to have huge edges over others just by dint of their gear, which can, of course, be purchased with real currency, the driving economic model of a free-to-play game. In the end, there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with the gameplay, but unless you really get a kick out of MOBAs in general, I doubt there’s much here that’s innovative or exciting to compel you come back for more.
The main attraction of Happy Wars is that you’re going online and playing with mobs of other gamers. In fact, to me, the fact that 50 or so players come together around the world to fight on an imaginary battlefield is really the coolest aspect of what is otherwise pretty thin gruel. It’s interesting to witness group tactics unfold organically, since it seems as though the majority of players don’t bother using headsets. Instead, players pick up on in-game cues to support their allies on the fly, and when it works, it’s fun. By contrast, when it doesn’t work, it’s frustrating, especially when pitted against players whose characters sport high ranks and, consequently, really good gear. That a team is only as good as its teamwork should be no surprise.
But that’s all contingent on getting into a game and being able to actually fight. During my few days of play, I hit some snags when trying to join a game. Lots of times, I just sat and waited in the matchmaking lobby, only to get kicked after about five minutes. Testing my Xbox LIVE connection revealed no problems, though.
When I did get connected, waiting times beforehand lasted up to four minutes, which can feel like an eternity when you’re just sitting on the couch, listening to the music play. Sometimes the game connected within a minute or so, but for a game so dependent on online play, that spotty a record was annoying to say the least. I should note, however, that once in a game, I never encountered lag or weird connection problems.
Happy Wars has kind of a wacky, cartoony aesthetic that may or may not be your cup of tea. The game story, such as it is, revolves around two neighboring kingdoms—the light and the dark—who argue about silly disputes like what’s the most powerful animal or the best summer movie. Boom: time to go to war. The game also offers up a bare-bones single-player mode, but progress is restricted to gaining ranks in the multiplayer campaign.
From a visual standpoint, the cartoon-like graphics match the game’s other simplified components. But there are some issues that affect the gameplay. The camera seems entirely manual, meaning that as you move and fight, you have to swing your view around to make sure you get a good shot of the action. Worse, the game’s under-detailed, pixilated environments can often obstruct the view, making it doubly hard to know what the heck is going on in moments of intense battle. Another time, I accidently walked into a river and died, since the water’s texture looked nearly identical to the dry land. For some reason, both the water and land were yellow. This is a problem.
I feel kind of bad giving Happy Wars a hard time considering the fact that it’s completely free. It’s totally fine, and if you feel like devoting an afternoon to this game, you could certainly do a lot worse. But considering the robust, low-cost options that offer solid online multiplayer action on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, why bother with a game that’s content to be merely better than average? Happy Wars is fine. But it isn’t much more than that.
+ Solid, competent gameplay mechanics
- Spotty connection issues
- Not particularly compelling
6.5 / 10