Rivalries are Renewed in Familiar Fashion in Transformers: Earth Wars [Review]
A long, long time ago, a massive spaceship crashed on Earth. Thanks to an opportune volcano eruption, the inhabitants of the ship were woken up just in time to enjoy the '80s. Unfortunately, not everyone on the ship is a good person... or robot. While the Autobots befriend the humans they encounter in the hopes of finding a way back to their home planet, the Decepticons immediately set to work on a plan to eliminate the Autobots, take over Earth and return to Cybertron to rule.
Over the years, the story of the Transformers has taken many forms, from different animated series to movies, comics and games. One thing always holds true though --- Autobots and Decepticons really can't stand each other. That rivalry serves as the backbone for Hasbro's newest mobile game, Transformers: Earth Wars. A base-building strategy game, Earth Wars follows suit with Clash of Clans and Rival Kingdoms, putting you in charge of creating the perfect base for your faction and working to stop the other side. The formula might be similar to what you've seen before, but Earth Wars has enough new wrinkles to make it stand out beyond the license.
Base-building games typically all follow the same mold, with you getting a brief tutorial on all the basics while making the first wave of improvements to your bare-bones foundation. Transfomers: Earth Wars doesn't shake up the process too much, as you've got to get people that may not have dabbled in this arena acclimated. The user interface is laid out intuitively, with clear details that all stick true to the Transformer motif. Whether you choose to play as the Decepticons or the Autobots, everything starts out the same way albeit with the color-coded trappings associated with either faction.
To start, you'll need to harvest alloy and energon, the two basic resources needed to purchase upgrades and new buildings as you progress. Once you have enough, you'll be able to build more harvesters, storage units, weapon turrets, walls and the like to defend and define your personal Cyberton away from Cybertron. While the individual base elements incorporate alien tech elements, and are fairly interesting in and of themselves, the actual landscapes of the game are a bit boring. The Autobots get a nice little patch of land by the mountain reservoir, while the Decepticons are stuck in the barren desert. It wouldn't be a noticeable issue if every single base you went to didn't have the same layout, but such is the way of world in these types of games.
Fortunately, the character designs and animations make up for this lack of environmental depth. All of the Transfomers look good in their Generation 1 forms, both robot and vehicle. Earth Wars actually makes use of both by having the robots roll out at the start of every battle, and once the fighting starts, they shift into their upright forms. They each have a special ability they can use, like Megatron's rally cry, which enacts a special animation and gives a bit of a damage boost for a short duration. There's not a lot of voice work, but the rest of the sound design is solid with a catchy soundtrack.
There are two different types of battles you can set out on once you've gotten your base sorted out. Earth Wars offers a story mode of sorts that takes you through a number of different campaigns, each with five different chapters. They increase in difficulty as you get further, so you'll need to continually level up your characters to get the most out of the story. You'll get rewarded with in-game currency like alloy and energon, but finishing each campaign also earns you a new Transformer to add to the roster. The difficulty curve, at least as it pertains to the recommended power level offered by the game, escalates rather quickly, so you'll be spending most of your time grinding in the PvP arena to level up your team.
Attacking rivals is a bit more forgiving in the difficulty, and offers you three different levels so you will only (hopefully) go up against other players close to your own level. Player vs Player action in Earth Wars is asynchronous, so it's not like you'll ever have to be present if you come under attack, but the bases you'll be transported to are all tied to a recommended power level. That number comes from the combined strength of your team, and serves as a guideline for you more than a restriction in the game itself. You can just destroy under-leveled player bases all day if you want, but the rewards won't be as great. Conversely, you can try your luck on the harder bases, but every time you lose, you get fewer rewards and have to wait for your robots to recharge.
If you find that your current crop of characters isn't quite getting the job done, you can get more Transformers by summoning them from Cybertron through the space bridge. Every eight hours, you earn a free crystal from the game to use in the space bridge. They'll either drop one-off weapons for you to use or summon someone from the home planet. What you get isn't ever guaranteed, but so far we've earned a fair mix of low-level characters and weapons. There are crystals you can buy with real money (Earth Wars is free-to-play, but does offer micro-transactions), which will improve your chances of getting better Transformers.
Even if you only rely on the game itself to dole out your characters, you can still improve them by consistently using them in battles. You can increase the damage and health for each character every level, and the first 10 levels are open for each character no matter when you get them. Once they reach that level, all characters are capped until you earn the research lab building, which can then open up the next tier. This does give you reason to constantly swap out Transformers for different battles, but it's also incredibly frustrating to be stuck waiting to earn enough assets to level up one character let alone all of them. All the experience you earn while characters are capped is wasted in the interim, so the game's own design works against you in this regard.
Unless you want to pay to have all these processes expedited with your Cyber Coins. Cyber Coins allow you to fast forward building, buy some kinds of crystals (but not all) and make up the difference in resources if you happen to be short of a requirement. They are doled out slowly by the game itself as you level up your own personal stats, and you earn some by completing tasks like building a turret or upgrading your headquarters. The temptation to spend them to quickly build up all your assets early on is strong, but every little bit adds up. Weighing the importance of how best to spend them is only a tiny bit stressful --- it is just a game afterall --- but with the threat of PvP action, the concern about getting left in the dust early on is real.
That's especially true once you get into the Alliances part of Earth Wars. Here, you'll join up with friends or strangers in larger conflicts to settle the score between Autobots and Decepticons once and for all. Or at least until the next wave of the battle starts. Each conflict lasts for 24 hours, and the better you do, the better the rewards and the better your chances for moving up to the next tier. Of course, this is all contingent on your whole team and not just you, so it requires a tiny bit of cooperation. You can just partake long enough to get the rewards, but you may find yourself booted from the Alliance if you aren't pulling your weight. With that in mind, it's probably best to play with friends so things don't get too serious... unless you want them to.
Transformers: Earth Wars doesn't drastically change what works about this style of game, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. Part of what makes it fun is indeed the license, but that's not the only thing Earth Wars has going for it. It can be a little grind heavy, but if you've got the patience, there's an addictive strategy game at the heart of it all. Just don't let the Autobots win. Those guys get enough pats on the back as it is.
This review is based on both beta and public release versions of Transformers: Earth Wars.