Spoiler alert! Valor and Island Empire both attempt to give their players the chance to develop their own kingdoms and armies, then dispatch them against the barbarian hordes (or each other). The good news: both meet all the essentials of strong role playing games and allow players to network with likeminded friends.
The bad news? If anybody dies, you don’t get to see it. You only hear about it second hand. If you actually want to fight, download other games.
The really bad news? If you’re just getting started you will probably be wiped out by a player who already has thousands of troops and no scruples about squashing you like a bug. 2 stars.
Maybe it’s just me, but it’s hard to envision combat based games where you don’t experience combat. I was never a fan of D&D but at least those guys killed each other by rolling dice. Not only each other but trolls and goblins and orcs and other nasty beasties.
Any blood in Valor and Island Empire exists on ledger sheets. You build mines, quarries and fisheries to crank out resources to recruit your troops. Then you build and upgrade barracks to support them. You trade for other resources you need, join leagues (if they accept you) and send your soldiers marching off to war.
You twiddle your thumbs or play another game for a few years and then you get a dispatch saying whether or not you won and how many troops you lost. No mention of the collateral damage either (no women raped, fields burned or children slaughtered). Very clean, kind of like conducting modern war.
In this respect they seem little more than copies of Castlecraft, although neither is as graphically rich. The basic motif remains the same, although the rules of gameplay in the two newer games seem much easier to decipher. Both game’s assets seem to mature much more quickly, and players will find it far easier to unlock new tasks, assets and quests.
In Valor you manage you work from a categories menu that almost always leads to lists. The graphic side of the game is definitely limited, even if players face more options and challenges.
Both games combine the social network aspects of medieval realm games like We Rule, and the time management aspects of games like Royal Envoy and My Kingdom for the Princess. Players begin with a small realm and then develop and upgrade lumber mills, farms, fish hatcheries and mines to support larger and larger armies.
As you level up, you unlock additional towns or additional worlds. More importantly you can join guilds or leagues (the only difference being which game you play) and launch campaigns with your allies. You can also expand your markets and ports to trade with other players for resources you lack.
Oh, yes, and if you find yourself needing that little something extra to get you past a level, you can buy your way out of the jam by spending real dollars on coins or gems. If you know anything about social networking games you know that sooner or later the developers are going to hit you up for real money.
The most notable difference between the two games is the graphic interface. Island Empire retains the visual approach of many of the social network games, allowing you to see the entire city and click on the different buildings. Valor takes a list and ledger approach. Every element is managed from an item list. You may see the icon of the asset you wish to upgrade, but you can never see the entire kingdom at once.
Island Empire takes a more graphical approach similar to those in other social network games. As you upgrade your town hall, you can upgrade your town’s resources. Unlike Valor, you can actually see your town and even explore other towns.
Both provide forums and mail delivery to allow players to communicate, and the game dispatcher updates them with details of their crusades abroad.
Players join guilds to form alliances to increase their protection from enemy attack.
Of the two, Valor provides the greater challenge and a wider range of responsibilities. Players can seek fortune’s blessings on the wheel of fortune (which is more like the TV wheel with Vanna White than the medieval wheel of fortune that inspired it). Like Castlecraft, they have to build workshops and academies before they can conduct the research necessary to train their troops. Players can actually trade directly with other players and even post offers on the site for needed resources.
Island Empire is easier to play and the gems seem to buy more resources than the coins in Valor.
Valor’s wheel of fortune allows players to spin for additional resources and prizes. The maid fortune I remember from college medieval studies didn’t look anything like her though.
If I seem to lean toward Valor, it’s for a couple of reasons. Valor is vastly more stable. On several different days the Island Quest server shut down entirely, locking players out.
The only real irritation in Valor is having to wait until the opening animation reaches the “skip” button, only to discover that sometimes you can’t skip. It would make more sense to simply drop the animation and add a “view intro” button for the players who want to wait through the long, dull intro over and over again.
Up to this point, I would rate both games a solid C. Then I discovered they both have a deep, dark downside.
Be prepared to lose everything
Experienced players in both games, the ones who have already amassed large armies, love to invade the realms of weaker players and steal all of their resources. Constantly. Based on emails and chats in both games, it’s pretty clear that players with large armies prefer to overwhelm less experienced players for the resource they mined and grew, and then use those resources to build even larger armies and attack as soon as the younger players have had a chance to build up their resources again.
Particularly you, Potato 400,444 in Valor who returns with thousands of troops every day to raze my fields and mines. Thanks to you I’m building up as large an army as possible while dismantling my entire kingdom so that you will lose as many of your troops as possible and get squat in return. My citizens would rather disband than feed your armies. Freedom is more important than eating.
There’s one thing to be said for realism, but this is a game and players shouldn’t feel the frustration of finding all of their resources and troops are depleted every time they log in because they lost one or two battles to forces thirty times as large. Nor do the games provide adequate safeguards to give newer players a competitive chance.
Both games add a few protocols. Both offer new towns protection for two days, and both allow players to join guilds. But two days is enough to build only a small army (unless you want to spend hundreds of dollars in in-app purchases), and the younger players are usually stuck joining weaker guilds because the more powerful guilds are already full.
Valor is a little better. Players can buy (with real dollars) a 24 hour truce, but can’t use them two days in a row (hardly enough time to rebuild forces), and players can dispatch troops to support other guild members but the more troops you dispatch the less protection you have.
Until the games add a diplomacy option, require guilds to expand and embrace newer players, and provide a way for guilds to retaliate for attacks on an alliance (and make it clear that they are attacking in retaliation), I can’t see much hope for new players who aren’t willing to spend a lot of money up front. Which is fine if you’re Republican and believe that power and money make things right, but I’m done with both.
Jenny Manytoes rates Valor and Island Empire.
Jenny Manytoes would bunch her tail at both games. Each has something to recommend it, but I suspect that players who want a little more action and a little less time upgrading each building will soon grow weary. That being said, I was never going to be in the developer’s intended audience and both seem to be quite popular with players who love the theme.
At least the players who haven’t been wiped out by overwhelming forces in the early going.