I've been quite vocal in the past about my disdain for the current generation of 'collectible card games' blossoming in the wake of Rage of Bahmut's success. Games like Aeria Mobile's Pirate Maidens and Final Fantasy Airborne Brigade offer pretty art without much in the way of depth, simulating rarity to drive sales of booster packs and battle items, with more effort going into ads for these products than actual gameplay. Zynga's latest mobile offering, War of the Fallen, demonstrates where the genre can go when accessibility and depth are as important as profit.
The difference between War of the Fallen and other collectible card battlers is obvious from the moment you launch the game. Where other titles give you a page filled with flashing advertisements for the latest special cards that would be right at home in a late 90s website, War of the Fallen gives you information. There's an ad there, but it’s not an obnoxious ad.
The focus on quality is plain to see on every card. Along with gorgeous art (there's an iPad native version on the way) and special skills that plainly spell out the benefits of placing each card in your battle deck, there's also flavor text that defines the creature's place in the game world. These small bits of lore might not seem like much, especially to a seasoned player of physical collectible card games, but they're a true rarity in the mobile genre. They even change as a card evolves, giving players motivation to strengthen their collection besides a favorable win/loss ratio.
As far as story goes, the game centers around a comet that's come crashing down to earth. This heavenly object turns out to be a prison for the old gods, and it's leaking evil influence across the land. The player is one of the lucky few that are immune to the corruption, the cards they collect represent creatures they're freeing in an effort to wipe the scourge from existence.
That's the most I've ever written about the plot of one of these games. It's the most plot I've had to write about, quite frankly.
The mechanics of War of the Fallen should be familiar to fans of the genre. Create a deck, tap on enemies to engage in stat-based battles. Treasures are collected or stolen from other players to form sets, which can be traded in for powerful cards. Upgrade and evolve cards into new forms. Join guilds to climb leaderboards and take on tougher challenges. It's a bit more social, with a Guild Force mechanic that enhances members' skill performance the more active players there are, with a messaging system so members can poke each other to get online for big events, but for the most part it's pretty basic.
What's special about the game is how it strives to make sure its mechanics are familiar to new players as well. According to the game's general manager, Scott Koenigsberg, who spoke to me earlier this week regarding War of the Fallen, a great deal of importance was placed on making normally obscured game mechanics more transparent and accessible to new players. They'll understand how cards work with other cards to create a stronger overall deck. They'll never have to worry about evolving their favorite card to a new form, only to find out it would have been more powerful had they waited.
War of the Fallen is not a revolutionary mobile card battler, but a card battler crafted in a revolutionary way. I could play this, at least until my wallet ran dry.
War of the Fallen is now available for free on iTunes.