FREE GAMES REVIEW: The Battle of Polytopia
Welcome to Sun Tzu’s wet dream. Welcome to The Art of Phwoar.
Somewhere in Stockholm Sweden there is a one-man games studio called Midjiwan. Its founder, CEO, Head of Development and presumably tea boy, Felix af Ekenstam, has created an absolute gem of a game. Lucky, lucky us.
The reason that Polytopia is so good is because it’s so simple. Pick a tribe, spread out across the map and conquer other settlements. As you conquer more, you gain more stars per turn which allows you to unlock new technologies, units and buildings. This, plus variants including difficulty setting, determine your final score once you’ve either conquered the entire map — on Domination mode — or once your 30 turns have come to an end — on Perfection mode.
You don’t have to collect masses of coins or wait for a 20 minute timer before you can take your next turn. There are no adverts, there is no necessity to be online to play it, you don’t have to connect via Facebook or give the developers your pin number or inside leg measurement. This is not a freemium game masquerading as a free game. It’s just freeeee!
For while you start off with four playable tribes, you can unlock others by paying money. This daylight robbery comes in at £0.89 per tribe or, if you want to unlock the Luxidoor tribe it’s £2.39. I have no idea why this tribe is so much more expensive. Perhaps when you wake up in the morning, you find that during the night tiny 8-bit Indian men have done your tax returns. Possibly.
The payment option doesn’t feel like an imposition, however. I’ve had so many enjoyable hours on this game on commutes or during blurry lie-ins, that chipping in a grand total of £2.67 for three tribes feels like the least I could do. There you are Midjiwan. Spend the £2.67 on whatever that will buy you in Sweden. Possibly a very small amount of rancid fish or an Ace of Base track of your choice ? Enjoy!
The other bonus of buying more tribes is that you can face more opponents and, on Domination, play on much larger maps.
Every tribe starts off with a technological advantage of its own. The distinctly Imperial China-looking Xin-xi can climb mountains, whereas the Medieval English styled Hoodrick get archery. After that point, however, there’s no great distinction between them except for look, theme tune and the landscape that surrounds them. In that respect, no tribe should have any great advantage over any other. That said, the Vengir plain terrify me. They start off with swords, ride around on purple dinosaurs of some kind and look like they go on weekend mini-breaks to Mordor. Shudder.
The difficulty setting will also determine how other tribes interact with you. Play on Easy and other tribes will show all the aggression of a stoned koala bear. Crank it up to Crazy and the other powers will descend on you like a vengeful alliance of ex-girlfriends.
That other factions seem to operate with some level of strategy makes the game compelling. Should you find two tribes fighting, you can attack one side and the likelihood is that the other will look kindly upon you and a precarious alliance will be formed. Be wary though. You might start to notice that your bestest buddy in the whole world is building up strong forces mightily close to your cities. Hmm…
The maps are almost never the same (seemingly generating randomly like Minecraft maps) and the combination of islands, seas and mountains make for a dynamic environment in which to do battle. Trying to invade an well-developed opponent on their island can descend into a Gallipoli-style bloodbath for your troops. Only by combining different units (from ships to cavalry to catapults) can you hope to make a breakthrough.
Ultimately, this game is about balance. Do you spend your stars on creating lots of low level troops or do you use the resources to level up your cities and build better quality troops? The answer is both. Small cities cannot produce many units, but cities won’t get large without troops to defend them.
Do you take a defensive stance with hardy shield-bearing Defenders or do you send a Knight to spread havoc behind enemy lines? Do you send your armies over the water en masse or do you level up a few of them into a formidable, permanent navy?
Fancy moving your troops around your sprawling empire faster? Build roads. A combination of roads and ports also enriches your empire and levels up your capital city. Zoom out of the game map when a campaign is in full swing and you do get a little hit of awe of how far your people have come.
Keep leveling up your cities and you’ll gain formidable giants, or you might decide to beautify your cities instead for a better final score. This and an endless series of choices keeps the game endlessly playable and always surprising. Incredibly easy to play, incredibly difficult to master. It’s strategy nut’s heaven. It’s Sun Tzu’s wet dream. It’s the Art of Phwoar.
Any minor criticisms are so minor that they barely register. For example, having to complete the exact same tasks each time (i.e. explore the whole map or amass wealth) are a tad monotonous but, because you’ll be doing these things in the process of conquest anyway, they’re hardly much of a chore.
While units are pretty well balanced against each other, it would be nice if horses were actually effective against archers, for example, or that Defenders didn’t seem quite so invincible, though a few catapults or a canon-firing ship soon puts pay to them.
While the graphics are very cutesy and appealing, some factions have some eye-watering colours and cluttered landscapes which aren’t helped by occasionally phone-smashingly annoying theme tunes.
It also seems to be nigh on impossible (for me) to reach the coveted 3-star score at the end of a game. Even a cursory google, however, will reveal that there are legions of 12 year-olds who have achieved this feat, so let not my shortcomings deter you.
In short, Polytopia is incredibly well made and incredibly well thought out. The result is a near-perfect game which is as replayable as it is satisfying.
Congratulations to Midjiwan and, if he decides upon Ace of Base, may I recommend “All That She Wants”? In it, it is said that the girl in question “leads a lonely life” and that “all that she wants is another baby” but it doesn’t make it clear what she did with the first one. Whatever. It’s catchy.