Happy Wars Review
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On 11/10/2012 at 12:00 PM by Julian Titus
Happy happy joy joy, happy happy joy joy...
For anyone curious about games like League of Legends but were too intimidated by the player base.
One of the things to come out of the last 6 years or so that I’ve found most interesting has been the rise of the free to play model. It wasn’t too long ago that free to play was synonymous with amateur game design and simple flash games. Now, even the biggest companies in the world are creating games that don’t ask for money up front, and the quality of those games has increased many times over. Console manufacturers have been slow to adopt this business model, so I was very interested in playing Happy Wars for XBLA, the first free to play game for the 360. While I don’t think that Happy Wars is a great example of the free to play structure, it stands as a unique and fun experience for Xbox Live Gold subscribers.
In a nutshell, Happy Wars borrows heavily from the MOBA style of games. That would be Multiplayer Online Battle Arena for the uninitiated—think League of Legends. Teams of up to 15 square off in an attempt to capture towers on the battlefield, allowing them to respawn closer to their ultimate goal: the opposing team’s castle. Once there, a frantic siege begins, as the castle gate can take a lot of punishment before falling, and even then the game doesn’t end until the big tower in the center of the castle is rubble.
To accomplish this goal, players can choose between the warrior, cleric, and mage classes. You can switch between these classes anytime you die, which will likely be a lot, given the frantic and hectic pace of each match. Warriors are your standard melee damage dealers that can also take a good amount of punishment. Mages have ranged and area of effect spells, but are much squishier than warriors. Clerics are healers, but also teleport allies across the battlefield and call in supplies to build defensive weapons and siege ladders. It takes a great combination of these classes working together to succeed in the world of Happy Wars.
I don’t play well with others. I’ve always been a solitary gamer, gravitating towards single player experiences with involved stories or compelling game mechanics. I’m also not very competitive, so even though I’ve heard people rant and rave about games like League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients they haven’t had any appeal for me. I was concerned that Happy Wars would be as brutal and unforgiving an experience as I’ve heard other MOBA games are, but what I found was a multiplayer game that even I in all of my antisocial tendencies could enjoy.
That’s in large part due to the charm of this game. Happy Wars is, well, happy; it features a delightful art design that’s colorful and inviting without feeling childish or overly cutesy. The story mode sets up the loose premise for why these armies are constantly fighting: in short they’ll go to war over the most petty things, not unlike the majority of hardcore gamers. The offline tutorial missions eased me into what I should expect from the real battles, and the game features practice battles against bots if you still need some fine tuning before jumping in.
As you may have gathered, I don’t play games with my headset on. I’m a quiet player to begin with, and I’m also not a trash talker, so I don’t need to hear other players with their constant insults and immaturity. Toylogic understands this, and Happy Wars has a simple but serviceable communication system that covers all the basics. You can easily call for a heal, ask players to follow you, call for help, and more with a push of a button. Pressing the Y button kicks off a powerful team based maneuver, and this puts a call out to other players who need to form up before the move can be executed.
The in-game command system works just fine, but Happy Wars is a game that hinges on teamwork. It can be easy to try and be the lone wolf, but ultimately that won’t accomplish much. When a team is really working together, Happy Wars becomes something special. But in most of the games I played there was very little focused teamwork going on, leading to frustrating deaths and crushing defeats. If you’re going to jump into Happy Wars I would suggest getting some friends to play along with and chatting through the Xbox Live party system to strategize.
Free to play games need to make their money, and while I understand that fact, I’m not too happy with the way that Toylogic has decided to ask for player cash. Instead of paying for cosmetic items (though that’s also an option), many of the things that can be purchased have a real impact on gameplay. In short, spending more money on Happy Wars will make you better at Happy Wars, which throws balance out the window in my book. You can buy better gear, enhance your current items, and even pay for stat buffs between spawns. There were times when I’d attack an opponent and do almost no damage, only to get one-shotted in return. I could only conclude that I was up against someone that had put some money into the game, and since I hadn’t I was at a disadvantage.
There’s also a gambling element to the way the pay items work, and that’s a seedy side of free to play that I don’t agree with. While you can buy sets of armor and weapons outright, there are also packs of item cards that you can purchase. These are completely random, just like buying a pack of Magic cards at the local comic shop. There’s the allure of finding a super rare weapon of course, but you can just as easily end up with stuff you don’t want at all. You can also flush your earned coins down the toilet in a roulette wheel where you cross your fingers for some better gear. Admittedly, this is completely optional, but the fact that it was so prevalent in the game left a bad taste in my mouth.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning the connection problems I’ve had with Happy Wars. More often than not, the matchmaking lobby takes forever before starting a game. It takes far too long for the teams to populate, and even then there’s a long process of setting things up, which leads to players dropping out. When that happens, the process starts over, and if the host leaves you’re kicked out of the lobby entirely and have to try again. It’s an issue that Toylogic has been working on, and I delayed this review for as long as I could, hoping things would get fixed. But so far I still spend more time waiting to get into a match than I do actually playing, and I’ve factored that into my score. Diablo III had similar problems right at launch, but it only affected my sessions a couple of times, and within a day or two things were working fine, but Happy Wars is nigh-unplayable at this point due to the lobby hangups. I hope that changes in the future, but for now it’s a frustrating experience.
When I could get into a match I had a lot of fun with Happy Wars. It’s unlike anything I’ve played on the Xbox 360, and getting together with a good team is thrilling and addicting. I really don’t like the “pay to be great” aspect of the game, and the connection issues can turn the game into Sad Wars at times. With that being said, this game is free to play, so there’s no harm in trying it out for yourself. The big question is if it’s worth your time. I would say that it is, but not when it spends so long trying to put a match together.