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Early Access Impressions: Force Of Elements

Words Of Title

The very best thing about Force Of Elements [official site] is that each character has a set of stock phrases, set to the number keys, that can be barked during play - such that throughout multiplayer battles, I have my big gruff man-thing hero say "I put the cute in execute!" over and over and over and over and over.

Admittedly, this is the very best thing about Force Of Elephants rather by default, as it's the only thing that stood out. FoE is a puzzle quest clone that wasn't paying attention while it was copying someone else's work, resulting - in its beta launch state - in a weirdly shallow game with very little to do. Other than try to drive random opponents into insanity.

The magic of Puzzle Quest, and to a lesser degree the fourteen million Puzzle Quest clones that have followed, was that it took the mechanics of a match-3 puzzle game and used them as the core of an RPG, with characters and stories and upgrades and stats and mounts. So it's a very peculiar move to take that concept, and then strip out the main hook, and yet not replace it by putting the full match-3 game back in. Elephants presently offers an abortive online multiplayer mode for super-simplified match-3 battling, a dismissive, mostly pointless couple of offline challenges, and then rather stalling. Which is all the more strange when its origins are a mobile game that wants your in-app purchases.

The Steam build is in Early Access, while the Android build is in beta, with plans for six months of beta development. (Although, bizarrely, it claims it's incompatible with my Nexus 6, Transformer Prime, and Nexus 7. There's a browser build too, but it wants you to register an account.) So I guess we're faced with the perennial issue of a game on sale for money, but promising the world to come.

At the moment, you can pick from six heroes (four of them unlocked by spending purple "shards"), and then either go through a nothing-chain of AI fights rather optimistically described as "Trials", or one of the two online game modes. "Ranked" gives each player a ten second turn to match gems, and fire off powers accrued by collecting the right colours, before control switches for the next ten seconds. "Moves" lets each player take five turns without a time limit, then switches control. The former is a lot more appealing, as it means some degree of skill comes into play (being able to spot moves in a short time is pretty much the only element of skill in a match-3 game - any twerp can sit and stare at the screen for ten minutes to find them), and rather pleasingly seems to confirm to me that I'm an awful lot better at matching threes that most other people. I've yet to lose.

As you win your character gains skill points to seemingly no end, and you can sort of level up extra bonus abilities but at a rate so tiny you'd only appreciate it in time-lapse. Then, with that match over you can... start another one. And that's it. Not with the same person, mind - no grudge matching here. It just randomly assigns you another player to torment with the same line of dialogue over and over until they probably worry they're playing against some sort of lunatic savant.

Shards, the in-game currency, are currently rewarded for wins, losses, and reaching new levels. But not in volumes large enough to be useful. Ahhh, you think to yourself - that's how they get you! Except presently there's no attempt to get anyone, since they don't appear to have switched on purchases in this beta. So instead you simply can't unlock stuff because new things cost 600 points and it only gives you 15 or so a time, even if you win. So yeah.

There's so very little to do at this point that I think they've gone public way too early. There does appear to be a selection of players online - I've never had to wait for a match - but I can't see why people will stick around. The structure of a game is here, but the game itself appears forgotten.

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John Walker avatar

John Walker


Once one of the original co-founders of Rock Paper Shotgun, we killed John out of jealousy. He now runs buried-treasure.org