Plarium is a developer who built its reputation on a number of successful MMO titles for social networks and web browsers, including Pirates: Tides of Fortune, Stormfall: Age of War, and Vikings: War of Clans. Stormfall: Rise of Balur is their second foray into the field of mobile gaming and a spiritual successor of the Stormfall: Age of War. As such, it walks a fine line between a casual MMO title and something altogether much more ambitious, easily mustering in one virtual kingdom both laidback players and dedicated gamers prepared to invest multiple hours into the game.
If we were in the nitpicking mood we could say that this is just another generic fantasy MMO strategy game that indiscriminately plagiarizes names, terms, and concepts from a variety of sources. Be that as it may, the greatest quality of Stormfall: Rise of Balur doesn’t lie in its originality, but in the proficiency to compile all borrowed bits and pieces into one highly addictive game.
Another aspect where this game shines is that it offers a truly international experience, with a lively community of more than a quarter of a million players. Now, before expressions such as multiculturalism, pluralism and multiethnic creep into your head, most contacts with your neighbors will be focused on devising the most efficient ways of pillaging their castles when they’re not looking. However, that doesn’t change the fact that you’ll also be able to chat with your fellow players, locate their domains on the map, write them official in-game letters, help them in their hour of need with units and resources, and even become a member of one of the countless Leagues with all the privileges and duties that such an affiliation involves.
Since this is a fantasy MMO, you’re probably by now tempted to think that it also must have some cool and epic storyline. Well…this is where things get a bit rough. There are only a few things you need to know: The Stormfall empire has fallen and the land of Darkshine is divided among countless petty lords. To make matters worse, nefarious Balur and his Black Horde had reared their ugly head once more, threatening to destroy everything that’s noble and good. It is up to you and other players to stop this surge of evil by building up your kingdom and forging mighty alliances – providing, that is, that you first survive each other.
Thankfully, behind this cheesy collection of fantasy clichés hides one of the best MMO strategic experiences today. The most important thing that you can do as an aspiring lord is to improve your castle and ready yourself for all upcoming challenges, because only as an established power, or part of some influential alliance that can back you up you stand the chance to survive. This segment of the game is extremely well done: your city is a complex organism with a remarkable number of buildings, structures, and potential upgrades, so you’ll be micromanaging quite a lot to make sure that everything runs as smoothly as it should. Governing your own kingdom is no trivial matter and you’ll have to finish no less than 54 short tutorial quests before your charming councilor deems you fit to venture the game on your own. It’s not that the whole thing is too complex – as we said the game strikes a perfect balance between casual and more involving experience – it’s the sheer amount of structures and activities within the castle that might seem a bit intimidating at first.
You’ll lay the foundations of your economy by building standard structures such as farms, townhouses, mines, and warehouses, but after that, increasingly exotic buildings will become available, some of them with pretty unique functions. For example, you’ll build catacombs – a structure where you can hide your resources and units in the case of an attack. Or you’ll construct Hall of Shadows where you’ll train spies which you can send to infiltrate castles of your rivals, and return with information about their strengths and weaknesses. You’ll even be able to build Dragon Stone and unlock the lost secrets of dragon art. This is another feature of the game that’s particularly satisfying: the vital part of the development of your castle will be different research that you’ll conduct to unlock new technologies, units, and powers. As always, the number of options in the various technology threes will make you dizzy at first until you gradually master them all.
Luckily, for the first three days, your castle will be under the so-called novice protection, which means that high-level players as well as all those who were playing the game more than three days won’t be allowed to attack you. After that period, your immunity will end, so you better get a grip fast and fortify your castle as best as you can.
Equally important as the various micromanagement tasks, is what you’ll do beyond the walls of your stronghold. As we’ve already mentioned, the level of interaction with other players is excellent. You can establish your own League or join an existing one. Of course, it won’t be long before you’ll feel tempted to attack one of your unsuspecting rivals. For the best outcome, you first can send a spy to sniff out their castle and see whether you have a chance or not, and then send your troops to raid it – if you’ll feel like it, you can even whack them with a fireball or two first. The combat is purely statistical, based on the calculation of your respective forces. In the end, you’ll receive a battle report with the list of the spoils you’ve earned and the status of units that participated.
As you can see, Stormfall: Rise of Balur has plenty of interesting features to keep you occupied for a long time – in fact, this was just a small sample of the things that await you in this game. Another thing that’s certainly going to help you stick around some more is the atmospheric soundtrack and jaw-dropping hand-drawn visuals that are simply swarming with funny little details and animations. Although nothing here is particularly innovative or original, the perfection of its execution is what separates Stormfall: Rise of Balur from a crowd of similar games.