Friday, May 21, 2010

Battle Dex beta preview. Online PvP TBS.

Battle Dex is a microtransaction based online multiplayer PvP TBS game currently in beta. Battle Dex follows the well trodden wargame-lite TBS format, much like Advance Wars and Military Madness. What makes Battle Dex most different from other TBS games are its battle altering Cards. These cards can be played during a match and have effects like creating superior units, buff/debuff/healing, direct damage attacks, terrain blocking, and teleportation. Each card has a funds cost, with the more powerful cards costing more to use. There's a wide variety of cards that add an impressive amount of variety and depth to the standard TBS formula. Much like Magic the Gathering, the metagame will be built around assembling a deck that works with your playstyle and strategy. Of course, you'll have to purchase a few decks to be able to play competitively, which is the basic business model of a free to play microtransaction game.



One of the nice things about using the wargame-lite Advance Wars style combat as a base for a game is that most of it is already pre-balanced and ensures you have a solid base to work with. Along with the cards, there are a number of changes Battle Dex makes to the formula to improve the game as a PvP experience. First, both players input their commands then all orders are executed at the same time. This makes it so you don't spend as much time waiting around for your opponent to 'take their turn'. Next, the combat results are less deterministic than most strategy wargames, with a wider variation in damage values. This makes the combat more unpredictable and you'll have to take advantage of luck whenever possible when facing an even less predictable human opponent. Finally, the game can be won by victory points which are accumulated by capturing and holding buildings. This avoids long stalemate battles. All animations can be skipped so you can immediately get to issuing orders for the next turn, which should lead to some very fast paced battles.

One feature I liked is the ability to queue up movements ahead of time, so you can order an infantry to auto-run towards a factory without giving it an order to move each turn. Infantry automatically capture locations and don't need to be ordered. The less orders that need to be input, the faster the turn based combat will be. The UI is decent but missing a lot of features you'd expect from an SRPG. There's no menu to list all of your units, no button to jump between units, and there's not enough keyboard shortcuts like a buy button, an end turn button, or hotkeys for the cards. The game is in beta and since it's an online game I'm sure improvements, refinements, balance tweaks, and new cards/units will be constantly ongoing.

The downside of being a collectible card game means that some rare, powerful cards will be out of reach from most players unless they are willing to spend quite a lot of real money or get lucky. The fact that these are 'virtual cards' means they can be changed or removed at whim, unlike physical cards like Magic the Gathering. It doesn't look like players are able to trade or sell their cards although the developers may add that feature later. Whether or not that's worth the price of entry to you is your choice, but it does seem like the developers have a good grasp of game balance and allowing a wide variety of valid PvP strategies, so you may feel comfortable placing your time and money into the game. There are already tournaments going on for cash prizes and I would assume tournaments will continue throughout the life of the game.

The game features player ranking as well as medals awarded for accomplishments in battle. The matchmaking looks fairly robust with different game modes and a wide variety of maps to play on. If you're at all interested in turn based PvP you should definitely give this game a try. It looks balanced and competitive with lots of attention paid to enhancing the game as a PvP experience.

1 comments:

Ben said...

Awesome review!

Good point about the hotkeys -- although there is a buy shortcut, sort of. The spacebar immediately brings you to your HQ to purchase units.