Reviewed by Pieter Troffaes
The Master Bombardier salivates as he presses the big red button, an ear shattering thump echoes as the cannons fire and you hope for the best. Slowly two small dots come into view, they’re getting bigger, they’re coming right at you. An unbelievable crash, the surrounding landscape is full of rubble. The enriched uranium shells have added to the already thick nuclear fallout. Nothing but your Battle Mine is left standing. Yes Nigel, I know we should rebuild our academy…
Nearly a decade in the making, Erik Walle’s Battle Mines is a Free-to-Play MMO strategy game in a post-apocalyptic setting. Perhaps because of the lengthy development, it does not sound like the freshest idea around, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. It does a couple things to set it apart from the competition. From a gameplay point of view, the focus lies heavily on long-term building and resource management. The style is what separates it most though, from the first couple of minutes you get greeted by a tongue-in-cheek comedy that both helps guide you through your story as well as making the apocalypse seem a little less damning.
Let’s talk about those first few minutes. Right off the bat you get greeted by a video tutorial that lines out the first steps you’ll take in this new world. Don’t feel too judged for clicking on the “n00b guide”, it’s all in good fun. If you crave more knowledge, there is an extensive player’s manual as well as a cheat sheet for some extra tips readily available on the website. One unfortunate detail is that you have to make a very important choice right off the bat, choosing your base resource, without really knowing the consequences. It is perfectly changeable later on in the game, but it will take you quite a lot of work before you get that far.
There’s a quest system available that at first will guide you through the first couple of buildings and all the options that Battle Mines has to offer and later on will develop more into a longterm goal or achievement system to work towards, but this should ensure that you will have something to do for the first couple of hours. A very good job is done of drawing you into the game and making you acquainted without throwing too much at you at once. There’s fifteen different resources, but at first you’ll only have to deal with a couple ones and your mine will work quite a lot faster than it will later on. Of course there’s also a “n00b shield” to protect you from too bloodthirsty neighbors.
And you will become quite familiar with your neighbors. You will depend on them for trades and fight them for dominance, most of your time will be spent with the same group of players. The cartwheel layout for the map is a nice touch, it keeps you from feeling too lost in the big wide world.
After the buffs die out that kept you engaged on first picking it up, the mining cycle will slow down to 6 hours. This will basically be the minimum amount of time between activity within the game. It’s slightly annoying because it’s just long enough that you don’t feel like you have to be there every minute of the day, but just long enough that you wish the timer would start ticking a little bit faster. Using time as a resource is very common in these browser-based strategy game and it comes as no surprise, but it’s still not a pleasant experience.
This is also where the microtransactions come in. You can buy gold with your dollars for a 1/1 conversion rate with discounts for bigger purchases. With the gold you can buy some ingame tools like autoharvesting, which means your mines will refresh automatically so you don’t feel the urge to wake up at four in the morning, and terraforming, which will let you change the base resource of your land. Also available for purchase with gold are all the different resources if you don’t want to trade for them or risk a military engagement, a vanity pack with different looks for your Batlle Mine and an opportunity to change your name. None of it is too egregious that I would hold it as a mark against the game, although the ability to buy resources does lean a little more towards pay-to-win than I would like.
The comedy in the game comes from the stylish drawings and the dialog between the characters. If you find it off-putting in the first few screens, it can make the game somewhat frustrating to play. On the other hand if the tongue-in-cheek, non-politically-correct humour is more up your alley, it will likely get more than a few chuckles out of you.
Ultimately, the Free-to-Play price tag and different take on an established genre make this definitely worth a look. The elaborate tech and resource system will keep you going for a long extended period of time and the laughs will keep it fresh. If you don’t enjoy the first honeymoon period, there’s more than enough alternatives under the sun.