If I was imagining my perfect Transformers game, I'd probably imagine something with plenty of explosions, as cheesy as possible, and the ridiculous action dialled up to 11.
A build and battle strategy game wouldn't even cross my mind.
But that's what Transformers: Earth Wars is. Is it an uneasy marriage, or the combination we never knew we wanted?
That's what I'll be attempting to figure out over the next seven days, as I play the game and report back with my findings to you lovely readers.First impressions
Anyone who played Rival Kingdoms will know that Space Ape is pretty good at this stuff.
The UI's nice and clear, you're gifted lots of currency early on, and a satisfying loop of building, resource gathering, and battling is immediately established.
In fact, if you like both Rival Kingdoms and Transformers, you should stop reading this right now and get the game.
Because that's what this is, if you'll forgive me being reductive - Rival Kingdoms, with the fantasy layer discarded and replaced with robots in disguise.
All the key changes stem from the Transformers theme, which is the right way to approach things.
You can choose between Autobots and Decepticons. Squads are smaller to allow for the individual team roles and abilities of the Transformers to shine in battle. You can generate new characters - many of them iconic - using Crystals.
And they're well implemented, too. Your squad rolls out into the battlefield in vehicle form, before transforming into hulking behemoths.
You can also check out the intricate 3D models of all your Transformers to see the transformation animation up close, like a virtual toy collection.
The only downside at this point is that a build and battle game heavily relies on the environment in which it is based. And what's the most boring, least defined part of the Transformers universe? Its world.
So right now, things are pretty stale in terms of locales.
Whether this changes as you progress remains to be seen, or maybe I'll simply cease to care about the environment as its destruction becomes more spectacular.
Let's return in a couple of days to find out.Day 5 – Destroy all Autobots
I'm not a particular Transformers fan, so I thought all the character-based touches in Earth Wars would be lost on me. At first, they probably were.
But, having now played the game for a little while, I'm starting to appreciate them more.
I've levelled up my Shuttle so that I can now bring four of my nastiest Decepticons into battle, and am beginning to appreciate the unique abilities and transformations of each - be it Tantrum's transition from big robo-man to raging robo-bull, or Megatron's rallying Inspiring Charge.
I've also joined an Alliance of quite serious Decepticon players, who send in-character messages such as "Decepticons! Transform and roll out!" and "Crush the Autobots into submission."
Call me impressionable, but I've never hated those goody-two-shoes Autobots more. I will give my life to end theirs.
But in all seriousness, the division between Autobot and Decepticon players - simple and crude as it is - has made the Alliance component compelling in a way that most games can't compete with.
Transformers fan or noob, the concept of a group of players marching under the same banner, fighting for the same cause - that is, to smash up some robots that disagree with you - is very satisfying indeed.
For the first few days of playing Transformers: Earth Wars, I was pining for Rival Kingdoms - Space Ape's previous game, to which it felt so similar in some regards but crucially distant in terms of that intangible feel that keeps you coming back.
I'm now appreciating Earth Wars on its own terms, and there's a personality here that far surpasses anything the studio has done before - despite it being a world populated almost exclusively by metallic lumps.
Let's return in a couple of days to complete the week, and see where it takes us.Day 7 - Not a transformation
Good presentation can improve your first impression of a game no end, but it's amazing how quickly the human brain begins to gloss over it.
It goes to prove that it's the basic satisfaction of the core loop, not flashy whizz-bangs, that make a game compelling.
In that spirit, as I complete a week of playing Transformers: Earth Wars, it's become clear that it's subject to all the same frustrations as its build and battle forebears.
Things take a long time to build. You lack the currency required to skip stuff. Battles, despite unique Transformer abilities, are aimless and largely strategy-free affairs.
Of course, criticising these things is like playing an FPS and complaining that you can't see your character's body.
And indeed, this isn't a criticism. More a straightforward statement that, unless you're a fan of games in the Clash of Clans mould, Earth Wars may not be the game for you.
Being a Transformers fan will probably help, but alone it's not enough.
Overall, there's something slightly frustrating about Transformers: Earth Wars in that all the ingredients are there.
It's made by a passionate and talented team in Space Ape, looks brilliant, and has great synergy with the wider universe.
But, for all of this, it's just a build and battler. A perfectly good build and battler, granted - but a build and battler nonetheless.
And that's why, beyond the initial layer of "ooh, ain't it shiny" excitement, it's hard to get too excited about.
Which is a shame. Because I know the market dictates that this was a sensible route but, as someone who wants to play interesting games, this is a bunch of promising ingredients baked into an unoriginal, well-worn recipe.
Sometimes you'll get a bite that's incredibly tasty, and it's great. But more often, you'll lament the stifled potential.
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