Overall Score 80%
We have been here before. About four years ago, when Bytten was young and had a black background, reviewer Hayden Yale reported on an online game called TinyWarz. In this game you spent your Command points, more of which are awarded daily, on contructing an army and battling both AI bandits and human players on a range of planets. When I first read about Drop Shock, I had a strange feeling of deja vu. And indeed, we have been here before.
Players of the original TinyWarz need no introduction to Drop Shock - indeed, they're probably already playing it! In essence the game plays in exactly the same way - you receive Command points every day, and you invest them in the construction of units and modifications, the harvesting of ore and so on. A major use for them is deployment, in which you'll take your army planetside to harvest resources and smash bandits - or other players. These deployments are the meat of the game, with all the off-planet stuff being management of your army.
Controls are chiefly mouse, and as with TinyWarz you play online through your web browser. You have a limited number of turns until each planet hits the horizon, at which point you'll evacuate, and each turn lasts about a minute. In that time you issue orders to your troops. There's a small command bonus for ending your turn quickly (but you still need to wait for the next one to start). Clearly there are advantages to a small force over a large one here! Units earn experience in combat and experienced crews are able to operate more advanced units and fight more effectively.
As before, there's a certain element of strategy involved and a wealth of things to learn. Three weapon types, for instance, require a certain level of planning in combat - energy weapons work best at point blank range, bullet types at mid range and ballistic missiles at a distance, so arrange your forces accordingly. There is far too much, I must confess, for a busy reviewer to cover in just a couple of weeks! Fortunately I've been given a lot of support from both the developers and, more importantly, other players - and there's also a wealth of information to read through on the wiki. There are some simple tutorials that cover the basics of movement, attack, mining and so on, but you'll still be floundering somewhat at first. Don't be afraid to ask for help - the chat window is often host to veterans answering questions on the basics. Some were mine!
So, what's actually different? I can't really comment on the units and modifications available, as I never played the original TinyWarz, but the chief difference is clearly graphical. Hayden commented that the original had C64 graphics and this was understandable given the browser based nature of the game, but in four years there have clearly been improvements in both browser ability and internet bandwidth. Drop Shock has prettier graphics, context menus, additional windows (such as chat) that can be in the main screen or separate (I prefer the latter) and it generally looks much more professional. Animation is still minimal, obviously, but it is there in places - the flurry of hits as missiles strike, the way the graphics for multiple units on the same square slide back and forth to notify you, stuff like that.
There's still no music. Given the nature of the game, this is entirely understandable - put on your own playlists, or ask your fellow players to suggest something. There are some sound effects - fairly minimal, largely gun/missile sounds during the firing phase.
Very simple to operate, the player that knows what they're doing will find Drop Shock a breeze to play. The new player will find themselves utterly baffled. Fortunately you're limited at the start to some very simple training planets (two low-level worlds with some feeble ore deposits and no PvP, and a practice world in which you can battle your friends without permanently losing your units) on which the bandits are also feeble, and where you can learn how to mine and fight without getting shot to pieces. You're also placed into a beginner faction which allows you to construct the most basic units - joining player factions requires an invite. You can build bases, but I haven't explored this area too deeply as yet. These are not for the novice!
As with many MMOs, the main draw that'll keep you coming back to Drop Shock is the player interaction. There's also so much to do and to try that, once you get past the "I'll never get the hang of this!" newbie stage, you'll find plenty of reasons to revisit. As you can go online from anywhere and spend from a few minutes to over an hour on a deployment, it's very easy to dip into during spare time. You don't need to commit a vast amount of time and effort in one go, and indeed the limitations of Command points mean you might find yourself waiting a day for the next opportunity to go mining.
The biggest enemy for Drop Shock, and one they've tried very hard to vanquish, is the information overload. New players are somewhat overwhelmed, because it isn't entirely clear what they need to do. Limitations on what new players can do help to prevent them doing something stupid - new players cannot, for instance, visit PvP worlds with Level 30 bandits. The option to salvage components from wreckage is initially inactive, because new players tended to waste command points salvaging. While this helps, it also irritates - many newbies hear unhelpful comments in chat about salvaging mods (doing what now?) or that their Hedgehog miners are rubbish and they should use (insert unheard of vehicle name here) instead. What vehicles to use? What are credits for, or TinyBucks, or TerraDays? The wise player will spend a good long time scouring the wiki for startup guides and spend their early days practicing the basics.
On the positive side, Drop Shock is free to play - at least, most of it is. Paid players have access to more features, and can do things like selling spare Command points. I'd recommend taking advantage of the free play to start with; if you like it, your money will enhance the experience. Paying from the start will do you little good! Give it a little time, read the wiki, don't be afraid to ask for advice. You'll be hooked in no time.
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