Soldiers Inc. is yet another base-management real-time strategy game on Facebook. It seems like we’re getting new ones on a monthly basis, but that’s really not surprising when you consider how popular they are and how much money the successful ones rake in. These games do a great job bridging the gap between casual and hardcore gaming and attract a lot of players interested in a hardcore game experience with a casual commitment level. Clearly, Plarium is one of the companies that’s doing well with this type of game, as this is their fourth major entry in the genre.
If you’re familiar with the likes of Backyard Monsters or Clash of Clans, the gameplay in Soldiers Inc. is going to be very familiar to you, it’s just been repainted with a realistic military theme. To make an even more accurate comparison, if you’ve played Plarium’s earlier games, Total Domination, Pirates: Tides of Fortune, and Stormfall are all essentially the same game as Soldiers Inc., just with different packaging (sci-fi, pirates, and medieval fantasy, respectively).
If you still don’t have any experience with type of game, here’s a crash course: You construct buildings, train units, and upgrade both in real-time. Resource buildings automatically generate resources for you over time, defensive buildings like walls and turrets protect your base, and other buildings can be used to unlock new troop types or game features. You can send offensive troops on raids to other players’ bases to steal their resources, but you must also garrison defensive troops in your own base because other players can raid your base. As you progress through the game, you will constantly be upgrading your troops and base to significantly improve both your offensive and defensive prowess.
As I touched on earlier, Soldiers Inc. goes for a realistic military theme set in the near future (2019, to be specific). Power has shifted from governments to multinational companies and war has become entirely about business. You have been recruited by the Syndicate to claim as much of resource-rich Zandia as possible. Of course, there are plentiful opposing forces all seeking a piece of the Zandian pie.
There’s one thing that Soldiers Inc. does that particularly stands out to me despite being a game with gameplay we’ve seen a hundred times and a theme we’ve seen even more than that: It takes its theme and fully embraces it. Nearly every mechanic is given a thematic reason for its existence, including those mechanics that have become so standard that we players don’t even question why they are there. Examples include the ability to go into full-screen mode being explained as special satellite technology that allows for a wider view and the reason for players to keep language clean in the in-game chat and email being that “it is a place of business”. They’re admittedly simple explanations, but they are examples of Plarium going above and beyond to make the game world fun and approachable.
Games like Soldiers Inc. really don’t need a story that goes deeper than “everybody is greedy for resources”, but it nonetheless manages to relate a pretty engaging story across its many tutorial objectives. The writing for the story is surprisingly funny and consistent. It helps a lot that the voice actor playing your Syndicate liaison did a great job delivering his lines.
It seems that one of the main ways that these social RTS games vary from one another is in their combat mechanics. Whereas games like Clash of Clans and Backyard Monsters actually let you watch your units attack an enemy base (and there is a lot of strategy in the way you deploy your troops), Plarium’s games focus entirely on the numbers. Instead of watching your troops lay siege on an opponent’s base, you’ll merely watch a progress bar advance to represent the time it takes for them to travel, attack, and, if they were victorious, return to base. I can see this being a big turn-off for some players, it is a lot less exciting. It might be a favorable combat system for players who prefer the base-building side of these games, as Soldier Inc.’s combat mechanics make the raiding process require less time and mental effort. Attacking in Zandia only involves adjusting some sliders to indicate how many troops you want to send on a raid and then pushing a button to ship them out. If your force is victorious, many of them will come back alive and ready to be sent on another raid.
The defensive side of combat is simpler too. While defensive buildings like turrets and walls improve your base’s defenses, their placement doesn’t matter at all. Again, it’s a numbers game. The defensive buildings and troops that protect your base grant defensive bonuses and will wear down offensive troops, but the combat simulation is carried out by equations behind the scenes. At the end of any combat, you’ll be sent a report that tallies the losses on each side. Smart offense involves sending drones to an enemy base to perform reconnaissance and then using the knowledge you gain about their defenses to inform how many offensive troops you send on a raid.
Because military operations have been entirely taken over by corporations, you must negotiate contracts with them to gain access to their technologies and troops. The contract system uses a tech tree which is a great way to show the many unlocks, their prerequisites, and how they relate to each other. The early contracts only require your time and resources to negotiate but later ones will require special contract referrals. Every day you will receive one random referral for free. Once you have completed a full set, you can trade them in along with some resources to start negotiating a new contract. Many of the contracts can also be renegotiated several times to provide upgrades to their respective technology or troop.
The game features a fairly robust trading system, with players able to trade or gift just about every resource in the game besides the premium currency (diamonds). Players can publicly post trade requests for resources or contract referrals and also filter through other player’s offers. Finally, players can form one-on-one Partnerships and multiplayer Combines to ally with other players and share resources and troops.
The game features a single-player campaign that amounts to sending offensive troops on raids against the villainous Zheng Shi Holdings Group or sending defensive reinforcements to protect other bases from ZHG raids. These missions don’t really feel any different from multiplayer combat, but they deliver more of the story and give nice rewards on completion.
Like all of these games, Soldiers Inc. is designed to primarily through the in-app sale of premium currency bundles. In this case, diamonds are the premium currency and they serve all kinds of purposes such as rushing construction timers, expanding your base’s size, or buying more builders. The builder limitation is pretty annoying, as you start with only one. That means at any given time you can only have one building being constructed or upgraded. Early in the game, buildings take a few minutes or less to complete but I worry about how tedious the game will feel once building upgrades start taking hours or days. You earn plenty of diamonds by completing missions and leveling up, but the price for even your second builder is pretty steep (it amounts to about $ 10 if you bought the diamonds with real money).
Like most Facebook games, there are timers and premium purchases you can make by soliciting your Facebook friends instead of dropping diamonds. On the one hand, these are rare enough that you’ll be able to play the game even if none of your friends play it, but on the other hand you won’t get that far without buying some diamonds. Only the most patient, popular, or wealthy of gamers should approach this game or else you’re going to find your progressing sharply slowing down only a few hours into the game.
Overall, this is one of the best social RTS games I’ve played. The game seems well-balanced, professional, and it delivers an entertaining story with great humor and voice acting. That said, the dependence on premium currency seems quite a bit higher than usual, which is definitely a deterrent for me. The lack of real-time combat where I can actually observe my units in battle is also a turn-off for me, but at least in that case I can see why the simpler combat system might actually appeal to some gamers. If something about Soldiers Inc. has you intrigued, it’s definitely good enough that you should give it a shot. It helps that most of the enjoyable voice acting is delivered in the first few hours. That said, I think most players will get bored after only a few days with Soldiers Inc. The value of diamonds is just too high and starting with only one builder means advancing your base is going to be a very slow process. This genre is designed to let players continue making progress over a period of many months. They all hit a point where the game severely slows down at some point, it just seems like that point comes pretty early in Soldiers Inc.