Over the years I’ve come across many of these games, starting with RuneScape (free to play in a small world, pay to play in the larger one) through Perfect World (a gorgeous game, very well done, but that will dime you to death) through Entropia (also well done, but will micro-penny you to the poor house) through Evony and its branch of web games, ending recently with Wartune.  Let talk about Wartunes a bit…

Wartune (http://www.wartune.com for the chinese supported version, http://wartune.r2games.com for a much better USA supported version – but other than translations, identical to other) is probably the most complex Flash game I’ve come across to date.  You can play for free, and most do (90%?), but you will never be a top player without dropping some cash.  The game seduces you into do this quite well.  They have a $7.99/month VIP plan that boost your rate of progress by 50% and gives you small bonus items every day.  Not bad… most online game run about $15/month these days.  For “only” $4.99 you get a huge bonus pack with enough gold to start your own guild and raise to up a level, (2) games items that are the best in the game until level 40, etc.

Wartunes approach is not to nickle and dime you throughout the game, but rather to convince you to drop everything your willing to pay up front.  That huge bonus pack I just mentioned comes with ANY first “recharge” (any money you spend other than for your VIP membership).  They basically double the in-game content you receive for your cash vs. money you spend later.  Spend $4.99 and your in pretty good shape for the first few days.  Spend $39.99 and your good for a week, kind of.  Spend $99.99 and you might just, maybe, be in the top 3 players – unless they spend the next step:  $299.99.

I’ve played on about a half dozen servers (they launch them regularly – at least every week or two) and there always seems to be at least one $299.99 player, sometimes several.  Its so consistant that many wonder if the gaming company plants shills to encourage others to spend money.  On the Chinese site, we actually got one $299.99 player that spent more during the game to admit he was the son of one of the game developers and that it was his job to provide competition for the top players to encourage them to restart and try again spending higher sums.  Unethical for sure, but probably not illegal.  And the kid was a jerk, so may well have been lying.

I moved over to the US supported servers after that.  They were busier and I got to know several of the top players – mostly nice people that simply wanted to win once, so dropped the cash to try and do so.  The game is pretty addicitive, and for the first week or so, if you socialize at all, you can easily spend 18 hours a day in the environment.  In fact, if you want to be a top player, you need to.  Thats the real downside – few can.  Miss a day, especially during the first 5 days after launch, and you fall behind.  Again, the developers have driving you to play down to a science:

If you want to run a guild, you need to be present the moment the server launches.  You get to create your guild when you reach level 12, which takes about an hour.  Of course, you need the resources of the $4.99 pack to start it.  Be an hour late and there will be 2-3 other guilds where most of the best (e.g. driven, dedicated, cash spending) players have already landed.  You MIGHT be able to compete with them over the next few weeks if you get lucky enough to have some late cash players join you, but don’t count on it.  Try starting a guild 3-4 hours after launch, when you have earned enough in-game gold to do so without spending real cash, and you will struggle to find members since you will be one of a dozen or so such efforts.

At the two hour mark, or shortly thereafter, you have reached level 20!  I have to admit, going up quickly is a rush – new skills, new equipment, new things being unlocked to do.  Wartune.com tends to launch their servers 2 hours before the first World Event.  World Events require you to be level 20 – so if you really hurry (augmented by cash of course) you can participate in that first event.  Do so yields nice rewards in terms of training credits and in game gold.  It also lets you take a first look at your competition.

From this point on… its a race.  Level 20 lets you buy your first armor set ($16.00).  This is a huge help for those willing to do so.  It can be augmented with gem sockets ($1.85 each and you can add 7) and gems ($0.85 ->  $3.40 each on up in 4X cost increments until your credit card melts) if you truely want to max it out.  This set will serve you well for a few days.  It can also be earned in game, a piece at a time, but will likely take you several days to do so.  They even give you a few gem socketing tools for free – but not enough for you to compete with the heavier cash players.

Leveling quickly slows done.  From 1->20 in 2 hours if you know what your doing and rush (and don’t play a Knight).  Level 25-28 within a dozen hours or so.  Level 30 within 24 hours if you are a cash player.  Level 35 pretty much takes 5 days of virtually contant play, but is key.  If you are one of the top 3 players at midnight server time on the 5th day after server launch, you are rewarded with a 10-pack of L4 gems.  Oohh… ah… who cares?  Well, remember that $0.85 I mentioned?  That was for a L2 gems.  Takes 4 of them to create and L3.  Four L3s to create an L4 ($13.60), and this event just rewarded you with 10 of them.  For people that do not make that top 3 list, thats $136 worth of gems… and armor, sockets, gems, and something called Astrals pretty much define who the winner will be.  Yeah, a bit of skill helps, but surprisingly little.

After you have reached L35 there is a new armor set you want.  The gems move, the sockets do not.  So you get to spend more cash.  Many hold off using their sockets until this set.  At L40 (about 2 weeks) new jewerly becomes available – if you lucky enough to get it.  This is likely the last jewerly you will ever use (at least looking at people on the oldest servers).  So now you finally replace that gear your initial recharge provided you.  Of course, more socketing tools are needed.

Until recently, the L45 armor set was considered the ultimate in the game.  However they have announced a L55 set coming out in the next major patch.  Few will be able to use it.  There are over 50 servers between the two vendors and I suspect less than a couple dozen players that have made L55.  The game is designed to go up to level 80, but I don’t know if it could hold anyones attention that long – unless they spent a LOT of money (rumors of some people spending $1500 – $2500 – $7500 on the game – which is just insane.  But again, the goal is to pit you against someone else who can spend money and make it a competition.)

The game is an interesting mix of activities, but they do get rather repetitive:  Farming, city construction, solo dungeons, multi-player dungeons, a bit of crafting, guild work, bounties, 1×1 dueling, 3×3 arenas, group world bosses (where typically 100-200 people attack one big beast), etc.

Hmmm, world bosses are probably worth a special mention.  These occur 3 times a day: 11am, 4pm, and 9pm local server time (R2game servers are spread around the world, wartune.com servers are all on the west coast).  When you attack the world boss, you get 1 gold coin and 1 daru (a training credit) per point of damage you do.  You get to take your two sets of troops with you.  Put them in front and you will last 3 turns.  The boss will one-shot kill each set of troops, then you (at least early on).  You then die for 30 seconds and can jump back in… unless… of course, you spend money.  For 10 cents you can end that 30 second cool down and jump back in.  Net result:  more gold and daru for you.  Do it every turn, and if your a top player, you may rank in the top 3 and earn a bonus.  Unlike many of the longer term events, there is a significant difference between being 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in world boss.  And that difference of course accumulates and helps you secure your rank and compete with those above you.  Miss a few World Bosses and you fall behind.  Don’t spend reset money, and its likely others will and will take those top 3 slots.  Best bet, if your a cash player, is to just spend enough to safely secure the #1 slot, unless you just don’t care about the cash burn.

About playing 18 hours a day:  Here is a bit of the breakdown…

(3) World Bosses at 11am, 4pm, and 9pm – about 15 minutes each, call it 20 since you can’t be late, so 1 hour.  Something called Battle Ground, which is a random 15×15 competition where you earn the credits you need to buy your L35, L45 and L55 armor sets.  8pm-9pm (split into 2 events of about 25 minutes each).  Arena, which is a 3×3 competition – more armor credits, 1pm-2pm and 7pm-8pm – yes, TWO HOURS A DAY just for this one event.  (5) runs of multi-player dungeons (1-2 hours depending on your team.)  (3-6) solo dungeons (1-2 hours).  Farming, bounties, 1×1 duels and other misc. things – 2+ hour.  So 1+1+2+1+2+2 = 9 hours a day of pretty manditory things to do if you want to be a top player.