While Big Huge Games might not be familiar to most, its game, Rise of Nations, should be. It’s one of the best real time strategy games for PC. The studio went through some difficult times after acquisitions by THQ and 38 Studios, and ultimately closed in 2012. After a couple years of silence, Tim Train and Brian Reynolds reacquired the name and re-opened Big Huge Games while working on its first new game, DomiNations.
I was able to sit with Tim as he explained the design and development of DomiNations. Using its experience with real-time strategy, Big Huge Games saw that no one was doing a true historical strategy game on mobile.
Big Huge Games has been developing DomiNations over the past two years. Even though DomiNations is the company’s first mobile game, people inside, like Tim, have mobile development experience. Development also took a hands-on approach where BHG played DomiNations every day and then talked about it. Rather than use charts and spreadsheets, BHG used its experience to polish the experience to something players wanted.
Real time strategic core
DomiNations is a great free-to-play real-time strategy game for mobile. The game requires an active data connection so there’s no offline play. According to Tim, this is to stop cheating by having the game connect to servers so player data is always synced.
It has the recognizable RTS features you would expect like resource gathering, trade, and army management. There’s also a player-versus-player mode so you can attack other players. You can also battle alone in the single player campaign. You work to conquer a civilization by conquering each city until you get to the capital. Each map gets more difficult so you need to have the right upgrades and army to even make a small dent.
DomiNations starts at the beginning of history. You have an open map to start and a couple villagers. In the first few minutes, you establish a town and have villagers gather resources like hunting animals and mining gold. These resources are used to construct new buildings and build different upgrades. Villagers are your workforce but unlike a desktop RTS, you have a limited number of villagers.
You have to build a lot of buildings to get your civilization flourishing like markets, farms, and training camps for soldiers. You can upgrade buildings like mills and farms to store more food. The blacksmith has upgrades for stronger soldiers that you research. The entire commerce system is based off money and food. Some buildings like a garrison require money. Training soldiers requires food based off the type like foot soldier or horseman.
Since DomiNations is free-to-play there is a premium currency called Crowns. Crowns are used to build faster or complete tasks like training soldiers. Crowns can also buy resources. There is a separate in-game currency with trade goods. These are leather, fur, stone, or diamonds and are used to hire mercenaries.
Once you reach a specific level, you can choose to live as one of seven civilizations. Each one has a special power that can help your civilization. The civilizations you can choose from are British, Roman, Chinese, German, French, Japanese, or Greek. Right now the game only goes up to the Industrial Age, but the goal is to release updates up to the Space Age.
The impressive thing about DomiNations is that even though it’s a free-to-play game, I never felt forced to spend money (but I did already because I’m impatient about building). The single player level progression system never reached the plateau that other free-to-play strategy games have. If you don’t pay for Crowns, you’ll be waiting a lot for construction and upgrades.
It’s not force-to-play
The single player campaign is challenging and makes you want to upgrade your army to attack a city. I’ve played a lot of free-to-play strategy games butDomiNations is the only one I didn’t delete within two days.
When you first start DomiNations, you’ll probably play it for 30 minutes to an hour. After leveling some buildings, it’s very easy to pop in and out to take care of city maintenance. When you want a bigger challenge, jump into multiplayer and try to take out another player. Or join an alliance and attack your enemies together.
Big Huge Games still working on more content to update the game to the Space Age. But as a real time strategy game for mobile, it hit all the right points. And for a free-to-play game, it has found the right balance of gameplay and monetization. I’m looking forward to the next update to try my hand at a new age in history.
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