App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
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Since I'd first gotten my hands on my iPhone I've messed around with a whole bunch of free-to-play games because they're, well, free. I usually enjoyed them for about a week, then lost interest. Most likely because every single time I'd start them up the experience devolved into heal, collect cash, buy stuff, attack, repeat. At first it seemed like Lords was going to fall into the same routine, but this empire builder takes things to a whole different level.
Lords is comprised of two different phases: commoner and lord. Being a commoner is very similar to most other free-to-play games of this style, save two things. First, there's no PvP for commoners. Second, they can buy housing to gain clan members then use clan members to take jobs from lords (i.e. other players), which is how they make the big bucks. These jobs pay based on what the lord is offering, with an initial payment, hourly rate, number of required days of work and a penalty for quitting the job early. Once they've earned enough gold they can buy land and become a lord, which is where the real fun begins.
As a lord, players earn gold hourly from their land but are susceptible to attacks from other lords. They can buy defenses, but too many will negate the amount of gold the land earns. This is where the commoners come in. Lords can create job offers for other players (commoners) in order to earn more money (peasants), boost attack power (knights), reduce monetary loss from defeats (courtesans) and spy on potential targets (spies). Unlike commoners, lords don't use energy. Instead, they have health. When it's too low they can't be attacked, but they also won't earn any gold. Quite the toss-up.
All of these aspects come together to make Lords an incredibly compelling experience when compared to its peers. It adds this unexpected level of balance and risk-vs-reward to the proceedings which have kept me playing incessantly. And not just because I'm under constant threat of attack or in need of potential healing.
Becoming a lord for the first time paints a huge target on a player's back, though. Within seconds (I'm not exaggerating) of purchasing my land I was attacked by no less than five other lords, losing a good deal of gold in the process. I've since managed to find more of a balance, but that initial transition is quite rough. I feel like having a few minutes to come to grips with the change without the threat of attack would be a huge help.
There is absolutely no reason for any iOS user with consistent access to an internet connection to miss out on Lords. It is, for all intents and purposes, the next stage in menu-driven free-to-play evolution. It can be tough to learn the ropes, but it's ever so rewarding.