App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Noblemen: 1896 imagines an alternate reality of the late 19th century where plague and war ravage the United States. In this world, you play a military commander as you fighting the evil forces that have taken control of the country in the wake of the outbreak. Its a neat idea for a game that's made even neater through the blending of game mechanics and genres, but there are quite a few weird and annoying quirks with Noblemen: 1896 that compromise the experience.
In Noblemen: 1896, you play as a resistance fighter who has to assemble his own forces to fight against the United Corporations. You don't just command your forces from afar though. Noblemen combines the mechanics of a turn-based strategy with a third-person shooter by having you fight alongside your troops in each and every battle that emerges.
Every level of Noblemen sets your fort against an enemy one, and you need to assemble and manuever your troops to secure supply points, capture cities, cut off enemy supply lines, and eventually destroy the opposing fort. Both of these forts are presented on a grid-based overhead map where players can move armies, play cards to perform special actions, setup supply lines, etc. The action in the game stays on this level until two armies clash, which then launches the game into its third-person action.
Once in a fight, you have direct control of your commander on the battlefield. You can run around, take cover, and shoot directly at the enemies you sent your troops in to face. All of these actions are controlled with some pretty clunky touch controls, but the pace of the action is such that you can mostly keep up with things even though moving and aiming can feel unwieldy.
If you aren't so much the action-oriented type, these battles can offer some real-time strategy action without having to assume direct control of your character. Battles can be simulated outright, and players can also take an overhead view of the action and issue commands to regiments in real time. In these fights, it isn't always about who has the bigger guns, as things like morale management and flanking can turn the tide of even the most lopsided fights.
Fight for free-to-play
Noblemen's hybrid gameplay styles aren't perfect, but they result in a unique combination that's fun to toy around with for some time. Once the free-to-play barriers start rising though, Noblemen gets decidedly less compelling.
At the outset of the game, you are given access to precious few troops, cards, and weapons, but all of these things can be unlocked over time by purchasing loot boxes using gold, one of Noblemen's in-game currencies. Buying these loot boxes can unlock new units, armies, action cards, and can even grant experience for your existing units, who you can then level up.
Across Noblemen's campaign, a lot of it seems built as a treadmill for unlocking new stuff rather than being something full of its own interesting gameplay turns. The problem here is that unlockables in Noblemen don't feel hugely different from each other, and the game isn't so difficult that having leveled up units feels like a huge difference-maker on the field of battle. Because of this, Noblemen may end up offering some visual differences to its gameplay formula in terms of adding horses and artillery units, but utilizing them doesn't really end up changing the core experience a whole lot.
The bottom line
Noblemen: 1896 has some neat ideas going on in it, but all of its potential gets squandered in having repetitive levels and a grindy free-to-play loop. On the one hand, it's nice to feel that you can play this game without paying and not feel like you're at a huge disadvantage, but having design like this makes unlocking things also feel completely uneventful. When you combine that with some clunky shooter controls and a general lack of difficulty, Noblemen: 1896 ends up feeling like a passing curiosity rather than anything worth really sinking your time into.