Godstoria: The Bible Online Review

Game Site: www.Godstoria.com
Developer: FIAA GmbH
Rating: Check back later

Godstoria, formerly “The Bible Online: Heroes,” is a browser-based MMO strategy game that puts you in the sandals of Abraham, the legendary father of Israel. It starts as a straight up city-builder: you begin with a tiny Hebrew tribe and expand that into a strong city-state. Godstoria then gets ambitious by trying to incorporate Abraham’s journey to the Promised Land, Canaan, as it appears in the actual Bible. Adding an over-arcing story to an OSG is an intriguing premise, but the execution leaves Godstoria feeling like a first draft.

I was excited when I found a game based on the life of Abraham. On paper, it’s a great setup for a game: you have archaic technology and buildings different from the standard fantasy-game fare, tons of polytheistic tribes to potentially come in conflict with, maybe even direct intervention from God, and so on. Unfortunately, Godstoria is an MMO that has just one faction, so every other human player you encounter is also playing as Abraham. All these hundreds of Abrahams have the same objective, to reach Canaan, but they also have to fight each other along the way. It’s disorienting. Most of the time I wasn’t sure why I was attacking anybody else. It would be like playing a WWII sim that only had the United States: “You control the United States, and your mission is to liberate Western Europe from the clutches of the sinister United States! With help from your allies the United States and the United States! But don’t look now, because you must also chase the dastardly United States across the Pacific!”

Logic aside, let’s focus on the actual gameplay. Godstoria sticks to the standard OSG approach. Your starter city features a Tribal HQ, fifteen or so empty lots for future construction, and four resource sites that provide food, wood, clay bricks, and jewels.

Godstoria The Bible Online Heroes Browser Game City

All this, of course, is meant to give you the basis for setting up a functioning society. You can build structures for commerce, diplomacy, religion, resource storage, a military, and so on. After that come the advanced structures, but that takes a while, (read: weeks), and some aren’t even worth the effort. For instance, one advanced building is the Stables, which give you mules. You’d think mules could pull ploughs to increase your agriculture, or maybe form the basis of some sort of mounted cavalry unit, but in Godstoria they only have one use—they provide a minimal combat bonus, and only to your hero.

Heroes are how Godstoria organizes the military portion of the game. It’s a familiar OSG concept. Here everyone starts with one hero, Abraham, (although they use the archaic version of his name, “Abram,” which was pretty cool), who gives your troops all the normal fantasy-game combat bonuses—except in Godstoria, replace “magic” with “faith.” You can recruit more heroes, but only when your fame increases. To achieve that, you need some military victories.

You start with one soldier class, Slingers — a la King David when he killed Goliath. Later you can recruit more powerful ones — spearmen, swordmen, and so on — but you might get frustrated as there are no in-game instructions that tell you what’s required to do this. (More on this issue later). When you’ve got enough soldiers, at first you can only attack NPC-controlled territories. Those can be either simple resource sites that net you a few more raw materials, or a stone idol that brings in a little gold.

Godstoria The Bible Online Heroes Browser Game City

There isn’t much variation in the military portion of the game, at least not that I found, and if you try to attack another city-state, your people’s faith decreases suddenly with no way to fix it until much later. That is, if you’re even supposed to be attacking anybody else. That may or may not be taboo. Again, not sure.

The game’s strongest element isn’t among the gameplay features, it’s the developers’ commitment to marketing and promoting the game. That’s led to some fun novelties and events designed to get people playing. They’ve set up a Youtube contest, for users to submit videos of their triumphs. I especially liked their “Happy Hour” event—military victories between 18:00 and 20:00, and then 22:00 to 00:00 CET will net you extra XP and resources. There’s even a feed within the UI that the developers use to post frequent notices on patches they’ve released.

But the irony of Godstoria is that this fan-friendliness doesn’t translate to the game itself. Following the tutorial is more of a hindrance than it is a help. For example, the tutorial tells you very early on to build a sheep’s pen, which I did. Much like mules, the sheep you get from your pen can’t be used for wool, food, or trade—this time, they only exist as fodder for sacrifices to God. That actually IS useful, because sacrifices restore your people’s faith. But in order to make a sacrifice to God, you also need an altar. And in order to build an altar, you first need three other buildings, plus extensive upgrades. I didn’t know any of this before I built my pen. So there sat my sheep, with ten sacrificial lambs at the ready, weeks before I could ever use them.

A less-than-helpful tutorial wouldn’t be much of a problem if there were alternate sources of how-to information, but there are none beside the user forums. Those are extremely hit or miss, so you’re left to your own devices to figure out how to play, which in my experience meant that any time I learned a useful lesson, it was too late to implement it. Like today, the game warned me that letting my people’s faith drop below 50% allows other human players to attack me… but it only told me this after my faith had already dropped below 50%. And restoring faith is extremely expensive, so it’s unlikely I can get it back up above the threshold before other Godstoria mavens make off with everything of mine that isn’t nailed down.

Godstoria has two separate currency systems, neither of which is straightforward. You need gold to recruit heroes and soldiers, for commerce, and for some of the advanced building projects, but the game never fully explains how to get more of it. After a while it became clear that to get more gold I’d need to either complete in-game quests, or sell off my resources at the market.

Then there are Shekels. These can be used for buying bonuses that give you major strategic advantages, like an extra construction slot or better troop armor. But again, you start with a finite amount, and it’s not even clear how to replenish them. Do you buy them with FIAA credits? You can spend real money on those at FIAA’s website, but there’s no indication on how, or whether you even can turn FIAA credits into Shekels. The forum users aren’t sure, either. You’d probably be able to figure this out if you were a seasoned OSG veteran, but I’d warn anyone who wanted to use Godstoria as an intro to these games.

All this opacity extends to the game’s main draw as well, the aforementioned over-arcing Bible story. According to FIAA’s description, Godstoria is supposed to be broken into three acts, which are supposed to mirror Abraham’s own journey to the Promised Land. The game begins in Ur, then progresses to Haran, and finally ends in Canaan. From what I’ve gathered on the forums, Haran and Canaan aren’t available yet. And no in-game info on when it will be, or what’s supposed to happen when it does become available, aside from some screenshots:

Godstoria The Bible Online Heroes Browser Game Expansion

Which is not to say the game has no potential. I played the second beta version, and the developers, continuing with their excellent communication, are constantly upgrading the game, often based on player suggestions. There could be a great game here…a civ-builder set in literally the earliest civilization in history just sounds so cool and doable…but I’d wait until another version or two is released before sinking your time into it.

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