The original Mafia Wars is a browser-based, Grand Theft Auto-like, text adventure with slick static images and lots and lots of statistics. That doesn't seem like a recipe for success, but the proof is in the numbers. Mafia Wars has 1.7 million daily active users, and at the peak of its popularity, it had over 45 million registered accounts. As browser games become more action-oriented and animated, Mafia Wars is slowly losing some of its substantial user base.
Zynga, the developer behind Farmville, plans to combat this shift toward action-oriented Facebook games with their very first sequel: Mafia Wars 2.
Mafia Wars 2 is a complete departure from the original. Imagine a Grand Theft Auto-themed Civilization combined with Farmville's mechanics and isometric visual style. Mafia Wars boasted a heavy statistics presentation, and the sequel's progression to a strategy game format isn't hard to picture.
In Mafia Wars, players slowly built a criminal organization; this time, they start with a casino constructed on a worldmap. Each building type serves a different function; simulation PC game vets will feel right at home. Mafia Wars 2 takes the Farmville premise a step further by adopting a more visible economy, reflected in what kind of buildings are available and what items characters can equip. Managing your little empire is a lot like commanding a country in the Civilization series.
Mafia Wars 2 allows players to customize their avatars. Each item they equip carries a different stat boost. Zynga says the game will launch with over 300 equippable items, some of which will influence how sprites move through the world.
Mafia Wars 2 is a sensible evolution for the series. Players who enjoyed digging into quests and playing with friends will now have a visual interface to work with and even more items to unlock. The added construction mechanic gives progressing a tangible edge, and it offers more opportunities for players to interact.
Perhaps adopting a strategy game look will help bring players back to the series. Even if it doesn't snag old fans, Mafia Wars 2 is an interesting project. It combines tried-and-true elements from other freemium titles, and the game's success hinges on satisfying new players as well as die-hard fans. Whatever happens, this is Zynga's first notable sequel.