WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE
You’re constantly doing the same thing
Unfortunately, those different modes you can take your characters into all end up being the same basic thing. What I was tip-toeing around up above is that the only major difference between the multiplayer, co-op, and single-player is how many of the other people playing are, you know, people. No matter what, you end up charging out of your starting castle, running to claim the towers, and then killing everyone on the other team as fast and often as you can. The campaign will shake things up a bit, asking you to kill specific targets, but it’s not enough of a difference to actual feel like you’re doing something new.
The control points-style multiplayer game is very popular these days, and with good reason, since it combines the simplicity of deathmatch with some very manageable goals to create an objective-based style that can still be enjoyed by the players who would rather just kill everyone in their path. It’s like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of multiplayer modes. Sure it’s delicious, but when it’s the only thing you have to eat you’ll get very sick very fast.
It’s important for any game to hold your attention, but it’s especially important for one that’s free-to-play. More people playing for longer periods of time means more people who are likely to spend money, but when it’s too easy to get bored, it’s very easy to stop playing.
The action gets hard to follow
When you and 14 other people are all trying to whack another group of 15 people with weapons, it can get a little confusing. It’s hard to tell which one you are and which ones you’re trying to murder. Throw in team identification in the form of a red or blue name and arrow above everyone’s head that is just a little bit too small and it becomes even harder to discern who you’re supposed to attack.
It’s reminds me of the great triumph of Team Fortress 2, which is the way that you can instantly tell what team someone is on and what class they are. In Happy Wars, it may only take you half of a second to figure out the same information, but that’s a half of a second that you will probably spend dying, so it’s an issue.
Also, this is a problem that the bots won’t have, making their competence a little frustrating.
You might want to keep your iPod handy
The soundtrack in Happy Wars is the usual generic fantasy-type score that wouldn’t seem out-of-place in a ripoff of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. It’s not bad, but like sameness of the gameplay modes, it gets pretty tiring when that’s all there is.
In-game, the expected array of sound effects (screaming, whooshing swords, exploding fireballs) break things up, but I ran into a bug several times that muted everything except the music and added a certain eeriness to the battles.
Unless you have friends and can talk to them while you play, these issues with the audio make Happy Wars excellent for listening to podcasts. I thought this was great, since I had a big backlog of This American Life episodes I needed to get through, but that’s hardly a mark of quality for any video game.
Happy Wars won’t change the world, but as the first shot fired in Microsoft’s push to bring free-to-play gaming to the Xbox, there’s a lot here to like. There’s minimal pressure to spend any money, the AI-controlled bots are intelligent enough to fool particularly stupid game reviewers, and the battles manage to be adorable and epic at the same time. Unfortunately, the repetitiveness in the sound design and gameplay makes the excitement level drop too quickly, but not enough to make it hard to recommend giving the game a try. It is free, after all. The only thing you have to lose is hard-drive space.
Happy Wars was released October 12, 2012 for the Xbox 360. The publisher provided GamesBeat with an early download code and free in-game money for the purpose of this review.