What happens when you mix a hack-and-slash clickfest with your standard, energy-restricted, free-to-play Facebook social game? Cloudstone, the first game from California-based indie developer, Playsaurus, aims to find out. For a Facebook game, Cloudstone has a surprising amount going for it.
The first thing that stuck out to me was the outstanding soundtrack. Most of the music found in the Facebook games I’ve played range between subpar and grating. I imagine, for instance, the soundtrack to Hell is the same theme you hear playing in Farmville. The music in Cloudstone, however, could pass for a Squaresoft game during their SNES and PSX heyday. There aren’t many tracks, but they sound terrific.
The accompanying sound effects are not nearly as good with generic thwacks accompanying most hits, be they physical or magical. However, I imagine most people won’t even notice it.
The graphics are lush and clean. I can’t think of any times before that I wished I could play a Facebook game on my HDTV, but Cloudstone would feel right at home. The environments remind one of a simplified Bastion, with brighter colors and simpler lighting. Cloudstone even features the sort of old-fashioned parallax effects that make my old-school heart go all pitter-patter.
Playsaurus has some nice quirks that show off their nerdy side. There are nerd culture references, such as Mortal Kombat and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to be found. More important than that, though, are occasional secret passages that feel like a callback to my gaming youth in Final Fantasy II on Super Nintendo. While the payoff is never as awesome as it was in Eblan, it’s a nice touch.
Players get a skill point every time they level up. These points can be put into one of three character trees: Warrior, Wizard, or Monk. If you’ve ever played a roleplaying game, you already know what they do. You can mix and match to create your own hybrid builds. Most builds will at least want the Monk’s Healbomb ability to survive, as potions can only be found in chests, as completion rewards, or purchased via secondary currency.
Cloudstone works on an energy system to restrict your fun. You get thirty energy, with one point regenerating every ten minutes. Stages in the first world require five energy to play, but later stages take a full ten points. Food can regenerate your energy, but it’s quite rare to get a food reward. Of course, as with all energy-based games, you can pay your way to more playtime.
The game itself is a lot of fun, though your mileage may vary. Controls are simple and people who have played Diablo will feel right at home. You click to move or to attack. Skills can be mapped to hot keys. If you see gold or treasure chests, all you need to do is click. Want to cut down a tree? You know what to do. Simple, context-sensitive controls are all the rage, aren’t they?
While Cloudstone has a lot of things in common with Diablo, a robust loot system is not one of them. Enemies only drop collectibles, gold, or the extremely rare, but useless pet. You’ll be collecting a hodgepodge of seemingly items as you managing your finite inventory space. Of course, you can always expand your backpack, but it’ll also cost you. Later, many of the items are used in crafting via Contract Rewards.
Like most free-to-play games, the secondary currency becomes more and more necessary as you progress. There’s a distinct advantage for players willing to buy Rubies to get ahead. Want the best armor and weapons? Break out your credit card. Tired of farming for Bear Pears but really want the only face equipment with stat bonuses? Use those Rubies.
Randomly spawning Epic Treasure Chests and the gold coins you find eventually become worthless, as most worthwhile gear can only be obtained through Ruby purchases, contract reward quests, or after 10 wins in the PvP (which is actually PvAI) arena. Piecing together a set of PvP gear, though, is a crapshoot. It’s quite a letdown when you finally get that tenth win only to get a set of sorcery gloves for your fury build.
Cloudstone has a lot of room for improvement. While technically a social game, player interaction is virtually non-existent. Yes, you can send friends gifts. However, good luck accepting them. Moreover, the gifts you can choose from are lacking, with only the healing Jelly Juice being of any real use to a player. While it’s great that I don’t have to send countless help requests, it’s also disappointing that the only thing you can really do with a friend is summon their avatar to help you in quests every couple of hours.
While you can eventually replay levels after finding the Gauntlet, which can then unlock better rewards, early rewards are exceptionally difficult. You can replay a stage through five increasingly difficult stages. Each difficulty is set 3 levels higher than the last. So, by the last difficult level, you’ll face monsters 15 levels higher than the original difficulty. This is much easier to do later in the game than it is early on, meaning that useful loot will be worthless by the time you can actually get to it. This also means you’re going to feel a lot of repetition as you replay stages. Luckily, most stages take less than five minutes to play through.
Most troublesome, as far as actual gameplay is concerned, is the horrible loot re-sale values and inability to trade with other characters. This is a strictly single-player game wrapped up in some sort of multiplayer game clothes.
My major qualm with Cloudstone, though, is its awful customer service. The Shop is mapped to the “S” key. That is right below the “W” hotkey I use regularly. I’ve had more than one instance where my clumsy fingers hit the wrong key and brought up the shop. It’s very easy to purchase something when this happens, as I did with the 50 Ruby Black Cat pet. With no confirmation button, I’m left with a pet that I really don’t want. There’s absolutely no reason to map the shop to a key.
I contacted Nexon’s Customer Service and filled out their request form after my accidental purchase. After not getting so much as a confirmation e-mail, I filled it out again a couple of days later. I have yet to hear back. That was more than ten days ago. Say what you want about Zynga, but their customer service regularly replies within a day and often in a matter of hours.
Cloudstone is a great step in the right direction for Facebook gaming, but it also falls prey to the free-to-play shortcomings. I hope one day Playsaurus can break free from the freemium development shackles and release a game that doesn’t benefit from exploiting their loyal player base, as there is obviously talent in their group. Until that day comes, though, proceed with caution.Tweet
About the Author
|Fade to Slack is a founding member of Delta Attack, an American expatriate in South Korea, and a true believer in the legitimacy of mobile gaming.
Keep up with him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Fade2Slack so he can justify having a Twitter account.
Fade to Slack has written 308 posts on Delta Attack.