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Block Fortress: War Review

Block Fortress: War, Foursaken Media’s RTS spin-off of their ambitious Minecraft-inspired defense game, is now available from the app store. Featuring real-time battles between multiple races in more Minecrafty environments, Block Fortress: War is an intriguing take on a successful format that doesn’t quite capture our hearts in the same way.

Block Fortress: War Pros:

  • Retains Minecraft style of original
  • Controls require tapping to move and attack, provide lots of button for quick access to gameplay elements
  • Intense soundtrack builds tension during battle
  • Multiple races to beat and play as in single player and multiplayer modes
  • GameCenter integration for global leaderboards and more than a dozen achievements to earn

Block Fortress: War Cons:

  • Limited and insufficient resources for building within restrictive areas
  • Control setup is not ideal
  • Steep difficulty curve

Block Fortress: War provides five races of block people, each playable once you’ve conquered their home planet with a more basic race. Races differ in unit types, strengths, and weaknesses. You play as a single unit, chosen from a few options, though only one is unlocked from the start. Each faction has a base at either end of a fairly narrow battlefield when compared to the map size of the original Block Fortress. Your goal is to destroy your enemy’s base, from which they will spawn units to try to destroy your base. Units will spawn from your own base, which must be protected to avoid defeat. Your grunts can be equipped with weapons and armor, but each item increases the cooldown timer before the next group can spawn. Resource nodes are peppered around the map, providing you with resources to build defences if you can capture them. These nodes will also heal your hero and entice attacking enemies to focus on these structures before moving in on your base. There are 5 battles to engage in with each faction in the single-player mode, while a multiplayer option allows you to engage in two-player and four-player matches.

Battling can be a lot of fun and it’s easy to get entrenched in tug-of-war style fights that shift the balance of power back and forth, leading to a satisfying conclusion only when you figure out how to exploit a weakness. Unfortunately, there are several aspects of this version that left us frustrated and underwhelmed. Captured resource nodes only provide a very small amount of their resource, which is gobbled up quickly by a few blocks and a couple of weapons placed within the highly-restricted building confines. It is difficult to protect these nodes, and once they fall, you are left with nothing to show for it and no node to recapture. There isn’t really the option to build gigantic imposing defensive structures as in Block Fortress, given your limited and insufficient resources. The trailer seemed to imply that cool structures would again be the norm, while our time with the game has proven otherwise. Instead, your focus must remain on utilizing your grunts and manoeuvring your hero. The first-person viewpoint has been replaced by a top-down third-person perspective, and controlling your hero and units can be awkward. It’s also difficult to get a sense of all that is happening on the battlefield unless you remain extremely zoomed out, which doesn’t allow for the granular control necessary to do anything about it.

The difficulty spike is felt early and often, and if you lack a cohesive and specific attack plan, things will likely spiral out of control quickly. One match pitted us against a race that had a unit who was able to blast our blocks, weapons, grunts, hero, and base from long range with some sort of blue ray that allowed him to obliterate everything in no time. We had no weapons that could reach him and our units were killed long before they could get close enough to him to attempt a counter-attack. It felt unfair and left us wondering how we’d ever fight back against a unit like that. Block Fortress: War just isn’t as enjoyable as we expected and it left us feeling outmatched and overpowered.

Graphically, Block Fortress: War retains the blocky Minecraft style of the previous version, but it eliminates the focus on terraforming and simplifies the structure building to a few weak and easily defeated sections of the map. Grunts and heroes look similar, and distinguishing your grunts from the opposition is not an easy task, especially at a glance. Your hero does earn XP over time, allowing him to gain access to a few helpful skills, but he can also be easily hacked apart by powerful foes or swarms of grunts. Health bars above the heroes and bases give visual cues to their well-being, while info in the upper left corner offers helpful stats. The soundtrack is pretty intense, setting the stage for the battles that will ensue. The controls require you to tap a location on the map to send your hero to that spot, while tapping a base or enemy will target them for attack. A joystick in the lower left corner controls panning, while up/down buttons on the right will zoom your view in or out. Buttons in the lower right corner focus attention on grunts or on your hero, while another button toggles between a building phase and the battle action. A separate button toggles between using a sword for melee attacks and whipping out a gun for ranged attacks. Additional buttons along the right side of the screen will light up when they are available, activating a skill with a tap. The controls were serviceable, but they left us somewhat irked. Our camera would occasionally get hung up on environmental objects or we would get spun around in the heat of battle, scrambling to direct our view from the sky back to the battlefield. It also felt like the more natural setup would allow us to move our hero using the joypad and drag our finger in the battlefield to pan, so that kept confusing us, too.

Replay value is good, as the single player battles can be replayed to grind for resources needed to unlock other heroes and new blocks/weapons to use. Multiplayer is always a lot of fun in these games, with the bonus that you can avoid battling the overaggressive AI in favor of clashing with other gamers who are likely struggling with the same limitations as we. GameCenter offers a half-dozen leaderboards and more than a dozen achievements to earn. A universal app for $1.99, Block Fortress: War is a 3.5-Dimple challenge that could use a little tweaking to become something special.