Once upon a time, when life was much more simple, the primary mode of transportation that people would often use were trains. These mechanized marvels serve as testaments to man's ingenuity and inventive prowess to create something that would surely change the way people got around from place to place.
Having the opportunity to have your very own train station seems like an interesting jumping point for a game. With that in mind, Travian Games, the makers of Travians, has created a new game that has a incorporates a train theme.
Rail Nation is the new browser-based, free-to-play, real-time strategy game from Travian Games, where players take the helm of a train station owner situated within a certain town or city. The goal of the game is for players to get their city in the map by sprucing up their economy and income. Does this new MMO deliver on a unique gaming experience, or does it just restrict itself with using a very niche theme to build a game around? Let's check it out!
The View from the Afternoon
Seeing that trains usually travel on tracks that have breath-taking views of the country side, Rail Nation has made it a point to provide players to experience a dynamic and lush atmosphere that looks alive and animated. For the most part, they did what they could with what they have, and being that the game runs on a browser, it can only look as pleasant as the engine that is capable of running it. That being said, Rail Nation's overall design is respectably polished and easy on the eyes; the trains can be seen chugging along the tracks of the worldview map as the country side seemed to be alive.
The players' train stations located within the city they chose look the same as any other players. This proves to be a letdown considering that players are not able to edit the look of their train stations to provide a bit of customization and character that separates them from the others. But for the most part, the game's design is focused on function rather than aesthetics; as the game progresses, the outlay of the buildings become a welcome reprieve as players would grow accustomed to the uniform structural placements.
Commerce as You Are
Rail Nation's gameplay revolves around commerce and economic growth and efficiency. Players are instructed to choose any one of the multiple cities that would serve as their base of operations. Once they have chosen a city, their task is to stimulate that city and its neighboring industries by going into the trade business which entails using the trains and the railroad tracks to get access to whatever goods the city has in its peripheries - this includes lumber, livestock, coal and rocks, as well as other raw and manufactured materials.
As players get the materials from the suppliers back to the city, they are rewarded with income that they can use to buy more trains, railroads that connect to more industries or cities and upgrade their structures. Some of the city's structures also give players additional income apart from the money they get from the raw materials to provide players with more than one source of capital.
The train roster is surprisingly deep and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Upgrading them is incredibly easy as long as you have the money and the research points for it. The more upgrades one purchases, the more efficient the trains will become.
Rail Nation's version of PvP lies solely on getting prestige which can be acquired by enhancing the economy of the city the player is currently residing in. There are some quests that require players to accumulate a said amount of raw material within a certain time limit, and when successful, are rewarded with in-game currency and prestige. Players can opt to team with others in order to help each other get more prestige and monetary rewards.
Catering to a Specific Market and Not Fully Delivering the Goods
In essence, Rail Nation plays pretty much like an economic simulator, and they utilize trains as their vehicle (no pun intended) to try to immerse its players with the intricacies of being a train tycoon. While there is nothing wrong about that, it might be a little misleading to some as the game is more about growing and developing one's city via the use of trains as their means of getting goods rather than actual riding of trains. One can see that having a game solely revolving around riding in trains is a bit of a stretch and that giving their game different elements make sense, but it would have been nice if they could somehow incorporate the trains more in terms of interaction with the players; if they could have made the trains more than a means to an end, the game would give a better gaming experience. This emphasis on economy might spark the ire of some of the train aficionados, as they might feel slighted that there is not enough train action to satisfy their palates.
As with all other economic simulators, Rail Nation also fall prey to some of the hindrances and limitations that this kind of gaming genre presents to players. The game starts off pretty easy - the game gives players the 411 of all the things that they should know in order to thrive in their respective cities. But as the game progresses, the gameplay becomes rather repetitive as players are just relegated to sit through the overworld map and do some maintenance for their trains that need to get tuned up, or when they can collect the money from their city's shopping mall and restaurant for additional capital. Granted, there is some fulfillment when you see your city become self-sufficient, but the cost of that booming economy means that you (the player) become irrelevant for the good chunk of the game, except when you have to upgrade your buildings to accommodate your city's ever-growing needs or when you have to service your trains.
Speaking of upgrading stuff, Rail Nation seems to be set on wanting its players shell out real money to buy in-game currency by not allowing them to upgrade multiple structures and other upgrades at the same time unless they buy gold that can bypass the timing completion queue. For those who can't afford to buy gold, they can opt to sit through the upgrade queue and upgrade their desired buildings one at a time or complete the in-game quests that rewards them with gold bonuses, but the latter comes too far and in between the other quests and the former proves to be a drag because going this route feels like a waiting game (and a long one at that, as higher level upgrades tend to take more time and get completed slower) that sucks out all the fun and becomes a battle of luck (for quests that give gold rewards) and attrition (for those who choose to wait for the buildings to complete being upgraded one at a time).
Even their PvP is anchored to developing the players' respective cities and when players reach the higher levels of gameplay, the trains are not even given that much importance insofar as they are just used as vehicles that haul heavy materials from place to place. It's really disappointing that the trains lose their significance as the game progresses.
Rail Nation is a mixed bag of a good and bad game. It had its work cut out for it by choosing a theme that was somewhat restrictive. Their intentions were good, and in some respect the game delivers in having players get immersed with the intricacies of being a railroad and train tycoon. Developing one's city has its fun moments and getting more powerful engines and upgrades is somewhat fulfilling, but once the intricacies have lost their allure and becomes familiar to players, the game becomes slowly becomes a generic economic simulator that focuses too much on players trying their best to develop an economy rather than enjoy the perks of having a garage of trains at their disposal. As the game progresses, it turns into one of those pay-to-win games and puts the trains further and further into the background.
For those who enjoy a good economic simulator, Rail Nation is a title worth checking out. Otherwise, it's probably best to not board this train at all.
Pros and Cons
That being said, here are Rail Nation's pros and cons:
- respectable graphics and design
- offers a (somewhat) unique look in running a train station
- a chance to be train tycoon!
- social aspect of the game is good
- diverse number of daily quests present for players to complete
- intentionally (or unintentionally) targets a specific niche market
- gameplay tends to get repetitive, real fast
- structures in one's city is preset and cannot be moved
- game revolves around leveling up buildings more than riding trains
- pay-to-win for players who have less patience and deep pockets
- players cannot choose their daily quests and must complete them to get new ones
- intentionally (or unintentionally) targets a specific niche market