Thursday, September 2, 2021

A field guide to LBGs: Walking Dead Our World

Walking Dead: Our World was published by Next Games in July 2018. It's one of the more visible LBGs, and is based on the hugely popular AMC TV show and the lesser known comic books.  After a brief surge of popularity when it first came out, interest in WD:OW seemed to wane rapidly.  These days online communities around the game seem pretty dead.  However, according to at least one site it still managed to make $17 million in 2019.  Solidly profitable if not a huge hit.  Next week I will be discussing one final GPS game I have been playing a lot of, the 16 bit RPG inspired Orna.  

Walking Dead: Our World 

What do you do?  The main thing you do is walk around looking for encounters filled with zombies and other NPC opponents to fight.  Fights reward random cards to gain new or upgrade existing equipment, NPC allies or perks.  All of these come in different rarities: gold > purple > blue > gray.  Gold allies and weapons are quite rare and powerful, but difficult to upgrade.  At the other extreme, gray weapons and allies are dead common and quite easy to max out.  There is a real trade-off here. For example, in some weapon categories the best I have is only blue because the purple and gold ones I own haven't been upgraded as much. 

Far and away you spend most of your time fighting zombies in encounters like this one.  Before challenging an encounter you choose a loadout of one weapon and one ally.  Here  I am using a machine gun and chose a tough ally that uses a shotgun.  The only real "oh shit" button you have are grenades, so it's best to use them sparingly.  The red square also show optional upgrades in play. I have given my gun the ability to reload faster after I empty a clip.  My ally has an increased chance to get headshots and also reloads faster than before I upgraded her.

Perks are the abilities of your character, things like how much damage you do with grenades or how many survivors you can shepherd around at once.  They work a little differently from weapons and allies.  Perk rarity doesn't have anything to do with how powerful it is.  Instead, rare perks tend to be rather specialized abilities most players won't care a whole lot lot about. For instance, the rarest perk I have adds 18% to the blast radius of grenades, which is so subtle I am not 100% sure it's doing anything.

Ultimately the primary way you get stronger is upgrading cards.  Rarer weapons and allies are more powerful for their level, but also take more resources to power up.  For example, for the number of tokens that it takes to add one new modifier to this weapon I could max out a gray common weapon.

To upgrade an item you need both cards and coins. For example, to take a gray item from level one to two takes two matching cards and 50 coins, while a gold item costs two matching cards and 7000 coins.  When I first started I would have said the game was much too stingy with coins.  My first week I was even forced to buy a few to upgrade my main weapon (I have $7 invested so far). However an in-game event last week gave me 70,000 coins for free, and I am now having trouble finding enough card matches with the weapons and allies I care about to spend them.  Challenging an encounter takes "energy."  I now have enough now to play for about an hour before I run out, though it was less when I started at level 1. By the time I've gone through my energy I have also hiked a very leisurely mile or more through my neighborhood, so it feels like enough.  Resting for an hour in real time is enough to completely replenish your energy pool.

The main reason you do encounters is to get random cards for upgrading your weapons, allies and perks (character abilities).  This draw has a lot of strong cards and came from one of the boards I am working together with my team to clear.

If you are a fan of the show or the comics, you will probably quickly acquire at least a blue or purple version of most characters you care about. As you get better gear, better NPC helpers and better perks the strength of encounters you are able to handle goes up.  You have levels, those determine the maximum level of encounter you are able to attempt to clear. There are a lot of different types of encounters, but they all boil down quick fights where you tap your screen to shoot (it's more fun than it sounds like!).  There are one-off encounters to rescue NPCs you can take to a base (below), one-off zombie fights for really feeble loot, fights with humans for better rewards, and multi-stage fights that have the best rewards. The strategy of the game comes primarily in deciding what gear and NPCs to invest your limited resources into, and what bases to invest in.  Solo you can likely keep two out of the four base types going at a time.    

This is what a street near me looks like in game.  As you can see even out here in the boonies it's very well populated compared to Pokémon Go.  Most of the icons are different types of encounters I can try to take on, some with better rewards than others.  The blue crates will give me random supplies (usually energy or grenades).

What is the world like?  The game uses streets and buildings from google maps and adds zombie encounters to those.  If you get within 100 meters of most encounter types you can try to clear them if you are high enough level.  Players can also set up buildings (below) that grant you rewards if you help grow them by rescuing survivors and dropping them off.  In addition to randomly generated encounters, there is an extremely simple story line to play through.  Even out in the boonies, the density of encounters is pretty high.  There are five or six I can reach from my house, and plenty for an hour of play in my neighborhood.
An armory I set up near my house when I first started playing.  Whenever anyone drops off survivors, the base gets powered up a bit and then receives random cards for weapons in return (one card per survivor and base level).  Right now I have six days left to drop off enough survivors to take it up to level eight, or zombies will swarm it and destroy it.  Setting up these bases is one of the main ways you can control what kinds of upgrades you get.  They are completely random from most sources, yielding, an admixture of cards for perks, weapons and allies. Bases only ever grant cards of one of the three types.

Asynchronous interactions:  The primary way you affect the world for other players is setting up bases.  There are four different kinds you can set up, and a higher level base grants a decent chance at strong cards when you drop off rescued individuals.  If there isn't already one near you, it's advisable to build an armory that grants weapon upgrade cards when you first start playing.  Once you drop off enough rescued people for a base to go up one level, it will maintain itself for anywhere from nine days to several weeks depending on level.  However, if you don't level it up again before that timer runs down, eventually zombies will swarm it and destroy it.  Anyone that is playing can drop off NPCs at a base that you set up.  Eventually I will probably have at least two imaginary buildings in my yard for me and other players to use.  If you join a team, you can also work together with other players to clear a board that gives all of you really nice rewards.

The main way you play with others, apart from helping to upgrade random bases, is cooperating to clear boards like this one. It works like bingo, when you clear all the vertical and horizontal rows connected to a bag you can claim it.  The bags on these boards contain quite a bit of loot. Most of the objectives are things like "kill 150 zombies with grenades" that everyone in the entire team contributes to no matter where they are. 

How do you interact with other players?  The main way is by joining a team.  It's a lot like a typical MMO guild with different ranks and a chat channel.  Teams can hold up to 25 players, and getting into an active one is pretty essential to enjoying the game long term.  The main thing you do is work together to clear boards.  There are global rankings where different teams compete to clear boards as quickly as possible. It feels a lot like Conquest in SWTOR. The boards also grant very nice loot to everyone on the team as you clear them.  Each space on the board has a random requirement, like "drop off 70 survivors at an armory."  Everything done by team members contributes to the total.  You can also send up a flare that allows anyone on your team to teleport to your location, anywhere.  If there is a way to group up and fight together directly, I have not figured it out yet.   

I have been playing less than a week, and I already have a lot of characters I recognize from the show.  My wife is also a fan of the comics and says that these portraits resemble both the actors in the show and the comic book character designs.

Is it good exercise?  If you are playing in a place that at least has a few houses nearby, it hits the right balance better than anything I've tried.   Any given encounter you clear takes 30 minutes to respawn, so if you want to spend all your energy for the evening you really do need to get some walking in.  If you are lucky there might be enough to spend a third of your total near your house, you can't just sit in one spot.  However, the density of encounters is also high enough that you don't have to walk too far.  In my neighborhood, I can can play for about 40-50 minutes before I need to let my character rest.  By that time I will have cleared every nearby encounter I can easily handle, so there isn't a strong incentive to spend cash on the game. Walking around your neighborhood hoovering up humans, bringing them back to your base, and watching it grow is really rewarding. 

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