The Walking Dead: Empires Preview: A casual zombie RPG with NFT perks

Gala Games has a staggering number of Web3 titles in development, and its RPG The Walking Dead: Empires (TWDE) is among the first to head towards release like a zombie on the hunt.

Licensed by the Smash comic-inspired AMC TV series, TWDE will soon be available on Windows PC and Mac amid the recent resurgence in zombie entertainment – spearheaded by HBO’s hit “The Last of Us” (itself a video game adaptation) and the launch of the Web3 shooter undead blocks.

Diablo 3 meets Animal Crossing

TWDE is referred to as a survival-centric massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). As I found during a recent playtest, solo players and grinders will find that it feels a lot like dungeon-crawling hit Diablo 3, but with the building and harvesting mechanics of an Animal Crossing or Fortnite.

Still from the game showing a man in a foggy forest at night with a campfire.  He aims a gun at a group of zombies emerging from trees.Image: Gala Games.

You can chop down trees, pick up rocks, and harvest mushrooms in relative tranquility while zombies (or “walkers”) lurk around the open-world map. As a level one player in a beginner zone, it was actually a bit to it was easy to dodge enemies, and harvesting resources was a breeze and not scary at all. I increased my player level to 12 using only my mouse without even touching my keyboard once, which made the experience feel a bit odd compared to virtually every other PC game.

A zombie game that isn’t scary you say? Indeed: the wide third-person perspective, generally bright lighting, and lack of gory enough audio effects made the game feel surprisingly tame in my limited demo. And because of the overall ease of grinding levels, it felt a lot less like a survival game and more like a traditional RPG.

Screenshot from the game Image: Decrypt

That’s not to say that RPGs can never be scary, because they definitely can – just try fighting some monsters in a pitch-black room or exploring a spooky house in Bloodborne and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Web3 zombies

What Makes This a Web3 Game? Gala offers a number of different in-game assets for sale as NFTs. For example, there are gear packs that contain character clothing and accessories, individual indestructible weapons, and characters that are sold as NFTs through Gala’s store.

A “Legendary” character pack that unlocks three characters is currently selling for almost 1.2 ETH ($2,000), while a single top-of-the-line “Ancient” pistol for in-game use is listed at 17.3 ETH, which is a whopping $29,800. A lower class “Epic” Pistol NFT is currently selling for 1.9 ETH, which is around $3,275. Even some of the lower-tier items feel incredibly overpriced, and the stock of stickers will likely put some potential players off.

But they are not all insanely expensive. A look at the secondary OpenSea marketplace, for example, shows NFT hero cards for the game costing under $25 worth of crypto, although prices increase significantly from there.

However, players do not need to purchase NFTs to play TWDE. A Gala Games representative confirmed this decrypt that the game will be completely free to play at launch and in-game items that users create will not become NFTs. The main advantage of these expensive NFTs is that they are indestructible – unlike in-game crafted items, which expire after a certain number of uses and eventually disappear from your inventory (à la Animal Crossing or Diablo 3).

For power users looking to level up quickly without having to rebuild the same weapon twice, a TWDE NFT seems worth it depending on the price and how much ETH or GALA you have idle in your wallet. Some non-Web3 games offer similar types of optional premium boosts; this is an NFT only. If you don’t buy NFTs, the leveling up process will feel more like a grind – typical for games like this.

Screenshot from Walking Dead Empires game showing fortress-like wooden walls and floors in dark and foggy weather.In a more advanced team fortress. Image: Decrypt

TWDE gameplay

In the play test, TWDE ran smoothly and the graphics looked great even on a 2021 MacBook Pro. The gameplay mainly involves gathering resources and harvesting materials in the open world, crafting items and killing zombies. The loading screens between the “zones” are fast and do not disrupt the game.

You can build bases with purchased materials and construct structures using the game’s aerial photo tool Build Mode, which also lets you kill zombies. Each level up of your home base unleashes a new wave of zombie attackers. While most of the gameplay is person-versus-environment, there will also be some map zones designed for competitive player-versus-player combat.

Screenshot showing skill tree grid in Walking Dead Empires game.The Skill Trees in Walking Dead Empires. Image: Decrypt

As you harvest resources and take out zombies, you’ll level up various skills. There are well-developed skill trees that can be unlocked over time to further refine your desired method of combat, along with “mastery” tiers that track player experience based on the sheer number of items harvested or collected. The skill trees and data points feel thoughtful enough for a strategy-oriented RPG veteran to enjoy without feeling too overwhelming for the casual gamer.

Like many MMOs and RPGs, Empires offers flexibility. If you want to dodge zombies and aimlessly explore the world, that’s fair game. But if you’re more of a farmer with some hack-and-slash experience, there’s plenty to do too.

Screenshot showing different types of crafting skills that can be upgraded.  Dark UI with five layers per type.Track the progress of crafting skills in The Walking Dead: Empires. Image: Decrypt

And like most multiplayer games, however, it’s a lot more fun with friends. As a solo player, it can be difficult to stay engaged. Gathering resources can feel repetitive as there aren’t many visual differences between lower level areas. But with friends, you can spend hours in your base just chatting before embarking on either game-suggested quests or a challenge you create yourself. It’s much more of a social RPG and less of a tense, spooky survival game.

Luckily there is a lot to see and do as the game world is huge. In higher tier areas marked as Legendary or Ancient, enemies are significantly harder to kill. You could spend hours getting lost in its many sectors – it feels a lot bigger than Diablo 3, but smaller than World of Warcraft’s truly massive setting. But because it’s divided into “zones,” TWDE’s map is just big enough to feel expansive and exciting without being so massive that it’s overwhelming.

While still in development, TWDE already shows a lot of promise for an MMORPG that offers intuitive gameplay and clear paths for progression. At this point, it seems like a solid choice for casual gamers and grinders who don’t mind that this isn’t a particularly scary zombie game.

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