I’m a huge fan of the Walking Dead comic and show, as well as the zombie genre as a whole. But this game…oh this game. A mixture of the now cliche Clash of Clans style freemium gameplay mixed with the tactical strategy games of old, The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land feels like an ongoing experiment in bad game design, put forth for all to cringe at as the developers slowly massage it into something presentable. Yet beneath the layers of grinding and clicking is the framework for something special. Something that desperately wants to come to life. There is so much room for growth, however, in its current form, The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land is a menagerie of lackluster, unbalanced, and lame design decisions, sprinkled with obnoxious pop-ups and ads.
The pie chart below shows how I find my time is typically spent in this game, with an explanation of each slice. At a high-level, you will notice a trend where I argue that the most interesting features are where you spend the least amount of time, and vice-versa, which is primarily a failure due to the lack of content and feature diversity.
Story Mode - The story mode is, by far, the most interesting aspect in the game, and unfortunately it’s what players will find they will spend only a tiny fraction of time participating in. What gets so utterly frustrating about the story mode is how infrequent it can be played, because the difficulty curve is an insanely steep arch. Rather than including more levels that can be played more frequently, the developers opted for a drought of content that is stretched so thin that it cannot even be enjoyed.
Raiding Outposts - Every time there is an update I get excited again, hoping for some fun, new features. And occasionally there are new features that, unfortunately, always feel flat, like a quarter of an idea, birthed from the womb far too early. Outpost raiding is one of those recent additions, where players build their own defensive outpost and raid the outposts of others in search for yet another type of resource. Raiding feels far too formulaic, not only in the limited environments, but in terms of strategy as well: kill the walkers, which charges your special skills, then unleash a flurry of your skills on the human enemies.
- Log in, click on the 10 zombies outside your gate for pitiful resources, then click on your tents and farms for accumulated supplies. Rinse and repeat.
- I’m lumping the Challenge mode into the grinding section, because that’s exactly what the Challenges always feel like: a grind. It’s an incredibly boring mode of play that yields weak individual and team-based rewards, cycling through a small set of reusable levels. Challenge mode always starts you off on the weakest version of each level, no matter how powerful your characters are, forcing the player to grind, grind, and grind some more through familiar levels. And since the prizes match the difficulty, you will be rewarded with low-level junk over and over again. There are rewards that the entire guild works towards, but those rewards are not worth the time spent, and further, the challenge creates a system whereas if a player within the guild has not participated then they reap the benefits regardless, creating angry guild leaders. Like most of this game, it is designed in a way that creates a lengthy experience with reused content and minimal enjoyment.
- Replaying previous Story levels on harder difficulties. The levels are exactly the same, just harder. This is one of the oldest design tactics for extending gameplay as cheaply as possible.
- Similar to replaying previous levels you can also Explore previous areas in order to get more resources and gear. Again, like the Challenge mode, these are reused levels with the exact same layout time and time again.
In short: great framework, terrible design, obnoxious ads, and an extreme lack of unique content.
- Balance the character types. Far too often do I find myself using the same character types over others, because of the unbalanced/overpowered nature of the design.
- Add diversity to the special abilities. With the amount of grinding expected of your userbase, consider for a moment how utterly bored we may be of the repeated, simple abilities. Perhaps some characters within the same character type can have different abilities? Or maybe the player can select abilities? Or maybe as characters level up they gain secondary abilities? Or what about ability trees to unlock and grow? Or there could be a second or even third tier to every ability, so the player has to decide if they should spend the first tier with an attack or save up to the second or third tier? Why not some defensive abilities (e.g. smear walker blood on your body so that walkers ignore you for a turn or two)?
- Grow the story mode faster. Again, this is where I see the most promise, at least, within the current feature set. It’s a shame that I always feel like I have to wait many days (or weeks) before I’m barely powerful enough to complete the next level.
- Automated clearing of walls. What if, after, say, counsel level 12, the player can build up a sniper tower within their town, and the sniper will clear those 10 walkers off the walls automatically. It’s just plain tedious to click on those 10 walkers over and over again.
- Build out guild features. How about trading or gifting unused gear to guild members? Or trading farm supplies with crates?
- Fix the bad grammar and spelling errors. It’s just…unprofessional.
- Redesign Challenge mode. I get it: you needed more content early on, and this was a quick solve, just like with the ability to replay the story mode in harder difficulties. But now, longtime players have hit high levels, and the mode just doesn’t make sense anymore. How about, for example, you start at a difficultly more inline with your current level? And/or have the levels be more dynamic, such as the loot crates being random. And for those enemies that spawn out of doors and gates, have that be more random too. I don’t even find myself thinking anymore as I cruise through these levels.
- I love the idea of permadeath, I’ve just never had anyone actually permanently die. The Explore levels are simply not that threatening. I recommend that those levels become slightly more difficult, to raise the chance of death, and balance that out with better rewards.
- Those pesky ads and promotions. I get it: you want to make money. But let’s consider for a moment all of the various ways that the players are inundated with ads and promotions: pop-ups when logging in, a limited time offer icon on the edge of the screen, a menu with various options for purchase, a theater with 30 second ads to watch for a prize, and an optional 30 second ad that unlocks more crates at the end of a level. Maybe tone it down a little?
- Ability to unequip weapons and armor. Sometimes players like to swap gear. As it is now, you need to sell a character to free up the gear.
- Ability to switch back to default uniform. I own one custom outfit, which happens to be female. I put it on one of my male characters, because, why not? But then I decided I wanted to switch it back to the default outfit. Not too surprisingly, this isn’t an option.
- Add cosmetic decorations to purchase. Cosmetic items would be those things that don’t serve any function other than to decorate your camp. This could be things like a pile of walker corpses and wandering chickens.
- Add solar panels. Solar panels would harvest the energy of the sun, making other building types, such as the hospital, more effective.
- Add spiked cars. This would be a building type that you place outside the wall. The spiked car catches roamers milling about the wall while you are offline, with a finite limit which encourages you to log back in and collect the walkers that have been captured by the spikes.
- Allow for building up (and breaking down) of the walls. A key element of the comic and show is fortifications, and the building and maintaining for those fortifications. But in this game, that element is ignored, as you start in a fully guarded camp from the beginning. What if you could build up walls to be stronger, and this strength tied into gameplay? What if walls occasionally broke down if not maintained? What would be the repercussions of an invaded town?
- Include a mission where you wear walker suits. A reoccurring motif of the series is the wearing of walker guts and blood in order to blend in with the enemy. There could be a level where the characters kill some walkers, camouflage themselves in their innards, and then have to carefully traverse through a walker infested region.
I’m at that point again where I’m ready to, once again, uninstall. I’ll check back in again, one more time, and hope the positive elements of this game have been amplified, and the negatives have been sorted out.