‘The Walking Dead: Empires’ preview: A Casual Zombie RPG with NFT perks
Gala Games has a staggering number of Web3 titles in development, and the role-playing game The Walking Dead: Empires (TWDE) is among the first of them, now shuffling towards launch like a zombie on the prowl.
Licensed from the great cartoon-inspired AMC TV series, TWDE is coming soon to Windows PC and Mac amid the latest resurgence in zombie-themed entertainment — led 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 considered a survival-centric massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). As I discovered during a recent playtest, solo players and grinders will find it feels a lot like dungeon crawling hit Diablo 3, but with the building and harvesting mechanics of an Animal Crossing or Fortnite.
Photo: Gala Games.
You can chop down trees, pick up rocks and harvest mushrooms in relative peace while zombies (or “walkers”) lurk around the open world map. As a level-1 player in a beginner zone, it was actually quite a bit also easy to avoid enemies and harvesting resources was a cake walk and not scary at all. I increased my player level to 12 using only the mouse without touching the keyboard once, which made the experience feel a little strange compared to practically every other PC game.
A zombie game that isn’t scary, you say? In fact: the wide third-person perspective, generally harsh lighting, and the lack of enough gory sound effects made the game feel surprisingly tame in my limited demo. And because of the general ease of grinding levels, it felt much less like a survival game and more like a traditional RPG.
That’s not to say that RPGs can never be scary, because they definitely can be – just try fighting a few monsters or exploring a spooky house in Bloodborne in a pitch-black room and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
What makes this a Web3 game? Gala offers a variety of different in-game assets for sale as NFTs. For example, there are gear packs that include character clothing and props, individual indestructible weapons, and characters that are sold as NFTs through Gala’s store.
A “legendary” character pack which unlocks three characters currently sells for almost 1.2 ETH ($2,000), while a single “Ancient” gun for use in the game is listed at 17.3 ETH, which is a staggering $29,800. A lower level “Epic” handgun NFT currently selling for 1.9 ETH, which is roughly $3,275. Even some of the lower-tier items feel incredibly overpriced, and the sticker inventory is likely to scare off some potential players.
But they are not all very expensive. A look at the OpenSea secondary marketplace, for example, reveals NFT hero cards for the game priced below $25 worth of crypto, though prices scale up considerably from there.
However, players do not need to purchase any NFTs to play TWDE. A Gala Games representative confirmed to Decrypt that the game will be completely free to play at launch, and in-game items that users create will not become NFTs. The biggest advantage that these expensive NFTs offer is that they are indestructible – unlike in-game crafted items, which decay and eventually disappear from your inventory after a certain number of uses (à la Animal Crossing or Diablo 3) .
For advanced users who want to level up quickly without having to craft the same weapon twice, a TWDE NFT might seem worth it, depending on the price and how much ETH or GALA you have in your wallet. Some non-Web3 games offer similar types of optional premium boosts; there happens to be an NFT here. If you don’t buy any NFTs, the leveling process will feel like more of a grind—typical of games like this.
Inside a more developed team fort. Image: Decrypt
In the playtest, TWDE ran smoothly and the graphics looked good even on a 2021 MacBook Pro. The game primarily involves searching for resources and harvesting materials in the open world, crafting items and killing zombies. The loading screens between “zones” are quick and don’t feel disruptive to the game.
You can build bases with acquired materials and construct structures with the game’s “Build Mode” tool from the air, where you can still kill zombies too. Each level up of your home base unleashes a new wave of zombie attackers. While the bulk of the game is person-vs-environment, there will also be some map zones designed for competitive player-versus-player combat.
The skill trees in Walking Dead Empires. Image: Decrypt
As you harvest resources and take out zombies, you will upgrade various skills. There are well-developed skill trees that can be unlocked over time to further refine your desired combat method, along with “mastery” levels that track player experience via the sheer number of items that have been harvested or collected. The skill trees and data points feel well thought out enough for a strategy RPG veteran to enjoy, without feeling too overwhelming for casual players.
Like many MMOs and RPGs, Empires offers flexibility. If you want to avoid zombies and aimlessly explore the world, it’s fair game. But if you’re more of a farmer with hack-and-slash experience, there’s plenty to do as well.
Track progress in crafting skills in The Walking Dead: Empires. Image: Decrypt
And as with most multiplayer games, it’s a lot more fun with friends, though. As a solo player, it can be difficult to feel consistently engaged. The resource harvesting can feel repetitive, as there isn’t much visual variation between lower level areas. But with friends, you can spend hours hanging out at your base and just chatting before embarking on either game-suggested quests or a challenge of your own making. It’s much more of a social RPG and less of a tense, scary survival game.
Fortunately, there is a lot to see and do because the game world is huge. In higher level areas marked “Legendary” or “Ancient”, the opponents are significantly more difficult to kill. You can spend hours getting lost in the many sectors – it feels much bigger than Diablo 3, but smaller than the truly massive locales of World of Warcraft. 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, offering intuitive gameplay and clear paths for progression. At this point, it seems like a solid choice for both casual players and grinders who don’t mind it being a not particularly scary zombie game.