One of the guiding principles I try to abide by in this job is “write about the game you’re playing, not the game you wish you were playing”. That doesn’t mean I won’t comment when a game doesn’t focus in on the parts of it that I think are the most fun, but it’s not my place to insert myself into what a game could or should have been. The reason I begin my discussion of Triad Wars with this is because all through my time with the game, I never really shook my sense of discontent that this free-to-play game I was playing was a sequel to Sleeping Dogs.
Well, sequel maybe isn’t the right word. Triad Wars is a new game from United Front Games set in the Sleeping Dogs universe, but it’s not so much an iteration as it is a step sideways into a different genre. Sleeping Dogs was an open-world, single player crime game in the vein of Grand Theft Auto that placed an emphasis on the distinct Chinese setting and the storytelling traditions of Hong Kong cinema. Triad Wars lifts the combat mechanics and many of the graphical assets right out of that game and recontextualizes them within a free to play space. The linear storytelling of Sleeping Dogs is swapped out for player-driven experiences of success and failure as they’re set against each other in a facsimile of the Chinese criminal underworld.
Mechanically, what this means is that the player gets to drive around and do the same sort of missions that were in Sleeping Dogs, but now with the goal of undermining and defeating the rival gangs run by other players. It’s the same car chases, the same hand-to-hand brawling, the same cover based shooting with bullet time slowdown. The mechanic of “gaining face” has returned too, but now rather than being given out for performing well in a mission it’s the currency players compete to gain and hold. Gaining face from successfully completing raids raises a progress bar and gains the player access to new upgrades and titles (you start as a “thug” but it only takes an hour or two to progress from there).
Along with Face, you also get money from missions. Money can be spent on avatar customization like in the original game, but it’s much more useful when spent on base upgrades. Every player has a base that can be outfitted with money making rackets (I focused on my cock fighting ring) and defenses to make other players regret moving in to try and pilfer said money making rackets. The player doesn’t handle defense himself—this isn’t a PvP game. Defenses are automated and essentially serve to populate the level for other people to play through when you aren’t around.
Money-making rackets don’t produce money all the time, they produce money on a timer and once they’ve made their set amount of profit the player needs to pull up the base menu, collect the money, and assign the racket to begin another production cycle. And on top of that there’s also a player experience meter separate from everything else that increases the player’s level and unlocks combat upgrades. Oh yes, and you earn upgrade cards that can be expended for access to weapons, vehicles, or other temporary bonuses.
There are an awful lot of progress meters running through the game. Character XP, character face, racket earning progress, and personal monetary gain. Such is the way of free to play games – they strive to always have a reward around the corner if only you’ll come back and play some more. And as has come to be expected, there is a gold shop where players can spend real money to get randomized packs of perks. I didn’t particularly see the value of what was available during my time playing, but that’s the lesser of possible evils. If the real money shop must be there, then it is better that unnecessary items are available for purchase than game changing upgrades that set paying customers into a separate class of their own.
Once upon a time, I would have thrown a fit about this game trading narrative and thematic substance for a carefully managed free to play upgrade drip, but that would be shallow. I loved Sleeping Dogs, but there’s nothing wrong with the game being changed to suit a different audience. The driving, shooting, and martial arts combat that were fun in Sleeping Dogs are still fun here. The free-to-play design never got in the way of me jumping online to enjoy some Hong Kong criminal mayhem, I never felt like the game was trying to force me into situations where I would need to pay to progress, and the game actually feels fairly polished for a game in beta. I didn’t suffer crashes or significant technical issues at all.
Really, there’s nothing to complain about. That’s what I keep telling myself. The gameplay is fun, the free to play isn’t obtrusive, the car radio stations are fantastic. It would be childish and irresponsible to tell the Siliconera readership anything but that Triad Wars is a well-made game that they should keep an eye on when it leaves closed beta. If you’re in the market for a free-to-play PC action game, this is already one of the better ones I’ve played.
But man, this is still not the Sleeping Dogs sequel I wanted to be playing. The storytelling in the original release managed to pay homage to kung fu classics without being derivative, told a story filled with killing without losing perspective on the impact of violence, and made the moral greys the main character struggled with entirely sympathetic and believable. It was a genuinely remarkable achievement. Triad Wars is pretty good, but it was never good enough to make me stop yearning for storytelling in the style of the original.
Food for thought:
1. Triad Wars is absolutely still a moving target. There was a major patch during my playtest period that changed and added quite a bit of content. For that reason I didn’t get too uppity about a lack of mission variety in the game—there isn’t too much right now but I know that more is being worked on. The character and file progression systems feel mostly finalized so I focused on that for the purpose of playtesting.
2. The ridiculous car chases where you have infinite ammunition and can blow up any pursuing vehicle with a single bullet to the tire area? I’m still not tired of them and probably never will be.