Gems of War is now available on the Xbox One. Casual and hardcore gamers alike will be able to enjoy the experience because not only is there a load of content included but a fair amount of deep gameplay too.  At first glance, it may seem like just another Candy Crush Saga clone, but overlooking this free-to-play game would be a bit of a mistake.

Gems of War is a free to play, match-3 strategy game that will feel very familiar to any of the other games already out that take advantage of the same concept. The majority of the game takes place on the overview map screen which is where you will go on your single player quest. You start off by choosing a character class and from there take part in battles across different Kingdoms in order to earn gold.

Each character has statistics for Attack, Armor, Magic and Health, and to progress in the game, you’ll need to unlock kingdoms. Once you have done so, you can then choose one as your home Kingdom. From there on in you are given the choice of challenges, continuing the story quests, playing an arena battle, or checking out the treasure map mini-game which are all open for use; at least once you’ve completed the quest chain and acquired a specific number of map tokens in each Kingdom; at least once you’ve completed the quest chain in the first Kingdom and acquired at least one treasure map token. Completing quests earns gold, with souls being obtained for whenever you complete a challenge.

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Gold is good for a variety of things such as unlocking Kingdoms, battling other players and contributing to your guilds tasks, while souls help you level up your troops for the battle ahead. You have the ability to battle alongside three troops at any one time so you really want to earn enough souls to level up your troops and make them stronger.

The story doesn’t really have an overarching narrative that follows throughout the entire game. Rather, each Kingdom has its own mini-story. The story is there, but it isn’t overly engaging and can quickly be pushed into the background.

Arena battle is a mode where you select three random troops to fight alongside with and try to win eight battles; each one being harder than the previous. It can become quite challenging, whilst Treasure maps is a mini-game that allows you to try and get as much loot as possible with 15 turns.

The battle system itself is easy to understand and catch on to. If you have ever played a match-3 type of game it will be second nature. Basically, you are presented with an 8×8 grid containing different gems. Each gem relates to a certain type of mana and when you match three you receive that mana. Eventually, once you have collected enough mana you can use your special attack. There are also skulls on the board which, when matched, allows you to attack your opponent. The battle system is robust and is actually quite fun. The biggest difference between the Gem of Wars battle system and the one found in something like Puzzle Quest is that you get to get down and dirty, fighting alongside your troops. Battling at times can get a little stale as you are really just doing the same thing over and over again, however, if you are a big fan of the genre, I think you will find it requires a certain amount of strategy to be successful and this will keep you engaged throughout the experience.

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On top of all the single player features, there is also multiplayer. Firstly, there is a great guild system. Within your guild, you are assigned tasks and each and every person in the guild has the ability to donate gold that they have earned towards the tasks. Once the tasks have been completed you get rewards including in-game currency. Which brings up my next point. Gems of War is completely free to play but like most free titles has a number of microtransactions sitting in the background. Thankfully, it isn’t unplayable without spending any money and you could probably play though enough so that you would never have to spend a single dollar, instead relying on grabbing enough in-game currency to unlock everything in the game.

In terms of PVP, you can attack other player’s Kingdoms. The opponent doesn’t need to be online and present, but you will play against their hero and troops. This is probably the best way to earn gold in the game but in order to battle them, you need to pay a gold entry fee, although thankfully every time you win the battle you receive double what you paid to enter. This creates a certain amount of strategy when playing PVP. Firstly, you randomly get paired up with an opponent and before you accept the match you get to see their level. If you don’t think you have a chance at winning the battle you can spend ten more gold to search for someone closer to your level. This means you can’t recklessly attack other players Kingdoms. You need to be strategic in who you battle and sometimes it may take many turns before landing an opponent close enough to your level to compete. This ultimately forces you to always level up your character through the solo story and challenges.

Gems of War has a very interesting art style. I say this because it really reminds of the game Hearthstone and I don’t know if the designers did this on purpose. The cards that represent your heroes and troops are almost identical to those used in Blizzard’s card game. When you win a battle the graphic that pops up is very similar to the one used there as well and I think the game would have been better off if it had its own distinct art style. I can’t help but continuously compare the way it looks to Hearthstone, however, if you never played it previously then of course this won’t matter at all.

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Overall and Gems of War is a very good free-to-play game. It may not be for everyone, but if you are a fan of the match-3 strategy genre then it is pretty much a must download. There is so much content that you will be playing for a long old time and it is easy enough to hop in and hop out of at will.

Once you start your adventure you may just end up spending hours leveling up your character, troops, and earning rewards!

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