Developer Infinite Interactive has a brilliant new take on match three games. The basic game idea is old: the first game with exactly this mechanic might have been Shariki (1994), created by Russian programmer Eugene Alemzhin. The free-to-play Gems of War introduces a fantasy setting and RPG elements to the genre, so much so that the player might feel confused at the start of the game. Luckily there is a great tutorial that explains all of the necessary mechanics.
The basic idea is to match 3 gems of the same colour by swapping the place of two adjacent gems vertically or horizontally. From there, the going gets interesting. The player controls a team of characters and can create a hero at the start of the game. In one team, the player can have 4 characters, including or excluding the hero, and so does the opponent. The goal is to eliminate the enemy team by matching skulls; matching 5 skulls gives the player a critical hit, while matching 4 of anything gives the player an extra turn. However, the colours of the gems do matter, because your characters need mana to use their abilities that deal damage or modify the game board. By gathering enough mana by matching the colour the character needs, a skill is unlocked for one-time use.
The game really opens up when the player gets characters that have skills that match each other. Powerful combinations can then be used: For example, if the player controls a character that has the ability to change all yellow gems to red and a dragon that deals damage by destroying all red gems, she will be able to deal a great amount of damage.
There are multiple game modes in Gems of War, including story mode and PvP mode. The game makes sure that the player will not run out of something to do because there are also events and the fact that new characters can be gained by playing, as well as by paying money.
I tend to enjoy games that are not exactly casual games and Gems of War, even with the addition of fantasy and RPG elements, is in its roots a casual game. It is extremely fast to learn the basics and the game can be played without much of a thought. However, there is depth and interesting mechanics present and for the PvP mode a good team of characters is required to compete. The visuals and art are all well made, and the controls are well thought out. The best part of the game is that it does nothing poorly, everything is polished and high quality. For these reasons I am confident saying that if you like puzzle games or enjoy the match three genre even a little, Gems of War is a must try.
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Infinite Interactive
Release date: November 20, 2014.
Available platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox, Switch, Android, iOS.
Platform used for this review: PS4