Wake up, Dogs. We need your bank details.
Triad Wars is an odd game. Billed as an online multiplayer action-RPG set within the Sleeping Dogs universe (though not a sequel to Sleeping Dogs, an announcement which many were disappointed by), it's currently in closed beta and I spent enough time with it for me to discover that it’s not actually a multiplayer game at all. At least, not really.
If you were expecting Triad Wars to be the GTA Online of the Sleeping Dogs world, then you’ll likely be disappointed. Though it is set in exactly the same world as its predecessor (it even features exactly the same map as Sleeping Dogs), United Front Games’ free-to-play spin-off does not allow you to roam around Hong Kong with friends and strangers alike, but instead places you within an asynchronous environment in which you’ll compete with other players online, though not at the same time.
The objective of Triad Wars is to build up your gang, generate more revenue through your safehouse by developing illegal rackets such as cockfighting, counterfeiting. and smuggling, whilst also raiding your rival gangs’ turf in order to level up and hinder their progression. When you raid a rival gang you will not come face-to-face with another player, but rather a computer-controlled recreation of their character. If you take them down, you’ll gain Face (the game’s equivalent of XP) while they’ll lose some, along with any cash they have failed to collect from the various rackets they oversee.
It’s a relatively unique premise, at least for a PC game. In truth, many times throughout my playthrough of the beta I found my experience reminiscent of a mobile F2P game, with both the good and bad elements of the platform lumped in. On the positive end of the spectrum, the accessibility and immediacy of Triad Wars is welcoming.
This is a game that doesn’t play its cards close to its chest, with you being thrown into a raid shortly after you’ve created your character and with most of what you’ll be doing throughout the rest of the game laid out to you from the get-go. However, I also got the impression that I had already seen most of what the game had to offer, though much like many F2P mobile games, the enjoyment to be had in Triad Wars isn’t to be found in dynamic, innovative gameplay but rather the gameplay loop of steadily leveling up, improving your equipment, and making your patch of land look more impressive.
Outside of its core concept, the rest of Triad Wars is ripped directly from Sleeping Dogs. The combat remains exactly the same, retaining its joyful fluidity alongside all of the counters, grapples and incongruously ultra-violent finishing moves (within the opening minute of the game you’re taking a drill to an enemy’s skull) that were present in the first game. Its open-world environment has also remained in place, though it feels far emptier than it did in Sleeping Dogs, with there not much else to see and do at this stage other than preparing for and embarking upon raids. This is still a beta, though, so United Front Games may well add in more activities when the final game eventually rolls out.
There are a few other changes I’d like to see the developer employ, too. For one, the character creation tools are very limited, with you being given the choice to pick between one male “enforcer” from a smattering of different gangs, with gold currently being the only way you can obtain a different appearance for your player-character. Gold is one of two currencies used in Triad Wars, and it’s the one which is purchasable using real-life cash. Currently, gold is priced between $4.99 and $99.99, and this is where accusations of this being a “pay-to-win” game come into play.
From my experience, I didn’t feel as though I was forced into a corner in the beta where I felt that gold would make things incredibly easier. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Over the course of the five to six hours I spent taking part in raids, I only found myself dying once—and most of the time I spent blasting through enemies with my machete, a weapon which was awarded to me at the very beginning of the game. Things certainly got trickier later on as gang territories became larger and enemies came armed with guns, but I never had a problem with bringing a rival gang to its knees.
There’s a time limit on each raid which makes them more intense, but this can be nullified by completing an “operation.” Operations are quick side-missions you can complete that give you extra time when you go into a raid, with them ranging from beating up a rival gang of enemies, to making a delivery of stolen goods. In the beta they weren’t at all varied enough, and in all honesty within the first few hours most raids can be completed without having to take part in them, given that I was initially completing raids within 2-3 minutes.
However, there’s a selection of other, more valuable—and more difficult—side-missions in which you’re tasked with taking out a rival gang member. These can quickly escalate to involve both gangs and the police (who are far less prevalent on the violent streets of Hong Kong than they should be), though completing them rewards you with a Favor card. Outside of these missions, Favor cards can only be obtained by spending gold on Favor card packs, or by talking to a person of interest in your safe house. These Favor cards can reward you with random items or bonuses, from a new weapon, to a new car, to a reduced price on an upgrade for your gang. They’re incredibly useful, and it’s a shame they’re mostly hidden behind a paywall, but this is a free-to-play game, after all.
Unfortunately, it seems like those free-to-play elements could stand to impact upon the game's enjoyment. After running around completing raids for an hour or so at the beginning of the game, I then opened up my map to find that all of the enemy territories were locked, each being given a cooldown period of over two hours before they were accessible again.
It is clearly intended for these cooldown periods to be shortened by the use of gold, and while this kind of payment scheme regularly flies under the radar on mobile games, this isn’t something PC gamers are likely to tolerate. With there not being much else to do in the game yet other than take part in these raids, I simply had to close it down and wait it out. It’s the very antithesis of fun, and while there is currently no option to speed up the cooldown process with gold, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to guess that this is the direction United Front Games is probably headed in.
Aside from my concerns with how Triad Wars could be set to nickle-‘n’-dime players, I was surprised to discover that I actually enjoyed its closed beta quite a bit. While I belong to a presumably niche audience of people who both actually enjoy a fair few F2P mobile games and who also own a gaming PC, it’ll be interesting to see whether United Front Games’ unique spin-off manages to inveigle a wider crowd when it receives its full release.