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Total Domination (formerly Total Domination: Nuclear Strategy) is a Facebook game from Plarium. The game has been available since 2011 but it showed up as one of the most popular Facebook game thanks to the cross-promotion from Plarium’s newer title Stormfall: Age of War – which, as it happens, is largely a medieval fantasy reskinning of Total Domination.

Total Domination casts players in the role of the commander of an isolated sector in the wasteland. The context of the player’s appointment is not made particularly clear, but the overarching story isn’t really an important aspect of Total Domination. Instead, almost immediately after starting, the game’s “tutorial” character General Winters begins bellowing at the player through some rather poor-quality voice acting and urging them through their initial quests, which help to get their base up and running.

Total Domination is a massively-multiplayer strategy game of a similar ilk to those made by developers such as Kabam and Digital Chocolate. Players split their time between managing their base’s construction and setting out into the persistent world to attack other players and computer-controlled installations in an attempt to power themselves up and assert their dominance as much as possible in the game world. There is not really a “goal” as such — the aim is simply to be as successful a commander as possible.

When looking at the base interface, the player has a number of options. They can construct and upgrade buildings, each of which performs a specific function such as harvesting resources or producing military units, they can engage in trading with other players, and they can perform research. Trading allows players to make offers of one type of resource in exchange for another or accept offers from other nearby players. Research, meanwhile, allows the player to improve the capabilities of their units and the options they have available for their overall military strategy. Most tasks in the base take varying periods of real time to perform, though these delays may, as ever, be bypassed through the use of the games hard currency crystals.When looking at the overall world map, the player may examine nearby commanders’ bases by clicking on them, and interact with them in various ways — requesting to be allies, sending reinforcements or resources or simply invading. Players are prevented from attacking one another until they reach level 10, and at that point only players between levels 10 and 15 can attack one another — a good way of minimizing “griefing” by higher-level players

Social features in the game include a real-time chat facility — though as is often the case with Facebook games it is impossible to use this in full-screen mode, presumably due to technical limitations of Flash — and the facility to become allies with other players in order to trade resources and reinforcements. It’s also possible to form clans for more large-scale alliances and compete against other groups of players. The game makes use of Facebook’s new “quick start” facility, whereby the player may begin playing without having to give permissions or allow access to their information — should the player make a certain amount of progress in the game, however, a quest will prompt them to go through the usual permissions dialog to “unlock” the game’s full functionality.

The game monetizes primarily through sales of its hard currency crystals, which are also awarded in rather generous quantities for completing quests and achievements. These may be expended on a variety of things, including speeding up time-consuming tasks and purchasing premium items that provide an advantage in combat against either the AI or other players. There is no real “throttling” system in play, timers aside, so players can enjoy the game for as long as they like in a single sitting.

Total Domination is a competent game that is well-presented, atrocious voice acting aside. The trouble with it, though, is that it feels much too directed. The thing that attracts core players to standalone strategy games on computer and console is the freedom they have to determine how to approach a given situation and come out on top; here, the endless string of quests constantly nudges the player in the direction of the “best” approach, and leaves the game feeling more like following a checklist than actually developing one’s own personal strategy. The player is, of course, free to ignore the quests at any time, but large, obtrusive arrows indicating new objectives show that Plarium clearly intend the player to work through their quests rather than play in a freeform manner. This approach is fine for players new to the strategy genre, but those raised on a diet of standalone PC strategy games may find the approach stifling.

This issue aside, Total Domination is, like Stormfall, one of the better examples of social strategy games out there. Its sci-fi art style will appeal to more mature players who typically shy away from the more cartoony offerings in the genre, and the game certainly has plenty of things for players to do — it’s just a bit too enthusiastic about nudging players in the direction of all of them rather than letting them discover things for themselves.

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