If you didn't know any better, you might see a game like Risk: Factions and assume it came from videogame crack dealer PopCap Games. After all, it's got the simple yet hopelessly addicting gameplay, colorful visuals, bizarre characters, and goofball charm of a typical PopCap release. And that is something of a compliment to EA and developer Stainless Games, which are the actual brains behind this reworking of the boardgame classic. That this update can invoke the pleasant feelings PopCap games usually tend to speaks highly of its design, and that it still feels like honest-to-God Risk speaks even higher.
Right off the bat, you'll undoubtedly want to know one thing: Can I just play Risk? Yes, you can. The classic strategy boardgame, with its map of the world, numbered units, and dice-rolling attacks are all here in more-or-less untouched fashion. If you like your Risk dry as a corpse in the desert, then you will find precisely what you're looking for here.
Acquiring these weapons, as well as hitting other objectives on the board (controlling specific continents, invading a certain number of territories in a single turn, etc.), give you badges that not only give you new bonus abilities (like being able to move multiple armies around before the end of your turn, or getting an extra dice to roll with when attacking), but if you collect three of them, you win the game, flat-out.
That little wrinkle there is actually what turns Risk: Factions from a sometimes plodding game to a frequently hectic one. People go balls-out trying to get those objectives filled, because it's a much quicker way to end the game than arduously capturing every territory on the map.
All the objectives and weapons and bonuses and whatnot are a nice boost to the standard Risk gameplay, though there are times when I wish the game had perhaps focused a bit more on a few specific objectives rather than the plethora of sometimes half-baked ones that appear here. It's often difficult to keep track of all the different things you can be capturing on larger maps, and it's incredibly easy to lose track for just a hair long enough for your opponents to trounce you without you ever realizing it.
That all comes with practice, of course, and you'll get a good bit of it in the game's meager single-player campaign, which is really more of a training mode than anything else. Here, you'll learn about the game's five factions--the humans, zombies, robots, yeti, and, my personal favorite, the kitties, led by the vile, Hugo Chavez-esque Generalissimo Meow—and the core mechanics of the game as you're treated to cute, mildly amusing cutscenes of each faction's generals setting about warring with one another. The cartoon graphics are quite adorable, especially the little in-game animations of various soldiers on either side killing the living hell out of each other with each dice roll.
Ultimately though, this is a multiplayer-focused game. You're meant to go online and play against friends and strangers, and should you do so, you'll find ample competition. Online play works pretty smoothly, though I did run into some issues with the game freezing when players dropped out of the game, especially if it's the host. Also, let it be known that in games against random players, you'll probably see a lot of people drop out. This is a game that requires some significant time investment, and when people sense they're going to lose, they'll jump ship in a heartbeat. They have to concede the loss if they do, but once they're out of the game, their territories just kind of sit there on the map, waiting to be taken over. No AI players take over or anything. So, all things considered, you're probably best served focusing on playing with people you know.
Like any other boardgame that's made an appearance on Xbox Live, Risk: Factions is going to primarily be appealing to those who like the game on which it's based, regardless of all the fancy upgrades added to the mix. You either think rolling dice and taking over various countries is a lot of fun, or you don't. For my money (in this case, $10 on Xbox Live Marketplace), I do enjoy me some Risk, and Factions is well worth the price, no matter how you choose to play.