AFK Journey Closed Beta Test preview - "A low-key fantasy quest with storybook visuals and instant gratification"
Stepping away from your keyboard is, quite literally, the name of the game here, as AFK Journey thrusts you into a vibrant fantasy world of magic and monsters where you don't have to put in too much effort to progress. There's a reason why the term "AFK" has become a tad synonymous with AFK Arena now given how popular the mobile game is, and AFK Journey hopes to build on that success but with a 3D twist.
EASY ON THE EYES, EASY ON THE GRINDThere's a pervading sense of being inside a fantasy storybook in AFK Journey - a soft and cosy quality that almost makes you feel like the aesthetics alone are encouraging you to take it easy without the hardcore grind. If you're a fan of AFK Arena, you'll be delighted to know that some familiar faces are making a comeback here, but this time, they're all reimagined in lovely canvas-esque 3D art. This makes it an absolute thrill to summon heroes from the gacha, as collecting heroes can be pretty satisfying even from a visual standpoint alone.
Cutscenes are gorgeously animated, with stellar voice acting for important characters. The so-called "open world" (more on this later) offers a top-down view with equally vibrant visuals as well, and you can hop from place to place either by walking there with your merry band of heroes or by teleporting via waypoints. Aggro enemies are scattered across the world map, so there's no shortage of ways you can put your squad to the test in the field.
THE JOY OF AUTO-BATTLINGGiven the game's idle nature, battles are an automated affair and will have you strategising on proper party placement for different classes. The battlefield can also feature interactive terrain elements such as explosive barrels, walls, and choke points, so it's worth figuring out how you can maximise your firepower and team efficiency once the match begins.
You can, of course, still do battle without having to move around on the world map, so you can still be as AFK or as involved as you want to be depending on how much time you want to spend on the game. AFK battles provide a convenient way for you to earn resources without really grinding, as it's simply a series of neverending battles you can engage in for as long as your team's combat power can take it. You can also auto-kill enemies on the world map if you're significantly stronger than they are, which makes for easy progression even when you're out and about.
NOT-SO-OPEN MMO-ESQUE WORLDSpeaking of being out in the world, Esperia isn't exactly an open-world mobile game per se, as while I could freely roam around accepting missions and side-quests, there were still some areas I encountered where I couldn't move past until I cleared specific parts in the main storyline. It was also a pleasant surprise for me to encounter other users just chilling out in town when I was exploring different nooks and crannies - an MMO-esque feature (plus a World Chat!) that will likely be expanded once the game is officially launched.
Apart from that, there's a plethora of little surprises tucked away in unexpected corners, like guarded treasure chests, boulder-related puzzles, random caves, and humorous townsfolk with plenty of sass. That just means that you have the option to invest as much time as you want while exploring all the world content, or you can just AFK your way through battles and focus on idle character progression should you so wish.
LOTS OF JOURNEYING TO GOOf course, the CBT still has a lot of kinks to iron out, like some buggy graphics that pierced dear little Chippy with his own sword while speaking, or conversations with NPCs that still hadn't been translated fully into English. The biggest one I encountered was an error that kept me from progressing through a major point in the main storyline - thankfully, I could still keep myself entertained with the side-quests and with upgrading my heroes even though I couldn't clear the main campaign.
Speaking of character progression, AFK Journey sticks to its guns with its convenient growth mechanics, making it easy to level up your whole party. The coolest quality-of-life improvement for me here is the Quick Equip system, where you can basically equip all heroes within the same class with just one set of gear using a single tap. I've never experienced this kind of equipment system before, and I just think it's absolutely ingenious (here's hoping more gacha games adapt this kind of feature).
With me getting bug-blocked at a certain point in the game, there were still some features I hadn't been able to unlock. But from what I've seen and played so far, AFK Journey does seem incredibly promising - even its pity system feels very F2P-player-friendly at the moment.
The lovely background music also adds to the low-key charm of the game, along with the convenient portrait mode that invites you to play through the game with minimal effort and time investment. I also like how its visuals set it apart from your run-of-the-mill gacha games in the market nowadays, and if the game doesn't add a huge paywall once it's officially launched, then AFK Journey might just be a journey I'd be happy to take.