They like things big in Texas - big barbecues, big tracts of land, big ideas.

Austin-based developer Spacetime Studios has one of the biggest little ideas the Lone Star state has likely ever seen: portable massively multiplayer online role-playing game Pocket Legends. It's a mouthful and a handful - this ambitious online game breaks new ground, despite its rather diminutive gameplay.

While Pocket Legends deserves to be applauded for bringing a new genre to iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, there's much work to be done for it to be considered a world-class role-playing experience.

Wars with friends

Choosing from three different classes - Elf Enchantress, Avian Archer, or Ursan Warrior - you embark on quest to rid the village of Forest Haven from an infestation of zombies. What begins as a simple errand to eradicate the undead, however, becomes a war against animated skeletons, wizards, dark knights, and yeti across a number of campaigns.

The initial download grants access to Forest Haven and its introductory set of 13 missions, while additional campaigns featuring new levels can be purchased separately.

You're welcome to traipse around Forest Haven as much as you like without buying new missions, though the straightforward nature of the game's quests would make such cheap repetition especially monotonous.

Missions are nothing more than dungeon crawls with the only objective being to kill, kill, kill. A counter rests at the bottom of the screen counting the number of enemies that remain and once you make it hit zero, you're prompted to advance to the next stage or return to the main menu. Your objective never varies - kill whatever stands in your way to win.

Dungeon hunter

Such a simplistic design ensures that Pocket Legends can be picked up and played at a moment's notice, yet it also renders the game shallow. Instead of providing creative role-playing scenarios, the game just plops you into dungeons and assumes fun is derived solely from hacking things to bits.

While there's some truth to that - it is a good-looking game, after all - certainly more creativity could have been applied to these quests. Fetching an important artefact for someone back in town could give context to a journey into the forest of zombie castle. Side quests collecting herbs for a potion maker or solving a puzzle might offer an amusing distraction from the main mission.

Without a more compelling framework for its missions or some interesting side quests to fill in the gap, Pocket Legends is just a mindless dungeon crawler. The repeated use of environments - the same forest level appearing several times with different names, identical castles given new titles - only exacerbates the monotony.

Semi-automated kind of life

Were the combat system more engaging, there might be something appealing about grinding through such basic quests. Attacks are semi-automated, instigated with a single tap of button in the lower-right corner. Mashing the button is pointless, since pressing it again cancels the previously issued attack. Special abilities can be triggered via an array of hot keys on the right, though their cost in mana limits use.

It's an unsatisfying system. You largely feel detached from what's going on since you're not really doing much. Mana cost and recharge rates restrict unlimited use of abilities and automated basic attacks mean you spend more time watching battles than actively participating in them.

Imbalances among the three character classes also have an impact on how battles play out. While their differences encourage cooperation when fighting, the ranged attacks available to Enchantresses and Archers enable them to open chests and collect the gold within before Warriors can even walk to them.

This creates a wealth gap that obviously has an impact on your ability to upgrade your character with new equipment.

The legend lives on

Pocket Legends does offer decent character customisation, with core attributes and abilities upgraded at your discretion with each level gained.

A swathe of points can be distributed among three attributes, and skill points go toward enhancing abilities unlocked at certain levels. There's also equipment to be managed, though the omission of an item trading system prevents you from swapping items with another player.

Generally, the range of interactions possible with other players is limited. Future updates will introduce player-versus-player combat and guilds, though currently you're limited to chatting during quests and accumulating a list of friends. An item trading system is hopefully on the list of forthcoming features.

While some of these features are desirable, others are essential. The need for a robust, energetic combat system and meaningful quests overshadows what is otherwise a big technical achievement. Pocket Legends is the first of its kind, but requires changes to be the best beyond default.

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