An indulgent feast catering to the most dedicated of role-playing fans, Aralon: Sword and Shadow piles features high on its plate. From attribute enhancement and branching skill trees to item crafting and mounts, it's a veritable smorgasbord of gameplay.
As so often happens with such striking spreads, quantity unfortunately trumps quality. While the effort is admirable, developer Galoobeth and publishing partner Crescent Moon Games have bitten off more than they can chew.
Aralon: Sword and Shadow has all the features you could ask for in a role-playing game, except for all-important attention to detail. By prioritising the number of features and amount of content over the quality of gameplay, the game feels clunky and unfinished.
To be clear, the issue isn't depth and value. Aralon possesses more gameplay than perhaps any other iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad game. Your quest to save the titular realm takes you through a sprawling kingdom of rivers, lakes, mountains, caves, deserts, and towns. There are three distinct races, tons of weapons and armour, an array of skills to learn, and enough quests to keep you busy for hours.
Enjoying this depth is difficult, though, because of clunky controls, an unrefined combat system, and a long list of assorted flaws that reveal the game to be incomplete.
Rather than succumbing to any one egregious flaw or missing feature, Aralon fails in its ambition for simply being unfinished. There's a distinct sense that the game needed more time before public release, as it possesses too many easily fixed errors and oversights.Coming to gripes with the controls
The controls, for instance, shouldn't be this cumbersome. A curiously small analogue stick in the lower-left corner frequently interferes with the camera - your thumb regularly slips off the tiny stick, swipes the screen, and moves the camera instead of your hero.
An option to tweak the size and position of the analogue stick would solve this problem, but none is provided.
Combat targeting is seemingly intuitive, allowing you to tap to lock onto an enemy; however, it isn't sufficient for targeting enemies. Attacks frequently fail because your hero can't "see" the enemy, requiring you to find just the right position for an attack. While this doesn't completely ruin combat, it's inefficient.
Keeping it real
When it comes to combat itself, the game isn't any more satisfying. Despite having the appearance of real-time action, battles are rigid to the point of feeling turn-based.
Attacks are issued with taps of the weapon icon in the lower-right corner, while special abilities can be triggered using action hot keys along the bottom of the screen. One inventive feature is blocking, which can be done by hitting a 'shield' button.
The mechanics are right, but the flow is all wrong. Regardless of the rate at which you press the 'attack' button, you attack at a predetermined pace.
As a result, battles are a series of back and forth exchanges in which you attack, then the enemy attacks - it feels as though you're taking turns rather than attacking in real-time. Using skills spices things up a bit, yet hardly enough to make combat feel dynamic and exciting.
The list goes on
Numerous other issues degrade the experience. In some areas, platforms don't line up completely and you're unable to walk up steps or up to a path.
The graphics, of which much has been made, aren't always impressive. Characters are downright ugly, the draw distance is so short that full buildings, even mountains pop into view at a surprising range, and long loading times abound. At times, the lighting is so poor that you can't see your hero, let alone what's going on. To the game's credit, the world is large and packed with activity.
Many of these issues could easily have been addressed with more development time, which makes Aralon all the more disappointing. Only the most ardent of role-playing fans will be able to tolerate the game's score of flaws to enjoy the gameplay underneath.
The foundation for a compelling game is here, yet in loading up on features rather than focusing on quality gameplay, that potential is never realised.
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