Even if it got nothing else right, Emissary of War would deserve praise for the way it proves traditional games really can work on a touchscreen – at least when developers are savvy enough to play to the device’s strengths.
Sensible control tweaks mean you don’t need on-screen thumbsticks for this dungeon-crawler – you simply tap to move, tap to attack, tap to lob damage-dealing concoctions or health potions, and slide to move the camera. It works brilliantly.
The plot is less interesting, but it riffs nicely on well-worn ideas. You play as Ghent, the titular diplomat who has one more treaty to broker before returning home.
But as per tradition, this ‘one last job’ goes awry, an ogre attack leading Ghent and sidekick Hassock wondering if they’ve been set up.
There’s a natural rapport between the two, with a script that gently mocks Ghent’s bravado and slyly subverts fantasy tropes. The odd slapstick pratfall adds a dose of lowbrow humour to the witty dialogue.
It somehow helps that the cut-scenes look like a ten-year-old PC game, all angular character models with realistic faces clumsily attached. That Ghent sports an incongruous Jedward hairdo to go with his sculpted Conan-esque torso only enhances the comedy.
Tap tap revenge
The sharp writing bolsters the basic hack-and-slash mechanics – battling creatures and mercenaries is simply a case of tapping on them and waiting for Ghent to do what comes naturally.
Cassock’s movement, meanwhile, is AI-controlled, but you can tap the potions he’s equipped to use to lob them into the fray.
Tar slows enemies down, while cluster bombs can cause a large spread of damage, and health potions are crucial to keeping Ghent alive while he slices and dices.
Ghent is also capable of special attacks – successive hits fill up a rage meter, and once it's full you can unleash a powerful move whose effects vary depending on which sword you have equipped.
Elixir of life
If combat seems very simplistic, it’s rarely just a case of tapping on the nearest enemy and spamming the potion button.
Ghent will need to keep Cassock protected if he’s to benefit from the occasional health boost, and it’s important to avoid getting surrounded.
Energy replenishes automatically after each scrap, while the coins that cascade from enemy corpses can be spent on new weapons or potions.
You’ll also find runes in hidden areas or after tough fights – these are used to increase both characters’ health or speed.
Rune for more?
Despite all this, Emissary of War is still relatively shallow and repetitive, and while the game is careful not to outstay its welcome its brevity is its biggest issue.
After 20 minutes you’ll have exhausted the free content, and while that will convince many to lay down the £1.99 for Chapter 2, it’s not much longer than the first.
Even so, while it lasts, Emissary of War is a thoroughly enjoyable bit of fantasy fluff.
Whether we’ll see any downloadable updates or even a sequel remains to be seen, but either way we’re eagerly anticipating the next effort from this talented Canadian developer.