Free-to-play MMOs tread a dangerous line between providing the player with a riveting experience and ensuring that the developer extracts enough cash through in-app purchases to make the whole venture worthwhile.
Unsurprisingly, a great many examples fail to get the delicate balance right, and force the player to reach for their wallets in order to keep the momentum and enjoyment going.
Thankfully, Spacetime Studios - the team behind Pocket Legends, Dark Legends, and Star Legends - knows what it takes to make this type of game work. The company has ploughed all of the experience gained with its previous titles into Arcane Legends, one of the most impressive mobile MMOs we've seen in a long time.
Rather than taking the serious approach showcased in Gameloft's Order and Chaos, Arcane Legends adopts a more light-hearted visual style, with cartoon-like characters and environments that look like they've stepped right out of a Disney movie. The graphics are sharp and detailed, and the animation is sublimely smooth - even when there's plenty of activity on the screen.
Free to slay
Once you've picked a class and customised your avatar's appearance - as well as selected your pet companion - you can venture out into the gameworld and start embarking on quests.
These reward you with in-game gold to spend on a variety of items. In fact, most things you need to acquire during your adventure can be purchased (or found) without having to spend any real-life money.
There are some exceptions: some of the best gear is locked behind a paywall, and elixirs - which can turn the tide of battle - also come with a premium price tag.
If you're willing to splash the cash then you'll become stronger in less time, which means you'll have an unfair advantage over other players - but it's by no means a deal-breaker if you're averse to parting with your moolah.
If you're willing to invest enough time - and forgo some of the super-rare items - then you can gain just as much entertainment in Arcane Legends without spending a dime.
Freemium details aside, the core gameplay of Arcane Legends will be instantly familiar to MMO veterans. You can create parties with other players, compose a friend list, and chat happily with fellow adventurers.
Combat is reasonably straightforward, falling into the button-bashing template popularised by so many similar titles, but it's satisfying enough - especially when you add your pet into the equation, which will attack on your behalf and diligently hoover up the loot dropped by enemies.
Arcane Legends still has plenty of room to grow, however. More character classes would be nice, and the gameworld is a little on the small side in comparison with rival offerings. These are areas where we would expect Spacetime Studios to expand in the future - this is, after all, still a young release.
Working in a genre where it's so difficult to get things right, Spacetime Studios has a fantastic track record. Arcane Legends continues that proud tradition, and while it's not quite as robust or content-rich as its established competitors, it's off to a wonderfully assured start.
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