This is a freemium game review, in which we give our impressions immediately after booting a game up, again after three days, and finally after seven days. That's what the strange sub-headings are all about. Click on the links to jump straight to day three or day seven.
We've had a fair number of freemium strategy games come through PG's review doors recently, and that trend looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.
For the next seven days I'll be playing Solstice Arena, a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game (or MOBA) for your iOS device, made by the team at Zynga.
Does a more action-oriented strategy game work on mobile? Will I be able to hold my own online? And what on Earth is Ganking?
Let's find out together.
Solstice Arena doesn't hang about. It throws you into a guided tutorial immediately, explaining its systems so that you'll be able to get to grips with it quickly even if you haven't played a MOBA before.
Battles pit six players against each other in two teams of three. You all choose a hero to wade into combat with, and the goal is to destroy the opposing team's Oracle.
Moving about and engaging in scraps is easy. To move you simply tap where you want to go to, and to enter a brawl you just select your opponent to engage automatically. There are special moves to pull off, each with a cooldown period so that you can't spam attacks. You trade blows until one of you dies.
If you die, you respawn at your base, or alternatively you can return to it before that happens and the base will heal you. To be more effective in combat you need to "channel" power-ups, or purchase items from your HQ with Gold that you acquire by opening a chest in the middle of the arena, or simply by vanquishing enemies.
When you feel plenty powerful enough, it's off to the other side of the map to bash about the bad guys and knock over their defensive towers. These towers fight back hard, but only if the opposing side has an active player on the battlefield. If not, they're an easy target, and once they're all gone, the Oracle can be destroyed, ending the game.
Got all that? Good.
I'm thoroughly impressed with the game, as I've quickly picked up the basics. I'll get back to you in the next couple of days to let you know how I'm getting on in real matches.
What I love about Solstice Arena so far is its flexibility and its generosity.
There are plenty of modes, all based around the same gameplay mechanics, and you can choose to play against bots with others or by yourself. Of course, you can also enter the online world proper by scrapping with real players, which is something I admit I haven't plucked up the courage to do yet.
A number of characters are available to play as for free every day, and each has upgradeable abilities gained through levelling-up. Play regularly with one character and you can turn her into a powerhouse with devastating special moves.
These are further augmented by bonus power-ups and purchasable items, using Gold acquired throughout play. This adds a further layer of strategy to the game, as you can't just rush to the other end of the arena and kill everything - you have to take your time and build your strength before conquering foes.
The game also encourages teamwork, as one person simply can't beat a team of three by herself. There's no significant communication going on as you play, but you all know you have to work towards one goal, and you'll often see players rush to the aid of others in dire need of help. You can even GG! someone as the fight concludes, for that extra element of camaraderie.
However, one downside I've noticed halfway into this review is that matches can take a large chunk of time to complete. It's not inordinate - 15 minutes should suffice - but that's a lot of time to commit if you're used to gaming in small bursts.
Solstice Arena is forced to make a couple of compromises, due to its ambitious construction.
For one, you'll need to rely on the game's matchmaking to get you into a lobby. The waiting time to do this can be 30 seconds or more, and you then need to wait while the game itself loads.
Once you get into a game, there's no guarantee that your connection will hold out, or that the players you're teamed with won't drop out of a match for whatever reason.
This means that you can be waiting a total of a minute or more to start a match, even on a wi-fi connection. Should any of your teammates drop, the fight continues, and the match suddenly becomes massively unbalanced.
The payoff is that the resulting gameplay is unlike quite anything else available for mobile devices. Matches are over faster than when I first began, since I now know the ropes and can help my teammates out more effectively.
Protracted loading times also make for a beautiful and smooth-running game that, while detailed and containing all the graphical details you'd expect from such a massive publisher, is clear enough to see what's happening on the battlefield at all times. The menu layout for purchasing items and getting into games is equally streamlined.
I've also now indulged in the PVP, and now that I have I don't think I'll be going back to the bot matches. Playing with bots is fine, but playing against other human players is where the real fun is. You'll see more diverse tactical range in true multiplayer, and you're forced to think about tactical play and work in teams more.
It's also incredibly well balanced, and no match I played was a complete washout for either team. This adds to the overall feeling of good-natured competition, and I often found that other players would add me as a friend immediately after a match had ended - even those on the opposing team.
This is an excellent choice for MOBA addicts on the go, and a great introduction to the niche genre for strategy fans who are yet to check it out.
It'll ask you to invest significant chunks of time into it, and if you get really serious about it you'll definitely want to splash out on a character or two, but Solstice Arena's top presentation and accessible tactical play make it worth the effort.How are you getting on with the game? You can tell us and the rest of the PG community about your experiences by leaving a comment in the box below.