Iesabel could well end up as a case study in adapting games for mobile devices. It is simultaneously a lesson in what to do and what not to do.
Forever Entertainment deserves credit for its ambition, but this attempt to make a PC-style dungeon-crawler on iOS sadly has too many issues that compromise its good ideas.
You begin by choosing between two characters - a powerful barbarian and a good-hearted but misunderstood witch. The male warrior is naturally skilled in melee combat, but I opted to stick with the female protagonist for her ranged spellcasting.
Early on you’ll locate a village hub from where your adventure properly begins, with quests to partake in and shops with the equipment and potions you’ll need. It’s a fairly well-worn path you’re treading, but the cycle of killing enemies for loot to kill larger enemies for even better loot proves as compulsive as ever.
The pace is pleasingly quick, too – you’ll level-up often, with points to spend on building your core stats and, in my case, bolstering a growing collection of spells. These can be allocated to several slots, each one accessed with a simple tap, assuming you have enough mana to cast it.
With a decent range of skills available from the off, you’ve plenty of choice in how you approach combat. In the early game, for example, I kept upgrading my summoning powers, which at first allowed me to conjure a large spider to fight alongside me.
Soon I was accompanied by a pack of glowing wolves that could attack incoming enemies while I hung back and threw regular-strength spells (with no mana cost) to finish them off.
Out of control
As such, the occasionally sticky controls of the floating analogue stick were a minor hindrance rather than a serious issue, though the wildly uneven difficulty curve briefly caused me to think otherwise.
An early mission to rid an area of an infestation of leeches saw their queen belch out a large number of minions when close to death: with my vulpine allies curiously reticent to pounce, and my retreat arbitrarily blocked off, I suffered repeated deaths until eventually, inexplicably I won.
Almost immediately, I was given a weapon five times more powerful than my existing staff, thus making the next few hours a breeze by comparison.
That’s just one example of Iesabel’s rather slapdash feel. It’s there, too, in its capricious lock-on which can see you backing away from enemies while firing as intended, or just sprinting in the opposite direction.
The excellent soundtrack crackles and temporarily cuts out on occasion, while the script is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. “NAME, go and check the Dark Forest” I was told by one quest-giver.
The voiced dialogue, meanwhile, is delivered with all the conviction and professionalism of an infant school nativity.
And then there’s the slightly larger matter of it being practically unplayable on smaller and older devices. The App Store blurb recommends you play Iesabel on the latest iPad or iPhone, but I’d only recommend the former.
The devil is in the details
While it’s undoubtedly an impressive technical achievement, the level of environmental detail makes skirmishes hard to parse on an iPhone or iPod touch. Even on an iPad mini I struggled to pick out my character at times.
It doesn’t help that many areas are dark, shadowy, or obscured by trees. And while the maximum level of zoom alleviates some of the problems, it also results in attacks coming from enemies you can’t see because they’re outside the edges of the screen.
Were it not for these issues, Iesabel would be a perfectly competent dungeon-crawler with impressive scope for an iOS game. But in its current state, it’s a good few patches shy of a recommendation.