When you download Dungeons & Dragons: Arena of War you'll probably be expecting something fairly deep - perhaps a hybrid adventure-strategy title, or an action-RPG.
What you'll actually get is a slingshot physics game where you pull back your plucky adventurer and send him careening around the dungeon, killing monsters by bouncing on them.
It’s marginally more sophisticated than it sounds. When you hit a monster you damage it, and if the impact causes it to bounce off walls, or the explosive orbs that inexplicably litter every battlefield, or other monsters, further damage is inflicted.
So you can plan and execute some pretty impressive trick shots that take out a whole mob in one go. But quite what it has to do with Dungeons & Dragons isn't clear.The Tome of Threadbare Plots
The promotional blurb suggests its set during The Sundering, a famous series of events in the timeline of the Forgotten Realms setting. But none of this comes across in the game.
You just pick a quest, kill a series of increasingly tough monsters, and then a characterless narrator pipes up with some guff to fill the blanks like “oh no, the Beholders are plotting against the city!” And that’s your lot.
So maybe all the rich detail of the famous RPG comes through in the character building elements? Not really. There’s no meaningful differentiation between classes like Barbarian and Ranger, aside from their attack value and hit points and whether they have a ranged attack.
And while there’s an impressive selection of special powers to earn, they don’t seem to do much except output varying amounts of damage.
Monsters are similarly identikit. Indeed, about the only way in which the game successfully mirrors its parent licence is the way it allows you to form parties with your friends. But you usually end up simply borrowing their characters and knocking them around rather than playing together.Gold pieces
To add insult to injury, the game runs on a moderately annoying freemium model. Each time you start an adventure you pay a cost from a pool of one hundred Quest Energy, which regenerates at the rate of one every three minutes.
Initial quests are cheap, but the cost soon ramps up to 20 and beyond. A quest only takes a few minutes to play, so Quest Energy depletes alarmingly fast.
You can, of course, buy more. And you can buy potions too, which let you continue should your characters die mid-quest - the alternative being to forfeit everything you’ve earned on that quest so far. And you can buy character upgrades, which are rather more powerful than the ones you find during ordinary gameplay.
Interestingly, the difficulty level spikes abruptly around about the same time as the Quest Energy cost does, hitting you with a double whammy of needing to purchase both energy and upgrades. So while you can play this for free, the game makes the experience as miserable as it can without quite veering into outright impossibility.Mobages’s +1 App of Addiction
The game does have some that addictive, hard to define “just one more go” compulsion that can make freemium such a money sink. But it’s all in the amusement value of flinging your heroes around dungeons and forests, bouncing monsters off the walls. Everything else is just pointless dead weight, dragging the game down into repetitive tedium.
The core playing experience of Arena of War is passably fun. But the freemium model teeters dangerously on the precipice of cynical, and the Dungeons & Dragons elements are an abysmal failure.
It’s very hard to see why anyone would pick this over other slingshot games, like Squids, where you can enjoy flicking characters around without the baggage of a much beloved franchise or annoying in-app purchases.