Friends & Dragons preview - "Unique combat mechanics and an amazing soundtrack"
A wail of despair echoes across the battlefield and my healer is gone, vanquished under the wrath of the majestic dragon in front of me. There's only my archer and my mage left, and both of them are pretty squishy against the hordes of ogres closing in on me. But with a well-timed move and lots of strategic placement, I get rid of the monsters in one fell swoop - and it's all thanks to being in the right place at the right time.
This exhilarating level of strategy is exactly what you can expect from Friends & Dragons, but while the combat is highly engaging, does the overall gameplay experience make it worth your while?Table of contents:
FRIENDS & DRAGONS VISUALSBefore I get into the game's visuals, I have to say that Friends & Dragons has one of the most amazing soundtracks I've ever had the pleasure of hearing on mobile so far. The background music that serenades you throughout the experience is incredibly haunting, whether you're tinkering around in the menu on the main screen or figuring out how to push ogres into the water during combat.
There is an interesting combination of tribal chanting that gets the adrenaline pumping in battle, plus melodious, almost ethereal vocals that inspire you to keep going even outside of combat. It all reminds me of the tunes from The Witcher, and yes, I'm all for it.
The gorgeous character designs, of course, add to that enjoyment factor especially since you'll be leaving your fate to the RNG gods in the summons pool when it comes to your heroes. Each character is so meticulously designed, with different looks for a variety of classes, races, rarities and colours. You won't really see these full-body character designs in combat, but how they look in your hero lineup is already enough to entice you to collect them all.
THE GAMEPLAY OF FRIENDS & DRAGONSCombat is a turn-based, almost chess-like affair, where you'll move your heroes around across a grid to attack foes. While things might look simple at first, the game features a deep and very unique level of strategy where positioning matters more than actual power. The boards themselves are pretty varied too, with environmental effects such as swamps that slow your movement, obstacles that block your ranged attacks and more.
For instance, certain characters can attack across the board, while others can only do so in cardinal directions. Some will be melee fighters and some will be ranged, while others will offer support in terms of stat buffs and healing. The catch is that you only get one move per turn, so you really have to think about which hero you want to drag. Thankfully, you can nudge your other heroes around too under a specific time limit, which means that if you're clever enough, you can move one character and nudge everyone else to the right spot, effectively taking out all your enemies in a single turn.
This kind of mechanic is honestly something I've never seen before, and it's pretty refreshing. While you can toggle the auto-fight function in raid dungeons, you can't do that in the main campaign, which means you'll really have to unleash your inner tactician to make the most of your moves.
WHAT'S THE APPEAL?If this were a scored review, I would've easily given this game a solid 10/10 if it weren't for the dreaded energy system. There's a bit of a kingdom-building element here too, since you'll have to upgrade your Castle to increase the number of team members in your party, as well as build and upgrade other structures to earn gold, experience potions and more at regular intervals. While that's common among strategy games on mobile, what's frustrating here is that the energy system really limits your whole play session, making it easier for players to log off instead of continuing with what might have been hard to put down.
Of course, you can always spend in-game currencies to speed things up for you - and I honestly don't mind. After all, how else will the hardworking developers earn what's due to them, right? The problem is that the game already has a gacha mechanic for that - add that to the energy system and the many limits to upgrading your structures and it does start to feel very restricting for free-to-play players after the honeymoon phase is through. The game is only in its soft-launch phase, though, so we might still see improvements on this system in the future.
Still, given how unique the combat is, Friends & Dragons scores top marks in my opinion, especially since I haven't felt this engaged in battle in a long while. The music really seals the deal for me - it's just one of those games where, instead of muting everything, I actually turn up the volume because the tunes just sound that good. Besides, why shouldn't I have a kickass soundtrack egging me on while I snipe those ghastly goblins with ease?
Overall, Friends & Dragons is a unique turn-based RPG with strategic elements where finding the right position on the gridlike battlefield is the key to victory. The energy system can feel a little restricting, but the combat is so engaging that you might actually not mind spending a few bucks to replenish your pot.