MMORPGs are a dubious prospect on mobile.
For one thing, there's only so much information a developer can cram onto your phone. And for another, we can usually only dedicate a few minutes to each gaming session.
Against the odds, Grey Area’s Shadow Cities was popular enough to take the number one spot on iTunes when it came out in the Netherlands last winter. Now that it's in North America, it’s easy to see why thousands of gamers have played the mystical RPG.City of Light
After a 600-year dormancy, magic is now threatening to take over the world. You play a 'digital mage' that has to capture different dark spirits (Earth, Water, and Fire) to build up power, support your team, and take down another team of humans with a different agenda.
The battle is between the Animators and the Architects, two ancient civilisations with a bone to pick.
As we found in our hands-on last month, Shadow Cities is a war that takes place in your back yard. A location-based adventure, the game uses your iPhone GPS to map out the battleground.
The main weapons you have are spells - one of the most fun parts of Shadow Cities. When you see an adversary, you pull down the heads-up display and draw a mark on the screen to shoot out an attack.
For instance, to do the basic attack spell, you draw a 'Z' on the screen. The fluttery magic sound goes off, the area brightens, and a flash of the attack plays onscreen. It's pretty satisfying.Getting a team together
The RPG part is fine, but the massively multiplayer online aspect is the centre of Shadow Cities. As part of the Animators or the Architects teams, you can recruit new members, strategize with colleagues, and jump particularly powerful enemies.
The online chat interface is pretty easy to use while playing, so talking with teammates is a quick, painless process. The game can tie into your Facebook account to find anyone you know in real life who’s also playing Shadow Cities.
Team-building also gives you a certain amount of mobility. As shown during the preview, you can jump to new areas well out of your actual physical location using teleporters created by teammates. A particularly juicy spirit battle may be happening in, say, Montreal, Canada, and a teammate-sanctioned jump gate will teleport you to the action.
In this sense, Shadow Cities is like an update of the game Risk. You have to fight for territory in the name of your team and, by grabbing and keeping territory, your team will be able to roam more freely throughout the world.
Right now, Shadow Cities is in North America and the Netherlands, with the UK expected shortly. Even with its current limitations, Shadow Cities will have you bouncing around the world.Patience vs money
The game is free to download and play, but if you don't have the patience to wait for, say, your magic energy to recharge can pay to speed your progress.
There are plenty of cool solo quests that add experience points, spells, and power to your character. Beyond the patience required to build up experience, you also will need to spend a few minutes regularly waiting for your powers to recharge.
The recharging needs gives Shadow Cities a solid, slow pace that forces you to be more methodical than manic. The freemium model may turn off some folks, but Shadow Cities packs a lot of MMORPG value for a free title.