Review: Chair Entertainment / Epic Games Infinity Blade II
When Infinity Blade launched just shy of a year ago, we were blown away. The game combined gorgeous graphics, intuitive controls, a beautiful soundtrack, and fun gameplay into an iOS-defining experience. It was a perfect showcase of just what the iPad and iPhone 4's hardware, specifically the A4 chip, is capable of. Infinity Blade earned not only a flat A rating from us, but also the distinction of iPad Game of the Year in our 2012 iPhone + iPod Buyers' Guide. It should come as no surprise then that Epic Games' announcement of Infinity Blade II ($7, version 1.0) at the iPhone 4S launch event in October 2011 was one of the highlights of the keynote address. Built to leverage the more powerful graphics capabilities of the A5, this sequel had a lot to live up to to best the original. In almost every way, it succeeded.
If you’ve played Infinity Blade, the sequel will feel very familiar. You control the previously unnamed warrior Siris who, having just defeated the God King, is on a quest to find the Worker of Secrets—the creator of the Infinity Blade. He begins the game fully decked out, equipped with some the most powerful weapons and armor. After battling through a few opponents in an Asian-influenced opening section—one of the many cool teases in the game—you once again come face-to-face with the God King. Before the battle begins you’re felled by an arrow. As in the original game, your character is re-spawned. It’s revealed that Siris is a Deathless; he cannot truly die but instead goes through a cycle of rebirths.
Having been reborn with low-level weapons and accessories feels rough at first but you quickly get used to the prior formula of acquiring new gear and powering it up. As you battle the enemies along your path, Siris and his inventory gain experience and strength. Battles work the same way as in the original. You slash away at the enemy while blocking, dodging, and parrying his or her attacks. New weapon types such as dual swords do change the mechanics a bit though, and fights are just as much fun. Each one takes about two minutes or so, quick enough for a fight or two without having to commit to an extended period of play.
Unlike the first game with its single linear collection of battles, this sequel has a smart new structure that has waypoints. Defeating mid-game bosses enables you to expand the current loop, moving into new areas and confrontations. You’re constantly shown locked paths that will only be accessible after winning certain fights. As a result, Infinity Blade II feels huge. The enemies are well designed, each with his or her own weapons and fighting style. We were impressed by the sheer number, and how rarely we saw one repeated.
This sequel features a much improved power up and item collection system that goes deeper and is more rewarding. Those who speed through walking scenes will miss out on a lot, as there are now three or four times as many hidden gold bags to find, plus one-use keys, potions, and more. Epic Games also added in gemstones that enhance the powers of your equipment; they’re a nice touch that add even more depth. Some of it feels designed to push players towards in-app purchases and while players who want to speed through the game have that option, it doesn’t feel mandatory, thankfully.
Much has been made of Infinity Blade II’s graphics. They were so good in the first game that they don’t feel revolutionary so much as they feel like the culmination of all the lessons learned in the many updates to the original. On the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S, the graphics are seriously awesome thanks to new bloom and directional lighting effects, and levels of texture/polygon detail throughout that are unrivaled in the App Store. Elements such as dust and leaves floating in the air, enough lens flares to make J.J. Abrams jealous, and even koi in ponds make the visuals truly impressive. We did find the frame rate to stutter a bit at times, but for the most part, the animation was smooth.
There’s also much better voice work than before, including actual English dialogue, and a dramatically improved storyline, too; the sequel continuously provides details that move the first game’s sparing plot forward. It’s easy enough for series newcomers to jump right in, but those who played the original will feel a sense of satisfaction as they learn more about Siris and his world.
Another new feature that we greatly appreciate is iCloud support. The game automatically saves your progress—you can have up to three different games saved at a time—and syncs across all of your devices. It all happens in the background and is particularly great for those who may use an iPad at home and then an iPod touch or iPhone on the go. You pick up right where you left off without having to do a thing. This isn’t the first game to utilize iCloud in this way, but it works so seamlessly that we hope it becomes a standard feature in all games.
Infinity Blade II is great. Yes, you should buy it, and you should buy it now. For $7, Epic Games is offering what amounts to a console quality experience for your phone or tablet, and it’s notable that the game is universal between the two. Users of Apple’s most recent devices will be especially pleased with the overall experience thanks to stunning graphics. We can only hope that the developer continues to update this sequel with the kind of content it released for the original, and look forward to what might come with an A6 chip and Infinity Blade III.