It has been a huge week for new iOS game releases, and we’ve been sorting through as many of the biggies as possible in separate Gems roundups. Today’s iPhone + iPad Gems piece looks at two new role-playing games from Gameloft, each offered for no good reason in separate iPhone/iPod touch and “HD” iPad versions. With roughly 500MB file sizes, both of the standard versions feature graphics enhanced for the Retina Display on the iPhone 4 and fourth-generation iPod touch, and each takes a different and interesting approach to the RPG genre; consequently, they will likely appeal to different types of RPG fans.
Gameloft’s Dungeon Hunter 2 ($7) and Dungeon Hunter 2 HD ($10) are sequels to last year’s light action-RPG Dungeon Hunter, continuing the story of the dark fantasy world of Gothicus. Set twenty-five years later, you control one of the immortal king’s sons and must escape prison to travel across your realm, freeing the kingdom from your evil brother’s tyranny.
Dungeon Hunter 2 shares many of the same general RPG features of its predecessor, using the same forced 3-D perspective overhead view, now with higher-resolution graphics for Retina Display devices and the iPad. Like the original version, the game is essentially a hack-and-slash RPG where the player taps the screen to slay a variety of monsters, collect items and treasure, and accrue experience while completing a series of quests. There’s nothing fancy in the largely chip-styled music or the sound effects, which have just enough energy to keep the game from becoming dull, but the music’s appropriate to the questing action. Voice work is limited to the introduction.
Players begin by choosing one of three possible character classes—Warrior, Rogue or Mage—which in turn determines what type of equipment and skills the player will have available. Warriors are focused on strength, Rogues on speed and agility, and Mages on magic skills. As you level up within the game you are granted additional skill points that can be applied to increase attributes for strength, dexterity, endurance and energy. Separate skill points are also awarded for magic skills, allowing players to cast different spells for combat and defensive purposes while improving the effectiveness of their spells. A wide variety of weapons, armor, and magic rings can be purchased or found and equipped to provide different attack, defensive and other bonuses. Players can also transmute items into gold to free space in their inventory rather than waiting until they can find a merchant NPC to buy items.
Dungeon Hunter 2 provides an intricate in-game storyline presented in the form of cut scenes between battles and in-game quests. The game begins with your rescue from a dungeon by a mysterious stranger and faerie, beginning your first quest to fight your way out of your prison. As the game progresses the storyline unfolds, presenting you with a series of additional quests that you must complete to move the game ahead. Quests generally require that you fight your way through a series of monsters to discover hidden treasure, exit the current area or simply defeat enemies within an area, all with simple gestures to take out multiple foes in sequence. NPCs within the game also provide numerous side-quests that the player can optionally engage in to explore alternate stories and gain experience. Quests appear to have no time limits and the in-game world remains open-ended, allowing the player to go off and explore any area they have access to, and even revisit previous maps and levels.
The combat system is very simple hack-and-slash action, using either melee or ranged weapons according to your skills and character class, plus casting spells for either attacking or defensive purposes. Character control requires either a virtual on-screen joystick or touchscreen controls. In either mode, a series of buttons to the side of the screen are used to interact with other players and objects in the game and perform other game functions like casting spells and using healing potions. Players can choose either a left- or right-handed mode for the button placement and in virtual joystick mode can also use the standard iOS pinch-to-zoom gesture to zoom in and out; oddly, pinch-to-zoom is not available when using touchscreen mode for movement. The game’s forced 3/4 overhead perspective view does not provide any camera positioning or rotation controls beyond the somewhat limited zoom option. We generally found the virtual joystick to be the preferred control method on the iPhone and iPod touch, although it suffers from the same limitations due to a lack of tactile feedback as in many other games. Touchscreen mode worked better on the iPad.
Although the graphics in Dungeon Hunter 2 are not nearly as impressive as in some of the other recent titles we’ve seen, they’re definitely an improvement over the previous version, and the game feels smoother, thanks in part to the hardware in this year’s iOS device models. Game play has also been noticeably improved with a much larger world to explore containing many more characters, monsters, and items, plus extra options for customizing your character with specializations and skills to build on. Fans of the simple action-RPG genre will find a lot to enjoy in this game, and the storyline is just interesting enough to keep the player engaged while not getting in the way. Our biggest complaint is the same one that we have with too many of Gameloft’s iPhone and iPad games—the decision to release two separate titles rather than a single universal app that can be used on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. There’s nothing here to justify selling a separate “HD” app or forcing iPad users to suffer with a lower-resolution experience if they buy the less expensive version. iLounge Rating: B+.
Eternal Legacy ($7) and Eternal Legacy HD ($10) are the iPhone/iPod touch and iPad versions of a new RPG from Gameloft that takes a slightly different approach from the Dungeon Hunter series. In keeping with hybrid sci-fi/fantasy RPGs such as Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy, you’re thrust into a futuristic fantasy world on a quest to save the realm of Algoad from destruction. To do this you must explore Algoad, fight monsters and warriors, solve puzzles, and interact with other characters to recover the Holy Varsh Stone.
Eternal Legacy uses a real-time 3-D engine that allows the player to pan around the characters to view their surroundings using simple multitouch swipe gestures, although zooming is not available. Player movement works in conjunction with the camera rotation using an onscreen virtual joystick that can be configured for left- or right-hand placement. The up position always moves in the direction the camera is facing, and the camera view does not reorient itself automatically—in fact, it’s possible to run the character off the screen entirely. We found this navigation and control system a little hard to adjust to, but not insurmountable. Some areas have so much graphic detail and space to navigate within that it’s easy to feel lost. Additionally, it’s worth noting that there is no significant distinction between the iPhone/iPod touch and iPad versions of the game from a visual standpoint apart from the aspect ratios of their screens. On the audio side, Eternal Legacy features orchestral music with voice acting during cut scenes, and is the same between devices.
Character development is the major highlight of Eternal Legacy. The game provides a rich and immersive storyline that’s made compelling by the characters’ lifelike animations and voice work, which are big steps up from the barely 16-bit graphics in Square’s initial iOS Final Fantasy games. Additionally, rather than playing as a solo character, players build a party by persuading others to join their team and travel on quests. This contributes to interesting strategy in the combat system, starting with the player’s choice of up to three characters—not the full party—to fight at the same time.
Combat is a timed and turn-based affair where the player queues up actions that are performed automatically as a timer runs out. Actions include standard attack moves as well as the use of a variety of special skills that can be learned or acquired over the course of the game, including both basic skills that can be used repeatedly and “ultimate” skills that must be charged up between uses. During combat, the player only directly controls the primary character in the party, simply directing the other two characters to take on a specific type of attacking or defensive posture.
Eternal Legacy blends a variety of both fantasy and sci-fi elements to create an engaging experience with swords, guns, robots, magic, and even vehicles to use for progression through the adventure. Players can choose to focus only on completing quests in the main storyline, or complete optional sub-quests to explore further and gain additional experience.
The turn-based combat approach makes Eternal Legacy more of a strategic RPG than a purely action-based game—an approach more akin to the Final Fantasy series, with the timer creating just enough of a push to keep the action moving. However, the features that make the game engaging are the virtual 3-D world and storyline, which provide a wide variety of settings and characters to explore. Further, the multi-character party approach allows for a selection of characters with skills for specific situations dynamically as the player progresses through the game, rather than having to choose a fixed set of characters at the beginning, which allows for a more varied and interesting playing experience. As with Dungeon Hunter 2, it’s a disappointment that there are separate versions for different iOS devices; the inability to take the identical game from screen to screen limits what would otherwise be a very appealing title to play in short bursts on the road, and return to for longer sessions on the bigger screen at home. iLounge Rating: B+.
Thousands of additional iPhone, iPod, and iPad app and game reviews are available here.