A heavy workload coupled with a teething 8 month old son has resulted in my gaming time being squeezed of late, but fear not because I have made offerings at the caffeine alter to counterbalance these minor gaming distractions! For some game experiences, the iPad has struggled to provide quality content, including RPGs. This week I have been role playing on my iPad, and by role playing I mean playing several RPGs on it, not standing on it dressed as an orc. So without further delay here are my iPad game musings for this week.
Companions is a top down dungeon crawling game where you lead four characters, including a Minotaur, Human, Elf, and Dwarf, in a united quest to defeat the evil undead. The plot is essentially linear; crawl through the ever-growing dungeon, kill the inhabitant monsters, collect the loot, and quaff potions to stay healthy. Companions offers two game modes: a quick play ‘Single Map’ mode that has you pick from a set of maps and jump right into the fray, and a campaign mode, which is where the vast majority of content lies. The campaign mode does a great job explaining why each of your individual teammates ends up in this fight against evil. There is a robust tutorial system to show you the ropes, and I found the controls to be a mixed delight.
Attacking was simple; tap on individual team members and then tap on the enemies you want to attack. However your little dungeon hero has to be facing in the right direction and in attack range – something that is more tricky to handle. Given this, lapses in your concentration often result in the demise of one of your heroes. Lose a party member and it’s game over, so it is important to save your progress as much as you can (although the game does auto-save at certain events.) Paying attention and utilizing good party-management generally leads to victory. The game offers quite a good level of character variation, as each of the four races have three different classes that not only bestow different physical stats, but also have different skill sets as well. Companions also includes a comprehensive inventory system, as well as an experience/leveling structure.
In my opinion, several improvements would benefit this game. First, being able to select part of my group would be useful, rather than the game’s current “one or all” stance. The ‘tactical pause’ button allows you some limited free time to stop the action while you plan things out, but some more thought on character control is needed. Secondly, the addition of a trading facility would improve upon the game play and sense of achievement. Your little party will find heaps of equipment on their journey, but you’re going to have leave the vast majority of it on the ground since there’s nothing you can do with it. Overall, these observations are not fatal and I found Companions to be a good game to waste away a few hours here and there. The developer is quite proactive and seems responsive to player suggestions with regular bug fixes. If you’re looking for a fun and engaging strategy adventure then Companions will address that need.
Avadon: The Black Fortress
Perhaps a strong contender for a good RPG presence on the iPad is Avadon: The Black Fortress. It is an independent project from industry veteran Jeff Vogel. As soon as the game loads you full-on experience retro gaming nostalgia. It is a successful throwback to the days of classic RPGs with top down, turn-based battles, basic animated sprites, and plenty of dialogue boxes. Avadon is not the flashiest game, but on the iPad’s gorgeous screen, it looks good. Icons and buttons are clear and the map environments are well thought out. The game itself is a classic RPG dungeon-fest, reolving around a 30+ hour quest. There are plenty of side missions and secrets to uncover. The game has a varying difficulty level and a deep skill tree development system.
Using the iPad interface is more or less easy. Scrolling around the map using swipe gestures is a snap, and tapping on the screen to direct your party of heroes to each location is responsive. One slight concern is in combat. The game plays out over a grid, and you tap a square to make the hero go to it. Tapping on a monster will cause your character to attack it. The game grid is small, however, and occasionally you’ll tell the hero to do something by accident (maybe that was just my sausage fingers – those with more elflike digits might not encounter this problem.) Perhaps the developer might include the ability to pinch-to-zoom in closer to the action for more precise controls. With the present graphics this might not look pretty but it will ensure your character stays alive! I didn’t get around to playing this on the PC, but some gamers are saying that the iPad version is an even better experience. Avadon: The Black Fortress is quite expensive for something on the App Store, but you are getting a game with far more content and a far more interesting quest than almost anything else available at present.