Backlog Battle Report (8th Jan 2018)

Aaaand I’m immediately back dating the first article. Figures, right? Well, in my defence, it was half finished on Monday evening and then continued to prove larger and more unwieldy as the week progressed. There was also nearly a month of material to go back through, a lot of which I’ve cherry picked for the sake of preserving briefly played games for Right Click to Zoom related articles. This isn’t a comprehensive list, far from it… and reasons for that will quickly become evident.

Anyway, with that said, here’s the bulk of what’s gotten my playtime in the new year.

Heroes of the Storm (PC)

(Addendum: This was the first game I covered for the article, and since it’s been a while since writing, there’s been an update patch and the Firebat hero Blaze has been released. That wasn’t the case when this was written though, as it was still a day before the patch. Thoughts and feelings of the patch and new hero next week!

…The Hanzo buffs, though. Oh god, the unnecessary and powerful Hanzo buffs…)

The inevitable constant and semi-dependable comfort game in my library, Heroes of the Storm was a given to be listed in any recent playtime. It might shock people to know just how damn much I’ve been pouring into this game over the last few weeks, however. I’d normally play a couple of games to in a week, usually in one or two sessions with friends.

By contrast, I began December as account level 830, and I am now 885 at the very least.

To those who don’t play, it’s worth explaining that account level is derived from the total level of all heroes. Those levels start out fairly swift, and you’ll probably get level 2 with a new character on all but the fastest, worst games imaginable, but it becomes increasingly tougher. Once a character is level 12, the experience needed remains constant, and will usually take about four or five games (provided you have an experience boost, which I do).

There were two characters in this patch I played from 1 upwards, that being Hanzo and Alexstrasza, but everything else was about level 6 or higher all the way up. You can do the math there if you’re really interested, but we can sum it up as “Delfeir played a ton of Heroes of the Storm to close out the year”.

So what brought this on? Any particular reasons? Well, the new patch dropped which was one of the largest mechanical shifts in the way Heroes of the Storm is played. Many maps had adjustments to their objective timers, health regen globes are now able to be fought over after a couple of seconds, and weaker buildings/stronger minions means pushing is a lot faster even with the removal of structure ammo to make up for it.

…I feel like I talked about some of this in the last report. Let me reread that real quick.

Right, so the last backlog report was right on the cusp of this update but didn’t have the end result. Also, stealth got changed and the stealth heroes got made more powerful in exchange for being easier (but still no guarantee) to spot. Turns out minimap invisibility is still pretty damn powerful even if you can see them coming in your lane.

But last time I spoke about this, it was all purely speculative on how things were going to shake up. The truth was far more so than I’d expected. Structures are somewhat undertuned, so heavy pushing characters or strong wave clear is the cornerstone of victory and a Sylvanas can wreck a building faster than ever before. Winning your lane or playing smart can see you get double regen globes and get way ahead.

What this all equates to is a much faster game that is more often than not decided in the early game. It can be very snowbally, and at times games become incredibly one sided as an early advantage quickly becomes a three level lead. It can be hard to come back from those, and a lot of people feel the game isn’t in a great spot.

I’m not one of those, though. Personally, I think the changes are quite good, though they are absolutely overtuned in places. It’s not so dramatic that all hopes of comeback are extinguished, despite what some people seem to think (the whiners and people declaring “gg” at five minutes have always been around after all). All the catch-up mechanics are still in place, and I’ve won games I was four levels down as well as lost them when winning by that much. As a whole? Sure, it’s definitely more easily defined.

But I don’t necessarily consider the direction of the changes to be bad. In fact, I quite like them, and with a bit of numbers tuning it’s a good spot. It feels more rewarding to get ahead, outplay an opponent, or make use of the game mechanics well. Prior to this patch, things could still snowball, but there was always that thought of “Sure they won the early game, but if we soak within a level of them and win a single teamfight in late game it’s instantly over”. Now that’s definitely not the case, and getting those advantages can make your victory easier.

Sure, sometimes you end up in games which end up feeling extremely one-dimensional because Quick Match gave me a team comp with two non-pushing specialists and no melee against a well-balanced enemy. But that’s the unfortunate nature of Quick Match, and why I would generally play draft if the Australian queue times weren’t a little frustrating.

With all that said, it wasn’t the core gameplay changes that got me playing so much. I did play a number of heroes that were newly strong in this meta to see how they played, like Gazlowe or Azmodan. I did give the stealth changes a whirl and found I greatly enjoyed playing Nova and Valeera in a way that didn’t feel dull or like I was burdening the team (though Valeera’s silence duration is too strong and made me feel like a dick).

But you know where all those extra levels came from? A third of them were Hanzo. Despite being out less than a month, I have already gotten him to level 17 and played around 60 games with him, sporting a winrate to match. Seriously, I went crazy hard on playing Hanzo for a while.

I’ve rigorously tested his talents and played around with builds, coming up with a standard build that’s well suited to capitalising on his strengths while still having pocket options or complete style changes based on enemies/allies. I regularly find situations in which the weaker/less-picked ult (his iconic Dragonstrike) shines through and can turn fights or even whole games because I’m willing to play around with it.

It’s kinda funny that I would rarely feel the need to pull him out in Hero League, just because he’s not nearly as much of a generalist as Valla or Greymane who can fit all situations. He’s got powerful niches, and when I can excel with them, I think he’s very powerful. In some games, there’s not a lot that he can do that isn’t better than X or Y and I’ll pick something else for the team… buuut I think I’m at the point where I can play him pretty damn well and change people’s negative opinions on him.

He’s a very different beast from his Overwatch self, and while I completely understand the stigma of him from there, none of those design elements are as frustrating to deal with for an opponent. Or maybe the enemy Hanzo players haven’t displayed that for me? I don’t know, maybe I’m just an asshole. Either way, I’ve played the hell out of him and I adore doing so. My rampant grinding of levels on him has eased off since hitting 15, but I still routinely pick him up for Overwatch/Assassin daily quests or just because I want to.

All that said about Hanzo, it still only accounts for no more than half the games I played during that period. Otherwise, I’ve been bouncing around between those other heroes, or else sticking to the dependable ones I usually return to like Dehaka or Artanis. But for whatever reason, I just went Heroes mad for a month or so there. I can’t explain why, but I did, it was fun, and I’m still feeling pretty good about the game. Will probably end up easing off, but who knows?

It’s important to note, then, that the long awaited Terran Firebat hero from Starcraft 2 is finally arriving tomorrow. He looks like a greatly fun and decently effective all-around tank, and I’m already planning on duoing a lot with a friend on release day so I can play the heck out of him.

Gotta try and rush him to level 420… y’know, because his name is Blaze. Hah. I’m hilarious.

Tokyo Xanadu ex+ (PS4)

The sole game that’s drawn me to my PS4 for a while, Tokyo Xanadu has continued to grow on me in much the same fashion as Trails of Cold Steel did. Whereas the latter grew to be one of my favourite JRPGs ever made by the end, Tokyo Xanadu hasn’t really reached that level, and some of that is probably just because of the inevitable mental comparisons to Persona 5.

It’s very much Falcom’s attempt at tackling their personal spin on the Persona series in terms of setting, tone and feel. Even so, they’ve opted for many of the familiar gameplay loops and systems from Trails of Cold Steel. What I’m playing, then, is a game that greatly reminds me of two of my favourite games ever… but one that doesn’t really have anything to quite stand up to those.

I really enjoy this game, don’t get me wrong. Tokyo Xanadu is pretty solid, and despite a few misgivings from frustrating bosses early on, that seemed to smooth out pretty quickly and I’m having a much more pleasant time with things. The gameplay is different from both comparison titles, being a very action-oriented game in combat more than a traditional RPG.

It’s just… again, there’s nothing here that can stand up to either Persona or Trails that isn’t handled better by either. It’s solid, consistent, but feels very familiar. There’s still a chance for the plot and narrative to expand further and really wow me in its own fashion, which both comparison titles also did over time. So far though, it’s not quite there.

I estimate that I’m maybe halfway through Tokyo Xanadu, and despite no longer being slated to review it for another website, I do want to go and finish it of my own accord. I’m invested and curious to see how it continues. It’s just not compelling me to see what happens next like the lengthy marathon sessions of Persona 5 or Trails of Cold Steel 2 did.

…Goddamn if it’s not just enough like Trails of Cold Steel to make me desperately want a localisation of game 3. It even has an in-universe ad and multiple references to it! That’s just not fair at all!

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U)

My friend and I have picked up our pace with Breath of the Wild a lot more of late, perhaps hastened by the decent number of people I know who got a Switch for Christmas and have been regaling me with tales of their adventures. That’s only bolstering things though, as we’re both keen to continue and push through with the game now.

I’ve gotta say, there was a point where this game was quite difficult, and until you get familiar with the systems and get yourself set up that’s completely the case. Link starts out frail, monsters hit hard, you lack the resources to craft consumables to counter things and your best weapons disintegrate rapidly. But we overcame that so long ago that it’s become a distant memory.

Once upon a time, Guardians were scary and unkillable. Now we go out of our way to farm them en masse until the Master Sword runs out of energy, whereupon the Ancient Arrows we’ve gathered still one-shot them if desperate… but regular weapons still do the trick just fine. We went from fearing Lynels and struggling to fight them, to chain killing three or four in the duration of a single buff potion with minimal healing just to get more weapons.

There is no longer really any challenge to Breath of the Wild, and the core gameplay loop we figured out and got pretty used to a long time ago. There’s still a lot of things we can do, though, and numerous places we’ve yet to visit even with all the map towers revealed. To the game’s credit, it’s still an enjoyable experience, but it’s no longer a struggle for survival and now just an overpowered sightseeing romp.

In fact, after breaking from our adventures to actually tackle the Divine Beasts again, we just found the third (the bird) to be laughably simple and over quick. It’s hard to say if we were just so much stronger, but given that (boss excluded) much of the Beasts focus on puzzle solving through environment manipulation, that doesn’t seem as crucial.

Given that the narrative and story is really quite weak and not at all engaging — doubly so due to the less than stellar lackluster performance of some of the English VAs — it’s hard to want to carry on and reach the conclusion of the plot. But that’s hardly what the game is about, isn’t it? Breath of the Wild feels so much like the Skyrim approach, that being “ignore the main quest ASAP and go on an adventure”. It just happens to try and push the narrative on you a bit more than that equivalent.

But there are still so many little moments that make it worthwhile. The highlight of our recent adventures happened at the tail end of our last session, when we were climbing one of the highest mountains in the game at night in search of shrines or secrets. In the distance, far on the other side of Hyrule, my friend spotted a strange glowing light from a peak. We’d already been to this place and checked most of it out earlier that day, but my friend was intrigued.

It wasn’t just a fancy graphical effect or some kind of aping of a natural phenomenon. Nope, it was signaling the appearance of the rarest and perhaps best horse in the entire game: the Lord of the Mountain. And the encounter and subsequent taming of that bizarre looking creature from straight out of a Ghibli film was so unexpected but so awe-inspiring that we ended the gaming session feeling completely blown away.

Moments like that remain the highlight of Breath of the Wild even when the overall central plot of the game that we keep returning to fails to resonate. And it is moments like that that have captured our attention, not to mention kept people playing it from its launch on into the future long after we’ve all forgotten just what Zelda was asking us to do.

I had wrote a bit more on this, buuut I’ve since cut that away to be used in the Delfies articles. Spoiler~

Black Desert Online (PC)

I don’t believe I spoke about this during a previous report, but at some point in the past six months and during my search for a new MMORPG, I dabbled in Black Desert Online very briefly. I do mean very briefly: after perhaps an hour, I was largely disinterested and turned off by a very unintuitive and clunky interface. The combat was reasonably nice, but there was just so little to keep me engaged with it.

One of the major strengths of the game, then, is that it has no subscription and remains playable whenever you want. It also happens to go for a fairly low price on Steam even without being on sale, which it just was. As such, there can be a chain reaction that gets a pretty sizable chunk of people picking it up and playing it again.

Case in point: a couple of people on a Discord I frequent had played it on again, off again for a while. This was an on moment, and they were telling about their adventures. This encouraged a couple of others to resume their stuff in it and give it another whirl. At least one person gets curious about it and picks it up on sale, adding their screenshots to the mix. More people ask about it, more are reminded about it… so on, so forth.

I think I counted a dozen people expressing various stages of interest if not outright getting back into it, myself included. So back into it I went, and this time was infinitely more compelling even without having people to talk to about it.

See, a massive part of Black Desert has absolutely nothing to do with any of the combat systems or general standard MMORPG features. Instead, there’s a lot of focus on economy, crafting, and general life skills. You can just minimise or ignore the fighting altogether fairly quickly and still accomplish quite a bit. The issue is that practically none of this was demonstrated or explained to me until I was a decent way into it, despite all of these features and alternatives being available from the moment you begin.

I think this is the result of a shift in how experience was gained and early grind was handled. When the game first came out, I recall hearing that my brother played it and got to maybe level 30 after many hours of play before putting it down. In my case, I was level 7 by the time I figured out where to find where my level was displayed! You absolutely fly through those early levels at ludicrous speeds.

Despite this shift in how quickly you’ll rank up, I’m fairly sure that absolutely none of the actual quests or even early monster levels and strengths were tweaked to compensate. I was defeating every enemy in one or two hits for at least the first hour, for example.

With so much of that initial grind removed and the game’s main quest dragging me by the ear, I was well past the initial point and hadn’t seen more than maybe a single side quest. I’d stumbled onto a couple of gathering and crafting moments purely by accident and experimentation, but even major towns just seemed sparse of activity.

Then, for whatever reason, I backtracked to perhaps the first major hub and found it suddenly brimming with quests. Among them was a long chain of side quests that served as a tutorial for damn near every facet of the gathering, crafting, production, housing, mount use, trading etc. aspects of the game. But I would have missed these entirely had I not been wandering around on a whim, or else digging through the unintuitive interface to find a list of potentially doable quests.

So that’s a major hiccup, and that was the first major hurdle keeping me from finding a reason to stick with the game. Once that was vaulted, the rest fell into place, and I am now having a much better time of it. I played for a number of hours after my first session and completely avoided the main story, just going through that backlog of crafting stuff and developing the start of a gathering and mercantile empire.

Now I’m enjoying myself, particularly since I’m able to play the game in a way that doesn’t just make me feel like I could be on a different MMORPG that holds my attention better. I’d rather be questing in Elder Scrolls Online or focusing on Final Fantasy 14 if I was dedicating myself to an MMO again.

But if I’m running from town to town trying to make money on trade goods while micromanaging a small army of workers in order to amass resources for crafting weapons and building a boat? Well, that’s at least something I’m not likely to find in an equivalent game, and the combat is pretty entertaining to boot. So we’ll see if this gets to fill the role of “Delfeir’s ever-present MMORPG of the moment”.

Northgard (PC, Early Access)

I’ve got a long history of strategy games under my belt, both real-time and turn-based. I liked quite a few of them, but it’s usually the ones that allow me to build and manage huge empires or maps that stick the most. I’ve clocked in far more games of Civilization or Master of Orion than I have perhaps any RTS title that isn’t one of the Starcrafts.

For the most part, this is likely because the vast majority of RTS titles are shorter and focus on the war-game as the overarching goal. The slower and longer duration turn-based games usually allow for that path to be a means to an end, rather than the end itself. And when I want to build a big, sprawling blob of territory all for myself to manage, there’s usually limits to what I could do.

That’s not to say that I didn’t try to do so anyway. I have memories as a kid of keeping an enemy in a Warcraft 2 map alive with just a single helpless Farm just so I could spend a good hour or so emptying the entire map of resources. Every bit of gold and lumber, gone into my endless economic grinding.

Age of Empires was another good one for getting my base building fix, especially since it had multiple resources to try and juggle. Sadly for me, it was still primarily about building an army and going to war, so I never really got the chance to satisfy my compulsions unless I went out of my way to do so. Even the recent Offworld Trading Company didn’t seem to sit right with me, since it never gave me the option to really expand and spread.

The point of all this reminiscing, then, is to say that Northgard seems to be the kind of game that younger Delfeir wanted.

Currently out on Steam in Early Access form and due to properly release within a month or two, I first heard about Northgard early last year and have been keeping an eye on it since. Friends and colleagues spoke very highly of it in its early stages, citing how enjoyable and high quality it was for its stage of development. Well, in the Christmas Steam sale I finally caved and jumped on, and I almost regret not doing so sooner.

It’s a Viking-themed game that focuses fairly heavily on resource management and territorial expansion. Each section of the map is broken into a smaller territory, with each featuring different resources and allowing you to build a small amount of buildings on them. New territories must be scouted with a Scout, all threats cleared with your military, and then purchased with food to bring it under your control.

Rather than allowing you to build a seemingly infinite army, you have a limited number of Villagers for your clan. Your Town Hall will produce new villagers over time as long as your clan has a positive happiness. Happiness is drained when villagers are wounded, sick, or lacking in resources, so it’s a careful balancing act of managing them and assigning them to where they’re needed.

Each of the limited buildings you can build per territory has a villager capacity, and any villager can occupy a building and take up that trade for as long as needed. The big caveat is that this also includes your military units, so to build a larger military means forgoing other resources.

As well as enemy clans, there are a number of hazards in the world, such as wolves or draugar or corrupted valkyries that will threaten your lands. Beating them and securing their territory can put you ahead though, so the risk is often worth it. But the biggest risk to your success is no particular foe: it’s the weather.

See, the game plays out over a couple of years of game time, but each of these years will cycle through seasons… or at least, they’ll cycle through Winter and Not Winter. During winter, your wood consumption is massively increased and food production is drastically lowered, so you’re encouraged to stockpile in the months leading up to it. Failure to do so can leave many villagers sick or even dead, which means you’re going to be running at quite the deficit and struggling to catch up.

So with all this factored in, how do you win? It’s not a standard RTS where you need to crush all enemy forces, though that is a victory option. Instead, there are a number of paths you can take. You can become famous through great deeds and make the others bow to you, or progress far enough down the research tree to receive the blessings of the gods. Options exist, which is welcome.

At the moment, Northgard features a half-dozen clans with different perks and playstyles. I’ve only played through the one game so far, but I fully intend to check more of them out and experiment a little bit. There’s no campaign just yet, but the game is set to properly launch soon so I’m looking forward to seeing how it ends up.

In short, it’s an RTS that seems to suit my style of play very well. I’ll be playing more of it soon, that’s for sure.

Enter the Gungeon (Switch)

Not too much to say about this one just yet, as I’ve only done a couple of experimental runs. Nonetheless, I picked this up on Switch since being able to just pick it up, do a roguelike run, and drop it sounded appealing.

So Enter the Gungeon is just that: a roguelike where you enter the randomly generated gun-themed dungeon and try to get as far as you can. There’s a lot of guns to find, strange bullet-shaped enemies to defeat, and a lot of bullet hell to stylishly take cover or dodge roll through.

It’s pretty fun, but I haven’t got too much experience with it to say how it stacks up compared to others in the genre, or what I really think about it. Still wanted to mention it though.

Realm Grinder (PC)

The last couple of entries in this week’s report really showcase the depths of insanity I delved for research, but it all began right here.

Yes, I’ve still been playing Realm Grinder, as far as one can play an idle clicker. Steam shows it clocked in at about 550 hours by now, but as always a good amount of that is just left in the background while I play or do other things. Sometimes when I’m downloading games overnight I’ll just leave it running alongside that, too. There’s a lot less active management for it now than there was before, but it’s still an ever present factor.

Current progress sees me at Reincarnation 24, with all research currently available for the vanilla and neutral factions unlocked. Decently far along for those keeping track at home, but there’s a lot more to do and aspects of the game to unlock. It really is remarkably in-depth and varied for a game of its genre.

All that said, there was a point where I was getting continually focused on it. Rather than leave it idle, there were times when I’d be checking in every couple of minutes at most, guiding runs as efficiently as I could without actually spam clicking on it. Despite my assurances to myself that I needed to stop focusing on it so I could put time into actual games, the opposite only happened.

As the situation got more frustrated and focused, I ended up using my time with the game to focus on research. I made comparisons between it and other idle games, then idle games with MMORPGs and their modes of progression. This was especially sparked on with the next game in the list, which in turn furthered a need to start diving deep into other games to get an idea of what entire video game markets might be like.

It became something like a case of “if I’m stuck on this concept, then dive deep and drown myself into the concept until I get completely sick of it and pull free”. And so down I went… into mobile game territory.

Lineage 2: Revolution (Mobile)

Part of the reason I started drawing the parallels to idle clickers with MMORPGs in a lot of ways was due to this game. The Lineage series hails from Korea, featuring a handful of games within it, but the most notable is the original Lineage 2. It was an MMORPG released a little before World of Warcraft, but was heavily mired in a slow progression grind the likes of which remain popular in Asia, but less so everywhere else. It had its fans in English speaking regions, mostly for the very pretty art, but for the most part it was very much style over substance.

I was kind of surprised to see the name Lineage 2 start to pop up in gaming circle discussions once more last year, all because of this new smartphone game. It was incredibly heavily promoted for a game of its style, featuring all sorts of ads and streamer endorsements. Somehow I managed to miss its existence at first, but plenty of others didn’t, and so eventually I caught on to it and tried it out for curiosity’s sake.

I have to say that I’m kind of impressed by the fact that they’ve managed to port a full-scale MMORPG into a smartphone game. It’s fairly limited — four races, with three base classes (warrior, rogue, mage) that can be promoted to two advanced classes that are different for each race — and almost completely lacks customisation, but it’s still an actual MMORPG. You move around, you do quests, you level up, you progress to dungeons, you PvP, and so on. The fact that this is all running on a smartphone is really quite remarkable to think about.

Here’s the kicker, then: the game is almost entirely automated.

From the moment you log in, Lineage gives the standard phone tutorial of pointing exactly where you must tap and allowing no alternatives. The first thing you’ll do is tap the main quest, which will then proceed to start autoplaying everything. You tap through text, but then your character will move between objectives, fight the necessary monsters, go back, wait for you to collect the rewards and start the next one… repeat.

It does give you control of the game if you want to; tap to move to a place and align yourself, then hold down an auto-attack button that will go through an attack combo, tapping your limited abilities when they’re off cooldown. It’s so simplistic that there’s not much reason to actually manually take control unless you’re doing some of the higher level content, where you might want to move out of damage fields or target specific enemies.

By and large, you can just tap the auto quest and let the game play by itself. Even as far as idle games go, it’s the kind of thing that absolutely would not seem compelling and make people think “Why the hell would anyone play this?”

But a fairly sizeable amount of people do play it, and for a while I was among them. The core game can be largely put on automatic and left to its own devices, but then I’d go through the rapidly accruing inventory of loot, using extra pieces as materials to improve my equipment. Applying skill points, using enhance scrolls, combining leveled pieces to get higher rank stuff, managing clan activities… it all became a kind of checklist to attend to each day.

To anyone that’s ever played World of Warcraft at endgame for a while, you might very much understand the rhythm of it. You’ll log on, check your auctions, start doing daily quests, clear your daily dungeon, do any preparation for higher tier activities like raids, and then log off. That might change on some days if you’re doing extra things or if it’s a proper raid night, but it does happen. A lot of it is automatic and just by the numbers, and doesn’t require you to play at your best or fully utilise your character’s abilities.

I’ve seen reviews that suggest or argue that Lineage has taken that aspect of the daily grind and just automated it further. Going through the quests doesn’t require much thought or effort from an experienced player, so why not simply let the game play itself rather than have you labour on that busywork?

That’s basically how you’ll approach Lineage. As you go through, it’ll unlock more aspects of the game that will further compound what you can attend to each day, as well as giving you further ways to empower your character. Practically every skill, upgrade or piece of gear you have will be combined together into a catch all “Combat Power” stat, and while you can tweak and optimise the individual stats, it all boils down to pushing that number as high as possible. Even getting higher PvP ranking or completing achievement tiers will get you stats which further complement this, so it really all is condensed into this one omnipresent number.

Each day, there’s a list of daily quests, weekly quests, subquests, daily dungeon runs, elite dungeon quests, clan solo quests, weekly clan hall quests, arena 1v1 matches, and so on for you to clear. If you manage to get through all of it, there’s always the main quest to continue, which will probably not be far from unlocking something new for you to add to it. Otherwise, well, find a high level area and set it to auto battle and grind for a while.

As much as I’m loathe to admit it, there was something genuinely compelling about getting into that routine. Yes, I almost never actually needed to micromanage my character’s abilities during combat. Yes, most of the time I have another window open up in the game where I’m selling things or shoveling all the trash I’m automatically acquiring into a furnace to give my helmet an extra +1. Yes, even if I did manually control the game, it’s fairly basic and lackluster, not to mention filled with a fairly laughably weak story and main quest (which nonetheless has professional voice acting by notable actors up to and including Liam O’Brien for some reason).

Still, there was entertainment and satisfaction to be had from the game, however mild. It became the kind of comforting set of busywork I could aspire to and be rewarded with for. Much like the number increases in an idle clicker… or the item level improvements in World of Warcraft. Seeing the comparison, yet?

That’ll be the target of another article looking at that in-depth, though. For now, suffice to say that this was the end result of my diving deep into free to play mobile games for the sake of research.

But Lineage wasn’t the only game I played. In total, I think I sampled at least two dozen games on smartphone without paying a cent in order to study how that market is looking. Lineage was one of the better games that I played during that whole stint, and there was a lot of stuff that was much, MUCH worse.

The game that ended up leaving the biggest positive impact on me, however, was not Lineage 2: Revolution. In fact, even if I were to list all of them and give people multiple guesses as to which I enjoyed the most, I can’t imagine that many would select this one… and certainly not for the right reasons.

League of Angels: Paradise Land (Mobile)

It kind of makes me wince just seeing this listed here, but there you have it. This is maybe the only mobile game in all my research that, even after burning out hard and suffering greatly under the sheer weight of exploitative trash out there, I would actually happily consider checking in with again. And, actually, I still do.

So if the name makes you wince as I did upon starting, you’re probably familiar with the reputation of League of Angels. If not, backstory time!

Copyright is a concept that’s adhered to fairly loosely to a lot of free to play games, with art and features commonly stolen or “used as inspiration” in their development. The Asian market in particular is full of them, mainly because actually contesting ownership of these things is both difficult and usually not worthwhile. As such, it’s not uncommon to see the art or character designs of more popular games show up all over the mobile market.

League of Angels was one of the most notorious examples of this, and not just for art theft; it also had rather infamous marketing and ads plastered across the internet. The game Evony was perhaps the most well-known example, with ads scattered all over gaming sites showing scantily clad ladies begging you to “Come play, my lord” and other such taglines. The game itself featured almost none of that, though, and was instead closer to a city-builder or Civilization style game.

So it was with League of Angels, but it took it one step further, since its ads were actually just porn. Forget scantily clad; you had characters that looked suspiciously like Warcraft heroines getting nailed and begging for you to join in. Throw in the fact that the game is clearly named to try and evoke missed autocorrects or searches for League of Legends related content, and you had yourself notoriety. Hell, I’ve already had to re-type it twice just by reflexively typing League of Legends in these few paragraphs, and I don’t even play that game any longer.

Again, like Evony, League of Angels actually featured nothing like that at all in terms of gameplay or in-game imagery. I’m certain there are a number of people out there who checked it either out of boredom, curiosity, because they were feeling horny only to find out that it was just a perfectly non-adult browser game. Sex sells, I suppose.

With all that in mind, you can imagine why I just rolled my eyes upon seeing a comparatively newer mobile RPG with the League of Angels name attached. But hey, I wasn’t drawn in there by porn and had no allusions to the contrary, and I was doing mobile game research. Why not check out what was likely to be one of the worst of the bunch? Imagine my surprise when I had more fun with it than countless other mobile titles.

League of Angels: Paradise Land is a fairly standard gacha-esque free to play mobile game. You’re given a couple of basic characters to start with, and then progress with a number of chapter-divided stages in which your team does battle against monsters or other teams. The battles will proceed automatically, but players can choose when to execute rage skills or ultimate skills when character gauges are filled. There’s a little bit of setup and strategy required, but otherwise it’s just fire and forget like so many others.

That said, I found myself drawn to it in much the same way as I was by Lineage. There’s a wide variety of tasks you can accomplish in the game, with more gradually becoming available as you progress. Each offers spins on the combat’s formula, such as progressing through a labyrinth searching for treasure or plundering item shards from other players. Higher difficulty options of existing content will unlock, and bring entirely new progression systems with it. By the time you get established, there’s a reasonable amount to do in order to see your numbers climb higher.

For example, if I were to get a new character and wanted to get them to the level of my primary party, here are some of the steps I’d have to take: level them up, upgrade their rank, promote them to legendary, increase their ascension level, enhance/refine/awaken their equipment, advance them with rune setups, equip and purify/enhance magistones, then equip them with an heirloom and gems. All that would take a fair amount of dedicated work, running the full gamut of every different mode and bit of content the game has.

Once again, it’s all busywork, and the gameplay aspects are fairly simple and don’t require too much beyond the opening strategy and then a little bit of timing (if not outright skipping the battle because I overpower it already). But, just like leveling up a character in any other RPG, there’s some satisfaction to be gained from increasing in power.

There’s a lot to be done in League of Angels, and I genuinely enjoy powering up and pushing myself further through the available progression systems. It’s not high effort, but it’s also not massively time consuming. And while it will inevitably reach a point of being pay to win, there’s quite a bit I’ve been able to do without even contemplating spending a cent on it.

The characters in the game aren’t all that numerous either, with even the base cast still quite powerful and effective once ranked up. As such, it doesn’t feel too much like some of the other gacha games out there, where you’re throwing currency or money in the hopes of getting something effective… or heaven forbid, trying to get exactly the right waifu for your squad.

It’s not the only game with this kind of setup, but it’s the one that manages to strike the best balance of entertainment and progression without feeling horribly money grubbing or scummy. Most importantly, it doesn’t share the same hideously cheap and generic art style that mobile games all seem to inevitably adopt, regardless of who develops them. Yes, the art isn’t that great, and a lot of the concepts are very obviously based off characters from major successful games, but it’s better than the alternative.

As such, it’s the game that I emerged from my deep dive into the bowels of the mobile market that I still play. I can’t imagine that I’ll be doing so for all that much longer before it eventually wears thin or hits the pay wall, but for the time being I’m having fun.

Maybe eventually I’ll stop feeling so dirty on principle.

There. This article took far longer than I was hoping it to take, but we got there in the end. Hopefully you can forgive me given the sheer size of this thing… it ended up being way longer than I was intending, and I even cut a couple of less played games from the list, not to mention all the rest of the mobile trash I subjected myself to.

I’ll be aspiring as ever to get the next Report out on Monday evening on time, and there should be other articles as well as the Delfies coming soon. I won’t give estimated release dates because, well, I’d rather not prove myself even more unreliable just yet.

Now to purge much of this from my memory and play a real game that I can talk about and review… watch, now I’m just going to go play another round of Hanzo in Heroes of the Storm. Oh well!


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