The collectable hero game Shadow Raid:Legends got me thinking about the complexity of mobile games, in two ways. One is the reasonable-seeming thing mobile games have gotten very good at — starting simple and gradually ramping up the complexity. The other is the total amount of complexity that players want.
I like to think I like complicated games — even where you have to take out a sheet of paper and plan. But I’ve quit games for having too much thinking. I open them up, remember I’d been trying to think of a team to fight the new boss monster, just wasn’t in the mood, that goes on for a few days, and I’m done with that game.
I’m fine with new features gradually unlocks — it’s good teaching. But we all know how it goes from good to bad. “I’ll let you play 5 matches with only these rules before I toss in new ones” turns into “I’ll force you to play 50 matches before you earn the new rule”.
Those two things combine in a weird way. Many games start out too easy, but we know that means nothing. Many stay easy for quite a while, but we know that means nothing. A month may or may not be long enough. There’s this weird situation where we never know the “real” game. Maybe it gets good later, or maybe it’s fine now and gets too complex later.
Shadow Raid: Legends is one of the most boring genres of mobile games — collectable heroes. It starts like them all — you have a Common hero, find more and better heroes, find better armour and weapons, unlock the “ring” slot and start finding better rings. Always growing in power. Pretty soon you’re watching them fight the same monsters 100’s of times, hoping for a helmet with at least 4 stars and a +defense stat. And that’s fine. It’s almost like a slot machine — today I killed monsters for only 14 minor force potions, and no major ones, but there’s always tomorrow.
The weird thing is, it does get complex. After a slow start, in a genre where the players never expect anything special, it gets complex. After a while you realize the red/green/blue color system actually matters — you prefer green heroes against red bosses, and so on. At first you were equipping just whatever you found, but then you realize it’s completely mix-and-match — you can make someone absurdly hard-to-kill, or all offense and extremely fragile. You start meeting boss monsters with special abilities requiring specially-made teams to counter them.
Here’s some paraphrased advice from the game: to beat this area it helps if you have one of these 3 super-rare heroes. Otherwise there’s an adequate one by playing a certain dungeon about 100 times. Then play these other areas 100’s of times for about a week for a full set of +speed equipment. Next … .
I was thinking back about other games like this, and realized how hard they worked to not have a strategy. For example, healing characters are tough, do pretty good damage, and don’t heal all that much. Special abilities tend to be minor and difficult to coordinate. Equipment is pre-set. Those game work hard to make nothing matter. You can always play a bit, win something that shows a green “this will make you more powerful” up-arrow, use it, and eventually be able to beat slightly tougher monsters. You never have to ask someone how to beat X. The answer is always the same — get bigger numbers. Those games never get complex, which is on purpose, and the point.
Plarium makes SR:L. To me, they’re known for copying mechanics from other games, scrambling them together in a “see what sticks” style. They’re original, in the sense of never having seen those particular things combined. SR:L seemed pretty well thought-out for them. Then I realized how insane it was: a game for people who like to plan, but are happy pressing the same button for an hour, every day for a week, for a chance to try that plan.
I have to mention the art department. I’m always surprised, even through I shouldn’t be, by how completely separate it is — like a movie with beautiful costumes and sets, but terrible dialogue.
The 100’s of 3D heroes are divided into various factions. The good guys are Telarians and the neutrals are the Gaellen Pact. That sounds like something. There are lots of knight heroes, but divided into the Sacred Order (not that interesting), the Banner Lords (banners? what kind of banners?) and the evil Knights Revenant (undead former-knights). We never learn anything more, but it draws you in. There’s an entire faction of rock trolls, and another of lizardmen. They did a really nice job with variety, but making them look related. The next is the Skinwalkers — whoa! — minotaurs, devil dogs, and other abominations. I think they had a ton of fun designing them, and it shows. The worst thing is the name — there’s nothing about Shadows or Raids in this game.
I can’t recommend it (well, if you’re never played a collectable hero game and want to try one, once, and have a high tolerance to electronic addiction), but if you see someone playing it, ask if you can look through the screens where it shows every hero in the game. Really pretty.