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AFK Journey Impressions - A New Idle Obsession on the Rise with a Big Catch | PAX East

Steven Weber Updated: Posted:
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AFK Journey by Lilith Games and published by Farlight Games is a pure evolution of Lilith’s wildly popular AFK Arena. I was never sold on Journey’s predecessor, but my jaunt into the world of AFK Journey during PAX East left a distinct impression that this hero collector might have some legs. Luckily, I’ve been able to get some hands-on time post PAX East with AFK Journey, and I’m surprised to find a well-rounded strategy hidden within this MMO-lite cross platform game.

PAX East was the first time I took notice of AFK Journey. Despite AFK Arena amassing a tremendous following, mobile arena character collectors always seemed too simple and repetitive. Journey on the other hand, feels like they’ve taken a page out of Riot’s playbook, how League of Legends transcended a MOBA and now has an extensive lore weaving through their property. Journey extrapolates what Arena has done, with fully voice acted quests, a large overworld to explore, puzzles, strategic gameplay, and that’s all before I left my demo at PAX East.

AFK Journey officially launched just a few days after I returned from PAX, giving me the opportunity to expand my impressions from the very limited early game to a much larger world. Accessibility is a major focus with Journey. While I opted to play on my mobile device for portability, my PAX East demo was on PC. “You can play in a variety of ways, you can play mouse and keyboard, you can on a gamepad, but there’s also the virtual joystick like you can use on mobile, so it’s whatever you want.” Senior Marketing Manager Andy Burt told me during PAX.

But the ease of play goes one further. It doesn’t exactly play itself like some other mobile MMOs like Black Desert Mobile. You’ll need to micromanage your clicks to ensure you’re headed the right way on your quests, and there’s puzzles and roadblocks, such as powerful enemies, you’ll need to circumvent to unlock more of the map. Anyone familiar with the RPG party system should feel right at home putting together a cohesive team, but the further you progress, the more active you’ll need to be to achieve combat success.

It's a system that is deceptively simple. Only in rare circumstances will you have to activate anything during combat. Instead, you’ll need proper placement of your units on a plethora of different tiles in order to defeat your foes – and even then, there’s a modicum of luck there. An example of this is the Gravebound character Silvina. She’s an assassin character that can target backline enemies, and you even have the option to execute her abilities manually. Depending on where she’s placed, it will determine which backline enemy she’ll attack.

When teleporting to the backline, you would hope that Silvina could handle herself well, but it’s a complete crapshoot on what happens after she hits that enemy. Will the rest of the team focus her? Will she gain aggro from the enemy she’s attacking? You can run the same scenario twice with exactly the same setup and end up with two different outcomes. You never know exactly how the battle will unfold. At the higher levels, if I fail combat enough, I just start randomly trying different teams or artifacts and unless I’m woefully underpowered, I’ve managed to punch way above my weight class.

Stop Soloing for a MMOment

Sweeping through the first area and on to the Golden Wheatshire shouldn’t take that long, unless you’re really into the story, and want to listen to the cutscenes. For the first few areas, I ended up skipping them. The main line quests have so much dialog, and they do provide conversation points where you get to “choose” your answer, but you can’t deviate from your quest path.

Interspersed throughout the main adventure you’ll find detours that are nearly impossible to skip if you want to progress quickly. In the open world you’ll meet corrupt creatures that require you to team up with other players to defeat them. It’s kind of a strange way to force grouping in certain instances, primarily because the corrupt enemies are usually under level for the area, meaning that, had you taken on the quest solo it would have saved you time searching for a teammate.

You can also request help from your Guild, friends list, or through posting a request via the team-up chat for your server. You can lend your characters to your friends so they can beat a difficult encounter, and eventually, you’ll assault a huge boss along with your Guild in the Battle Drills game mode.

The game also has a passive and active PvP game mode. The passive mode is the Arena, which pits you against a chosen opponent as you take aim at higher ranks. You only have so many attempts a day to climb the ladder, so you’ll want to choose wisely so you aren’t set back at all from a loss. More interestingly is the Honor Duel, which is a more active form of PvP. You are tasked with choosing a random set of characters, and you have to build out your team and gear over the course of 9 battles.

You start a battle by placing 3 of your characters. You and your opponent then get to see those characters and where they are placed. You then have two more characters to place, where you can attempt to counter the three previously placed. Due to the nature of Honor Duel, you could be completely outmatched simply because the other team might have had better rolls than you.

Journey doesn’t stop there. “We’re going to have more modes down the line, like in our first big content update we’re going to have a Roguelike mode, and a bunch more stuff coming in the future.” Andy told me.  

Priced Out of the Competition

This wouldn’t be full rounded impressions without a conversation about monetization. Gacha hero collectors are abysmal. Journey has revamped the system where it’s narrows your pool of obtainable characters through a Wish List and Hero Choice banner. Then, they go one more with a guaranteed pity on the character you want on Stargaze Station. An outsider’s perspective would see this as “better” than the competition, like Hoyovers’s titles.

When I talked to Andy about it during PAX, he stated that there’s nothing predatory here, primarily because the story mode doesn’t give players a leg up over anyone else. From my limited session at PAX it seemed like a fairly true sentiment. It can’t be predatory because there’s no real competition here. After playing quite a bit, my view on this has skewed.

Unfortunately, it’s as predatory a system as ever, and Lilith Games is uniquely aware of this, as they have a disclaimer asking players to “Please make responsible purchases” with a link that takes you to the terms of service. You’ll still be bombarded with “limited time” and time-sensitive popups, enticing you to spend.

The game itself is built around time and power gates in the story mode, and you get a huge boost in PvP from character rarity. Depending on whether you spend or not, you could be stuck for several days in an area with not much left to do aside from your dailies and the AFK challenges that increase your AFK Rank, which will eventually help open other areas. If you can’t beat a particular AFK level, you will have to wait until enough AFK resources accrue, so you can level up your heroes and retry the challenges later.

The alternative is spending money. While there are limits to the amount of power and speed at which you level from spending money, you can still bypass quite a bit of content that other players will be stuck on. This pressures players you spend, and it’s still a major sticking point for games like this. It’s a poor state of the game where the alternative to spending money is to not play the game.

AFK Journey has managed to create a fun idle game that has enough content to keep players busy for a long time. For the moment, it’s my go-to mobile title until I run out of content or can’t progress without spending more money. It’s easy for Journey to become an obsession, because the simplicity and strategy can really pull you in. There’s a lot to explore, and plenty of fun game modes to try. As with any gacha hero collector though, simply stating to “spend responsibly” isn’t enough. The flashy limited offers are ever so enticing. I’m not against anyone spending on AFK Journey, or any game they like. Just know that what you’re paying for may not always be what you end up getting, because it doesn’t matter if you have buyer’s remorse in the land of gacha.

However, if you’re interested in starting the game, now is a great time as the current promotion will reward you with one of every starting character, just so long as you log in every day for 152 days. There’s no better time to start on 22 weeks of logins than right now. AFK Journey is available on PC, iOS and Android.


Steven Weber

Steven has been a writer at MMORPG.COM since 2017. A lover of many different genres, he finds he spends most of his game time in action RPGs, and talking about himself in 3rd person on his biography page.