In a genre positively bursting at the seams with elves, orcs and the odd spaceship or two, it’s refreshing to see companies embrace a different aesthetic every now and then. Step forward Spacetime Studios, who have done just this with the latest addition to their franchise which already includes Pocket Legends and Star Legends. In Dark Legends, you’re a vampire tasked with destroying those who killed your master, whilst battling hordes of zombies on the side. Designed primarily for Android, iOS and Chrome mobile devices, is this a game worth sinking your teeth into, or do things fall apart in the harsh light of day?
Aesthetics – 7.5
Considering it’s designed for mobile and handheld devices, Dark Legends looks really rather pleasant. Character models aren’t overly detailed, but they’re cartoonish enough that it doesn’t matter. There isn’t a huge amount of customisation available in terms of the basic model of your vampire, but this is largely rectified by the wealth of options available from both weapons and vanity gear. Whether it’s a pair of oversized bones, fans or broadswords, you’re given the option to make your vampire look as deadly or as dumb as you want. Not all of the vanity stuff requires spending real world money to obtain either, which makes a nice change.
In terms of the world itself, it’s very cohesive as the same colour pallet is used pretty religiously. The problem with this is that after you’ve done 2 or 3 levels, you’ve done them all. I don’t care whether I’m in a graveyard, some rough backstreets or on abandoned rooftops, if the concrete beneath my feet is always roughly the same colour and it’s always night time, then it gets old fairly quickly (though admittedly playing as a pile of dust would be less fun). One thing I am pleased to report though, is that in the week TERA in Europe saw some blood effects removed, Dark Legends has no such qualms over spilling the claret. By the end of every level I’d seen enough of the stuff to fill an Olympic-sized pool several times over, which is pretty appropriate given the aesthetic.
In terms of the accompanying soundscape, it does the job. Eerie tunes help hold the rest of the motif together, but other than that it’s fairly unremarkable. There are a range of grunts on offer from attacking foes though, which stops things getting too repetitive. All in all the aesthetic is a refreshing change from the norm and well executed on mobile devices, even if it doesn’t have the most variety in the world.
Gameplay – 8
The game kicks off with an explanatory tutorial that left me well informed about most parts of the game. However, the more social aspects as well as advanced methods of character development weren’t covered by this, as I discovered when I started snooping around my menus. But that aside, it’s all pretty standard fare once the main difference between missions and actions has been explained.
In terms of progression, the game is comprised of nine campaigns which are laid out linearly. Within each campaign, there are blocks made up of actions and missions, all of which must be completed before you can progress to the next block. All blocks must be completed for a campaign to be cleared. Mostly, each block was made up of three actions and a mission, and this is where my problem with the game started.
Actions are nothing new in terms of mobile MMOs. Undertaking an action takes a chunk of your energy, the currency used for playing the game, and then asks you wait a set period of time before offering you a reward. Yes, there’s a chance for special buffs that will make the next mission easier, but it’s the most primitive of gating mechanics. In the first few campaigns when I was only asked to wait a few minutes it didn’t bother me. By the time I reached the fourth campaign however and was expected to wait between nine and 24 hours before moving on, it had started to grate. It’s passive-play at its very worst and was a real disappointment, especially when compared to the missions.
Missions are everything the game should have been. In them, you’re placed in a level and tasked with killing a boss at the end to complete the stage, with each mission holding a unique legendary item you have a chance to obtain. They can be undertaken solo or with friends, and are really quite enjoyable. Combat is action based and, as charged up attacks do huge damage, timing is key. Successfully killing a string of enemies grants access to a special attack that drains an enemy of blood, instantly refilling your health with an impressive animation. As you level up you get new skills to use, all of which are laid out very accessibly on a tablet device. Playing on the Google Chrome browser app causes a few more problems in terms of controls, but nothing that can’t be overcome.
The difficulty level in missions was also perfectly pitched at first. It was challenging from the start, but never punishing, and this was a welcome change. Unfortunately, again around the fourth campaign I started running out of health-restoring blood packs so resorted to running through levels, killing 1 enemy before being killed, rezzing up and repeating. Despite this, I really enjoyed the challenge of missions and was put-out by the fact that in between each one I had to wait X hours for my actions to finish before moving on.
There’s PvP on offer in the form of capture the flag, though as there aren’t brackets it’s inadvisable to start playing before your gear is somewhat decent. I really enjoyed it, though it is simplistic and playing in the same arena does get boring. It’s a good start though, and something to pass the time with when you’re either short on energy or waiting for an action to complete. Fingers crossed that it sees expansion before too long.
Ultimately, what you have to bear in mind is that considering the platform that the game was built for, it contains both the best and worst that mobile gaming has to offer. If the game was comprised solely of missions, without an action in sight I suspect I’d be raving about it. As it stands, though, the reliance on an overused and irritating gating mechanic in addition to an all-too familiar energy system keeps the game from really achieving its true potential.
Innovation – 7.5
As I’ve said, Dark Legends is in the unenviable position of being equal parts revolutionary and rudimentary. The control system is intuitive and very much accessible, and missions look great and play even better, but the shackles of timed actions need to go if mobile MMOs are ever to reach their full potential. It could be argued that as it’s made for devices you use on the go, Dark Legends was designed to be played in short bursts rather than endure a sustained outing. Well, sucks to be Spacetime Studios, as bits of the game were good enough to get me wanting more. If they’d just gone one step further and not relied on the crutch of an unenjoyable convention then I’d have been blown away.
Polish – 6.5
I encountered a nasty bug on the fourth level of the tutorial that meant wave after wave of zombies kept attacking me and I couldn’t finish the stage. Restarting the level and reinstalling the game several times had no impact. Thankfully, customer services managed to solve the issue by deleting my character, which I didn’t mind as I’d only been playing for 20 minutes. Whilst a bug showing up so early sucks, the level of customer support was top notch so I’m not too concerned on this front.
What does worry me is the lag. As the game focuses on action combat with a stern difficulty curve, moving in to attack too slowly or moving out too late equals painful, regular death. The lag definitely got worse the further I got, and I found myself unable to dodge projectiles or land blows. It’s annoying as it definitely hinders how enjoyable the missions are, making them tests of endurance rather than skill.
Longevity – 7
If played in short bursts, there are enough campaigns to keep you going for a good long while, especially with the time you’ll spend waiting for actions. If you want a new character on your account you’ll need to purchase a character slot using platinum; the alternative is starting a new account. Regardless, the skills, progression and stages all remain the same so I can’t see much incentive to trot through it all again, long waits included. Other than that, you can look for new costumes and better gear by replaying old levels with tougher monsters in. In fact, moments before I submitted this review a patch was deployed making loot tables clearer by giving every boss a unique legendary weapon drop and boosting drop rates for certain enemies. Ultimately it seems to me you’ll get bored of the game itself long before you run out of things to do, as there just isn’t a lot of variety.
Social – 8
Guilds were added to the game whilst I was playing it for review and, coupled with the achievement system, mark a move towards keeping people playing. There’s also a variety of guild halls available which is a nice touch. What I really love about the game’s social options though are that they’re just that; options. You can play solo if you wish, or do every mission with someone else. This is an MMO though, so the main place to find other players is the Vampire District. Even if you’re just hanging out it offers a variety of locations that could easily be expanded over time. For mobile MMOs to have a central hub like this is pretty much unheard of, and it’s a cool place to chill with friends and check out some of the more extravagant outfits on offer.
Value – 8
As a free download, there’s an immense amount on offer for zero cost. Within the game, buying platinum which can be used to restore energy, bypass timers or respawn with full health is also pretty reasonable. It does get swallowed up pretty quickly though if you want to skip any of the bigger timers. The good news is energy respawns fast and blood packs can be bought with gold, which drops in game. Basically, if you’re patient then there’s nothing other than a couple of quality of life purchases you may be after.
Essentially, what it comes down to is that this is a game of two halves depending on whether you’re undertaking actions or missions. Despite the added incentive of a chance at buffs, actions are nothing new and as obvious a gating method as there ever was. It’s disappointing, because missions are truly fun and a real breath of fresh air for a mobile MMO market completely saturated with menu navigation and zero excitement. Why Spacetime Studios didn’t take a chance and put in more of the latter with less of the former, I just don’t know.
All I can say on that front is that for a mobile MMO, it’s a cut above the rest. If you play it intermittently rather than devote a whole weekend to it, you’ll have a good time. Though there may be a slightly bitter taste left in my mouth over a missed opportunity, that hasn’t blinded me to one simple fact; this is an enjoyable game, and a notable step in the right direction for MMOs not based on PCs. Falling just short of being fang-tastic thanks to one or two mis-stakes, I’d advise anyone with a tablet to give this a go. It’s anything but a pain in the neck.