by Travis Fahs5
Dungeon Hunter 4 Review
“Greed destroys everything.” –Eartha Kitt
I’m not on a crusade against in-app purchases or the “freemium” games driven by them. Plenty of these games manage to be enjoyable, and their paid premium features are well worth the money. If a game is good and it offers paying customers some value, I will always give it a fair shake. But I can’t extend the same forgiveness when developers use intentionally bad game design to punish those that don’t pay, while offering only temporary relief for those that do – and Dungeon Hunters 4 is one of the worst offenders yet.
It’s a pity, too, because Gameloft has a lot of talent working at its studios, and many aspects of the game are quite good. Like its predecessors, this is a semi-overhead dungeon crawl in the grand tradition of games like Diablo. The story – something about demons returning to the world and a hero needing to stop them – is about as generic as it gets, but it’s well told, with lots of voice acting, and some video cut-scenes. There’s a lot of nice art design, and the game generally looks great, well above the usual free-to-play RPG. The core gameplay, too, feels very nice. It uses direct control, with a number of quick spell shortcuts and isn’t altogether unlike a more fluid version of Zenonia, or other classic action-RPGs.
That’s about where the good ends. Dungeon Hunter 4 is seriously undermined by mechanics and pacing designed to pressure players into making in-app purchases. As usual, there are items that can be purchased with in-game gold, and games that can only be purchased with diamonds, the game’s alternate currency that must be purchased or earned by completing promotions. The problem is that health potions – perhaps an RPG’s most vital item – are among the latter. You have a ration of only three of these potions at a time, and they replenish at a rate of one every two hours, forcing players into a long time-out after a strenuous battle.
If this only meant players have to sit on the sidelines between levels, it would merely be an inconvenience, but it ends up ruining the game’s combat as well. Since potions are such a precious commodity, you’ll find yourself resorting to cheap, boring tactics to conserve health. Since enemies spawn in waves, you’ll find yourself leading the last enemies in a wave around in circles for three or four minutes at a time so your health can regenerate before the next wave. This is about as fun as staring at a microwave, but it becomes necessary, especially as the game’s difficulty ratchets up.
Dungeon Hunter 4 uses a somewhat peculiar auto-save system. It constantly saves your level, stats, items, and the timers counting down on things like potions and item upgrades, but it only saves your actual progress in the game at key points, usually when entering a new area. This can create some especially bad situations, in light of the fact that the game treats any app-switching as quitting the game.
So imagine, if you will, that you are fighting your way through waves of demons. Since you have to retreat and recover health, it takes you over a half hour to get to the boss, which is suddenly much more difficult than the rest of the dungeon. After burning through your three allotted potions, you have no choice but to purchase more, with your real hard-earned cash. You do so, and get the boss health almost all the way down, and then… the phone rings. When you return to the game, you’re met with a six hour wait for your potions to return, and the money you spent in your attempt to beat that is all for naught.
Even worse, Dungeon Hunter 4 doesn’t use any kind of cloud saves, and in typical Gameloft fashion, it launches without enough testing. I slogged through about half of the game, and then decided to turn the graphical setting to high. Upon re-launching the game, it simply crashed after the opening log. The only solution was to clear my data – including any of my purchased in-game items – and start over from scratch.
And so ended my time with Dungeon Hunter 4. Although I normally make it a policy to complete a game before issuing a verdict, my time with this one was more than enough. DH4 is deeply flawed on such a fundamental level, that the quality of its content is almost irrelevant. Everything that makes these games enjoyable has been stripped away in the name of selling in-game currency. The leveling curve, availability of loot, and price of items are all horribly broken, hoping to frustrate gamers into coughing up money, and the long distance between checkpoints is designed to motivate desperate gamers into paying for continues to get through that boss battle. Pouring money into a game is all well and good if the game is actually enjoyable, but in their greed, Gameloft has ensured that there is no fun to be found.
Summary: Although Dungeon Hunter 4 looks, sounds, and controls great, its pacing and design is horribly broken in an effort to sell in-game currency.