Burning Blade is the latest product from developer Teebik Games, who single-mindedly cranks out ornate-looking fantasy RPGs for browser and mobile platforms. Veterans of Teebik’s Wartune and League of Angels will get a touch of déjà vu from their new MMORPG’s mythological touches, cliché storytelling, and obvious debts to Final Fantasy and Diablo. In spite of this dearth of innovation, though, Burning Blade is accessible, easy on the eyes, and sustainably engaging—even for a freemium game.
The appealingly nonsensical premise includes an epic Greek myth-themed backstory of good versus evil that could have been a game of its own, an amnesiac hero who must unlock his memories of wars past while fighting the recently resurgent forces of Chaos, a mysterious warrior on a parallel mission whose motives are unknown, and many more familiar fantasy tropes. You can develop four different characters (Assassin, Berserker, Archer, and Warlock) to play through the story, as well as the various bonus challenges and PVP options. You can only play one character at a time, but you can also join a guild of other players, and make friends to help you defeat tough monsters. Be warned, though: since this is a free game, the multiplayer scenarios are loaded with people who have paid to build unbeatable characters. If that’s not your scene, you’d do best to stick to the main narrative—which, in fact, is just fine.
Burning Blade‘s campaign is adequately engaging. Your home base is the City, a floating island paradise populated by a warrior, sorceress and sage who inform you about your ongoing battle to keep Chaos from overrunning the world. A button in the upper righthand corner takes you to the map, an ever-expanding landscape on which you can tap different locations to enter the fray. You slash your way through armies of gruesome monsters and wraiths in verdant glades, glacial cliffs, and wrought iron hellscapes. Atthe end of each mission, you confront bosses that include familiar mythical figures like Cerberus and original creations with excellent names like “Furious Corpse Eater.” All of the battles in Burning Blade are good old-fashioned button mashers, requiring a little strategic dodging with the L-R buttons on the lower left, but mostly a mindless assault on the grouping of different attack buttons on the lower right. Rapid-fire hits, devastating blasts and enhanced combo attacks are all accompanied by dazzling visual flares and noisy sound effects that are sure to satisfy veterans of much simpler action games.
Each battle drops gold and crystals, equipment of different color-coded grades, and gems that upgrade your gear. New map locations unlock as you level up, but if you have to grind away to rack up experience points for a while, you can return to earlier locations to clear them in both the Normal and more difficult Elite modes. When you beat your previous scores, you earn rewards for new achievements and get more gold so you can pay to enhance your abilities. Sure, you’ll skyrocket to the top of the player ranks if you are willing to shell out real world cash for in-game currency and stronger weaponry, but the game gives you plenty to do without that expenditure. Even in the PVP tournaments, you can choose between “weak” and “strong” opponents, allowing you to enjoy this feature on your own level. More hack and slash goodness is available outside the story mode in side dungeons, dragon raids, and battles to the death with gorgons.
This being an MMORPG, though, these lean, simple battles are supported by a sprawling matrix of customization options for virtually every part of your character, from the strength of each body part to the auras and other optical effects surrounding the player. Real complexity is a rare virtue for mobile apps, but Burning Blade could actually use fewer moving parts. The City screen is cluttered with buttons for different features, the number of which increases as you level up. Two separate buttons take you to two different Arena menus that access slightly different PVP battles. The six-section Reward menu is dense with rows of thumbnails and descriptive text, which are rendered illegible by the overlapping “Claimed” pop-up messages. Your equipment options are so overwhelming that they require two separate buttons, leading to two separate multi-layered menus, in order to accommodate everything from enhancing to upgrading (and yes, those are two totally different actions). Sure, this massive variety of features keeps the game engaging much longer than a more two-dimensional app, but it can be hard to find what you’re looking for, and keep track of the subtle differences between each gear and cog.
Luckily, this extreme density of features doesn’t result in a serious eyesore most of the time. Burning Blade is consistently excellent on the visual level, with each character, prop and background rendered meticulously. Animation is slick and exciting, the color palate is rich and vast, and every detail is crisp and vivid even though it often feels like this overwrought game might be more at home on a big screen.
Burning Blade has thus far avoided the usual pay to win pitfalls by providing frugal players with so much to see and do. That said, it is easy to imagine a less fun future in which the game’s constituency is overpopulated with early adopters who have bought themselves more power than newbies can handle. In its nascent form, though, Burning Blade offers such high quality gaming that it is worth getting in on the ground floor, before the inevitable class wars that crop up in the freemium environment.
Though little here is new, and pay-to-win problems loom on the horizon, Teebik Games packs a lot of entertainment value into an app that’s almost too big for the mobile platform.