And so it was written, and so it came to pass that he who they call the Interloper, The Prince of Lies and Purveyor of All That is Evil was in his cups and so it was that in his cups he interfered with an entity such as himself. Some among they who make their home outside the blighted lands say that the Dark One was seen with the demon imp men call My Little Pony, still others whispered that the Master of Deceit was seen dragging what appeared to be a Bloon by its amorphous heels back—back into its fiery abode, and yea, from this unholy union a scion was spawned, a creature of unfettered corruption that men came to know as Free-ablo, still, others called this abomination of nature, Dungeon Hunter 4.
And yea, within yet a fortnight Free-ablo was revealed for a master thief and faker, beguiling men into doing commerce with his unholy IAP, and so it was that men turned their backs on him; and so he was forgotten in the lands of the hardcore, oblivion his doom. And for a time it was said that none whom men call the freemium dev did hasten to bind the hardcore RPGs to the unholy IAP. But lo, it was not to be, for Free-ablo had a brother, and so it was that Dungeon Hunter 5 came onto the land and fear likened onto a dark wave spread over the land of the hardcore.
So, Gameloft has taken the beloved Diablo-clone and mixed into it the trappings of a digital card game, and a freemium one at that. On paper it reads like a recipe for disaster, and in some respects it is, as Gameloft sadly cannot let go of some of their more greedy IAP ploys. But there is in spite of said ploys a game of genuine value at Dungeon Hunter 5’s core. Really, at the end of the day the ARPG meets digital card game is somehow a winning recipe, and if it weren’t for the fact that ploys to squeeze money out of players is written into DH 5’s code, this would have been a five star game. As it stands it’s a tough mix of extremes, but at the end of the day, it’s a game I can haltingly recommend, at least for now.
The fifth entry in the Dungeon Hunter franchise is one part Diablo-clone, two parts collectable card game and maybe a half part base defense title. The Diablo-clone facet is overall fun and well put together. You play as a medieval bounty hunter, kicking ass and taking names in the aftermath of the Demon Wars, a reference to the plot of Dungeon Hunter 4. The story—something concerning bounty hunters, an archmage and a pair of warrior-women, one antagonistic, the other vaguely sycophantic—is entirely forgettable. Typical RPG-fare, the narrative seems to boil down to revealing a cast of stock fantasy characters who primarily exist to send your skip tracer off on various stripes of fetch and kill quests. Generally it’s pretty satisfying stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing. Unfortunately, any sense of narrative flow is persistently interrupted by the game’s steep difficulty arc. In typical freemium dev fashion, Gameloft spiked DH 5’s mission to mission difficulty curve to make leveling your character and gear numerous times between missions a necessity. Unlike the majority of the freemium games I’ve encountered, however, DH 5’s grind is actually kind of compelling.
I had mixed feelings about the between-mission mini-games, which eventually comprise the lion’s share of gameplay. On the one hand, DH 5’s card and stronghold games are often fun; on the other hand, they grow repetitive after a dozen or so hours of play and often enough feel like a complex graft job designed to con players into buying more of the great variety of IAP stuff Dungeon Hunter 5 is hawking, more on that shortly.
It also must be said that DH 5’s ARPG gameplay is as solid as its graphics are pretty. The visuals, resembling of all things Diablo III, have a soft, hand painted quality, making the title’s characters and environs look like a scene off the cover of a sci-fi/fantasy novel. And the title’s combat works and then some; it’s lively and satisfyingly visceral, with blows and explosions that often dazzle and always carry the illusion of impact and weight.
And the loot? This is a Diablo-clone after all, and what would a self-respecting Diablo-clone be without a mountain of glittering loot. This is where Dungeon Hunter 5 parts ways with its brethren and much vaunted daddy as DH 5 is a collectable digital card game, and every scrap of loot you acquire exists in-game as a card.
Begrudgingly, I found DH 5’s collectable card game pretty engaging, if maybe a little overwrought. Besides belonging to one of five elemental types, each piece of DH 5 gear is gauged first by whether it’s between a one star (common) to five star (super rare) item. For each star a player can level an item a set number of times that grows progressively larger with each new star, with top-tier five star items peaking at level 125. You level up your gear, usually armor, weapons and spells by fusing other items to them. Eventually, when your item hits its peak level, you raise it to the next tier of levels by evolving the item, and effectively adding a star to it. You do this by fusing these special, crazy evolution materials to it, most of which can only be acquired via Dungeon Hunter 5’s Daily Dungeons, special missions that offer up different evolution materials depending on the day of the week.
I found building mega weapons and uber armor compelling, especially when enjoying the fruit of one’s labor often meant obliterating players ten levels my superior. Unfortunately, however, the only items I earned over the course of the first half of this epically long game were two star uncommons, which could only be evolved by way of a ton of digital footwork to lame three star rares, a class of gear that might, at best, take you halfway through the game. Ultimately, if you hope to play for free and win the Diablo-clone aspect of Free-ablo’s Return, you are either going to lay down some money to buy some new rare gear or you’re going to dedicate a whole chapter of your life to getting it done.
The other challenge Dungeon Hunter 5 players will inevitably run up against is gathering the vast pool of loot they’ll need to level up their gear as much as three stars and 200 levels. And no, that’s not a typo. To counter this eventuality, DH 5’s devs created the stronghold mini-game. In the stronghold game you set up your holdfast with monster minions guards, who somehow generate gold and quartz (the latter is a resource used to fuse and upgrade minions). And then you go raiding. You charge into another player’s stronghold. You kill all his monsters then make you way into their inner sanctum to face off against the stronghold’s master, an AI controlled, asynchronous depiction of same said player. Usually you’ll be able to fell players several levels above your own by playing smart, and ultimately this aspect of Dungeon Hunter 5 almost never gets old. Almost.
So, no doubt this all sounds like some pretty cool stuff, and generally it is. Unfortunately, a number of greedy design decisions significantly mar what would have otherwise been a superb video game. When you die in a mission, for example, the game asks for five gems—fair enough, you have to pay to resurrect. That’s OK, I guess. But then if you refuse the offer, the game dangles all the items you would have won in front of you while asking you to essentially pay to resurrect. They pull this tactless move not once but twice before letting you continue. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Squeezing the player into constantly spending to play rather than simply charging for enhancements is unfortunately Gameloft’s MO, and their dubious approach to selling IAPs is, over the long haul, fully operational in DH 5. For example, remember the aforementioned spiked difficulty curve? Apparently it’s not enough that the mission to mission difficulty curve is so steep that most players will find it necessary to invest in some three to five star items, sold unfortunately via a kind of lottery system, wherein at five dollars a try, you’ll mostly win lame three star items.
Gameloft yet further monetizes DH 5 by making gameplay cost resources that can only be replenished with cash or downtime. Unfortunately, this crappy, time-honored freemium ploy is integrated into both the single player missions and the stronghold game, but whereas the missions’ resource—an ‘energy’ gauge—is rather generous, your stronghold resource—called ‘stamina’ for no reason—depletes completely after just three raids. What’s worse, because of the way in which the game’s various elements work together, you’ll eventually hit a paywall if you’re playing on a budget, during which you’ll be able to play for a *maximum of ten minutes every three hours or drop about fifty dollars an hour buying gold. Worst of all, in my game, because I never won any five star gear via DH 5’s arms lottery (after spending fifty dollars at five dollars a pop), I hit the game’s paywall at level 30, found myself too weak to raid and had to submit to interminable mission-replay grinds to raise the money I needed to level up my avatar’s gear.
It is exactly here where this potentially great game loses both its way and major pointage with us here at Hardcore Droid: For throwing up a paywall at the 20-25 hour mark, where the most dedicated gamers are sure to be tapping away at their screens, Dungeon Hunter 5 deserves a whopping 2 point drop. Penalizing your most dedicated players, because you can—because clearly they’re the players who are most likely to pony up some extra green is a bum move on a good day. Doing the same in what many consider a seminal bastion of hardcore gaming—the vaunted Western ARPG/Diablo-clone is something far worse.
You’d think that some of the folks at Gameloft might, especially since they are actively lifting so many development ideas from Blizzard, take a cue from their marketing book as well and provide players with a fair return on their investment. And while it’s true that Gameloft deserves to be commended for making a freemium grind that’s actually worth playing, it’s also true that most of us here at Hardcore Droid found ourselves disappointed by this merely adequate game, wishing that like a top-notch freemium title, like, say, Blizzard’s Hearthstone, DH 5 consistently provided players with genuine value for their money, rather than incrementally offering less for more, and over the long haul penalizing their most dedicated players. Who knows, maybe if they had done things differently across the board, we’d be looking at a game as legendary as the one Dungeon Hunter 5 strives so hard to emulate, rather than at this decent video game that ultimately will soon be forgotten.
*This estimate was made with a level thirty character at league level Master II.
Is it Hardcore?
Unfortunately, a number of greedy design decisions significantly mar what would have otherwise been a superb video game.