That drifts on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a—ARGH! WTF WAS THAT?
A host of—WUT? I DIED? JUST LIKE THAT??
Wordsworth may be turning in his grave, but that’s literally how I felt for vast portions of Exiles, the latest in Crescent Moon Games series of expansive mobile Action-RPG’s. By which I mean that most of the game is spent travelling (running, hovering, flying, whatever; the game’s not picky) from location to location, and not in a cool, indie Journey way either.
To their credit, the world really is huge. Much more than I would have expected when I started the adventure. You can run all over the melancholic beauty that is the extraterrestrial human colony of Aurora 9 (and it really is beautiful; as a visual experience, Exiles is a delight), searching for hidden missions (i.e. more things to kill) in a wonderful buffet of lost temples, native villages, abandoned outposts, spaceships, caves, deserts. It’s no Skyrim, but it’s probably about as close as one gets on a mobile game. And the story’s not too bad either (though some of the scripting could use some work), featuring deadly viruses and schemes of world-domination. You’re thrust right into the action from the very start, investigating the mysterious goings on in a mining outpost. Not to give away too many spoilers, but things get complicated very quickly. After all, everyone knows what happens to lonely governors of exotic, alien settlements.
Once the quest gets started however, the game’s biggest flaw starts to show. The game is big, and there’s lot of land to explore, but really did they have to make travel so tedious? Yes, you have vehicles, but you need to expend precious power cells (your primary ammo) that you would otherwise use for your weapons, to recharge them. Yes, there are teleporters sprinkled here and there, but good luck finding them. Exacerbating this problem are the irritatingly buggy controls. Aside from the movement glitches (getting stuck in tight corners and having to reload is REALLY annoying), aiming your weapon is…challenging to say the least. Not to mention the UI design, while pretty and in-keeping with the art style, is frustratingly finger-knotting in its layout.
As a result, I died a lot. Embarrassingly more often than someone who claims to be a games journalist should. I died so much that I got fed up and restarted the game as the character class that can slow time so that I could aim more easily. Which brings to me character customization—or lack thereof. You essentially get to pick between a couple of premade looks and a few classes, whose only significant distinguishing features are the special ability that each class can use (invisibility, time slowing, or electric bursts). As you level up, all you do is add points to a couple of skills which effects were so minute that I hardly ever felt like I was truly progressing. And loot progression is similarly scant. Disappointing in what would be a stylish ARPG.
The problem with this game is that it had so much potential. The developers clearly know what they’re doing, having already created some excellent RPGs. Compared to their other offerings like Aralon: Sword and Shadow, Exile ends up feeling rushed and stretched thin. It gets high marks for world-building and feel, but little else. If you’re into ARPGs as a genre, you’ll probably enjoy Exile. Otherwise I’d give it a pass and check out the studios other games instead.
For oft, when on my couch I lie,
In vacant or in pensive mood,
I play Exiles and then I sigh,
For a game that could have been good.
-With thanks to Mr. Wordsworth, whose daffodils I really do admire.
Breathtakingly pretty. Massive world. But that’s about it.