This game is hard. That’s why I love it so much. Mobile games are often disappointing for the hardcore gamer; the market is flooded with idle games, mind-numbing puzzles, and simple platformers. Usually, to beat these games, you simply have to show up. Heroes and Castles 2, despite its woefully generic title, is a challenging tactical action game that does not forgive the slightest misstep. It is truly a mobile game for the hardcore gamer.
To explain Heroes and Castles 2, you have to delve into the medley of genres it contains. You have a third-person view of a hero and you swing your weapons at nightmare creatures like a regular old hack and slash. But as time passes, you gain Command Points, which allow you to deploy units. This is where the strategy elements come in. Units are strong against some enemies and weak against others, and you deploy your soldiers depending on what enemies you face. Seems simple enough. But then you encounter a wave of enemies so varied that there isn’t a tried and true way of counterbalancing it. You have to mix and match and think outside the box just to stay alive, let alone win. And you won’t stay alive all the time. You’ll die. A lot.
There’s even larger scale strategy at play. You can chose to fight the battles to defend your castle, or you can set out and conquer new areas, each of which gives you a reward, such as more crystals to spend on upgrading your troops and castle, or granting you new units to hire in battle. Once you’ve conquered a new area, occasionally you’ll have to defend it or lose the territory and be forced to reconquer it. Each battle takes a turn, and there’s a finite amount of turns before you are forced to defend your home castle. Choosing when to seize new land, defend your home castle, or protect your newly acquired territory is crucial. The longer you wait to defend a territory, the harder it becomes, but the less time you’ll have for even more conquest.
For its sequel, Heroes and Castles eschewed its MediEvil-esque colorful cartoony clunkiness in favor of a Dark Souls style grittiness and difficulty. It’s all the better for it. It has also simplified the real-time strategy aspects and leans heavier on deployment tactics. In the first Heroes and Castles, you could build structures on the fly to bolster your defense or offence. In its sequel, you can upgrade your castle walls or build permanent turrets between skirmishes, but most of your focus in battle is on surviving and managing your unit deployment. The hero system is also simultaneously simplified and expanded. You don’t spend points on stats but on unique and varied skills such as the ability to break through enemy armor, or a spell to heal your troops. There are three races: human, elf, and dwarf, and each race has three different classes. You can mix and match the classes or focus on just one. Each class for each hero has a vast array of skills, too many to even begin to try in one playthrough.
Because it is difficult, Heroes and Castles 2 can be punishing. You can die and die and die many times before being able to beat the next wave of enemies. In fact, I died so many times on the main wave, that when the game forces me to fight it, and I know I’ll lose, I forfeit the battle. There’s no real repercussion for failing to defend your home castle, strangely enough, so forfeiting frees you up to conquer more territory. Such a high level of difficulty would almost be a turn-off if the gameplay wasn’t so fun.
That is one of its problems though. I might find the almost sadistic level of difficulty enjoyable, but not everyone will. And it’s not entirely because the game is meant to be hard. The controls are clunky – its dual virtual joysticks work well, but the blocking and dodging system often sent me running in the wrong direction and straight into enemies and my certain death. The graphics are solid for a mobile game, but the gritty aesthetic often makes it difficult to separate friend from foe.
Still, the feeling of knocking down the enemy’s walls and conquering their castle after a grueling, finger-spraining battle is unparalleled in mobile gaming. When you win each battle, you feel like you achieved something. Foursaken Media certainly has with Heroes and Castles 2.
Heroes and Castles 2 improves on the original in graphics, gameplay, and sheer challenge. This is not a casual button masher or a distract-yourself-for-five-minutes game. This is a down and dirty in-the-mud brawl of a game.