An Old School Treasure
Being a gamer, I’ve always taken every opportunity to play games every moment I could. Not just video games, but riddles, crosswords, anything. It’s so bad that I once heard a story about games attached to bathroom receptacles and thought “okay, that’s done, now just have to conquer eating and sleeping”. So it was something of a pleasant surprise to me that lately all the mobile games I’ve been playing have been choice. Top notch even. For me, the best part of being a reviewer is not about telling people what is absolute bottom of the barrel. It’s about directing people’s limited attention to the best possible options. To that end – if you own a mobile device and are a fan of oldschool RPGs, pick up Heroes of Steel.
Gone are the days of a peaceful meeting in a tavern when a call goes out for noble heroes to sally forth and root out some noisesome brigands. Instead we have the modern grit and grime of the dungeon where desperation and necessity forge a bond between four people.
Heroes of Steel’s story immediately grabs hold of the player and doesn’t let up until the final chapter. Not only do you escape from a dungeon, there’s little time to put your feet up beyond the requisite single night at the tavern to regain your health and magic. The world is in incredible chaos, gods have been thrown down and ruined the surface of the world. Humanity has taken to cave systems where they face swarms of cunning rodent men. If at this point you’ve switched screens to the store and stopped reading, I completely understand. For the rest of you, there will be more to sell you on this game.
Interface of Yore
The interface is a simple tile based format. Combat is turn-based, though instead of shackling you to a set order you can swap back and forth between characters. This adds a flexibility to the gameplay that helps to emphasize the feeling of teamwork involved. You can lay buff up your melee attackers and strip enemies of crucial protections before laying into them. The frequent battles are especially challenging due to one key choice in design: there is no cheating death. If any member of your party runs out of hit points it’s game over. Of course this being a lengthy RPG you don’t have to start over; you can either choose to rewind a turn or restore to an earlier save. It forces you to truly keep an eye on your entire party in a very engaging manner. Even the burly tank character can fall under an unrelenting onslaught.
This is not a game that coddles you. The archetypal rogue has the ability to discover and disarm traps, but there’s no passive detection of them. It’s up to the player to pay attention and try to figure out what spots are likely to have an ambush waiting. The only bits of coddling I would have liked is some sort of journal/log book function that would remind you of an objective and some sort of map. Every good RPG needs a map. I wandered around a few areas before remembering where I was headed. Otherwise the developers seem content to let you sink or swim on your own.
As fond as I am of the classic pixellated look of yesteryear, it’s not the only choice available as Heroes of Steel proves. The game has a lovingly hand drawn look that never seems to clash with the tone of the world. Unfortunately the art is a little rough at points; character portraits in particular have a certain lack of polish that tells you this is a clearly homebrewed experience. The PC and NPC models alike are simple yet give enough detail that you’ll never confuse you warrior for a wizard or an enemy swordsman with an archer.
The sound effects are viscerally satisfying. The whoosh of a fireball singing the air as it streaks towards one of the ubiquitous rat people is enough to make you grin maniacally. The soundtrack is a series of sweeping epic pieces. Each piece lends HOS’s incidents and events a grandiose feel that fits the story’s trappings perfectly. Overall the game’s production values are fantastic. I can’t recall encountering a single glitch, spelling error or bug in the entire game. It’s an impressive feat given that the development team is two people.
There were two main complaints I had with the game. The first is that the game is a little too simple. Foes aren’t necessarily more capable or clever than you. There are simply more of them. There’s not a lot of depth to your strategic options. There’s no immobilizing enemies to soften them up with ranged attacks or temporarily charming a foe onto your side. I kept thinking of features from other tactics games. Bonuses for flanking or group attacks would have have undoubtedly made this game even better.
It’s impressive to see this level of polish from a small team and if your interest is at all piqued, go search for the game now. My initial reaction upon downloading the free game and discovering that progressing past the prologue costs money was to bare my teeth at the dreaded beast of ‘freemium’. Then I considered what they were doing, which was essentially packaging a free demo that allows you to seamlessly pay for additional content. There was also one additional character to purchase at launch, with presumably more characters and content to come, adding a ton of replay potential to an already meaty game. If you’re a fan of strategic RPGs and love getting immersed in a clever, interesting world, stop reading and go download Heroes of Steel. Seriously. Stop reading. I’m done now.
One of the best written games I’ve ever seen on Android combines with engaging gameplay and a stirring soundtrack to deliver on every front.