It seems like at least once a month, I review a game attempting to be Diablo on the go, and every time, they fall into the same traps of streamlined level design, structure, and in-app purchases. One by one, these games line up and one by one they fail to deliver. It was for that reason that I approached Lesabel with a degree of ennui and pessimism, but lo and behold, I found the last thing I expected: a real RPG.
On the surface, things seem very similar to the likes of Dungeon Hunter. There’s a virtual analog stick and an attack button, with three skill short cuts orbiting around it; a basic action-based hack-and-slash set up that seems universal to these games. In fact, the core mechanics are a bit disappointing. Unlike other similar games like SoulCraft, there are no combos, and the controls and movements feel comparatively stiff.
While other titles tried to coast on their action elements, Lesabel doesn’t have that option, since its action is fairly weak. Luckily, Madman Theory has stepped up their game in just about every other regard. Visually, Lesabel looks terrific, although it requires a reasonably powerful device to run with high settings. There are a lot of subtle post-processing effects and nicely detailed environments. The areas lean toward the drab and brown, but they are at least decently varied enough to create a sense of progress and exploration that has been missing from so many other games.
But more important to the sense of progress and exploration is the fact that those elements actually exist in Lesabel. Where most other top-down Western-style action-RPGs on the platform use a hub world, or even a crude level select structure, Lesabel has a real, connected world with secrets and side-quests to reward patient exploration. Nothing has been dumbed down for the mobile platform, and in fact Lesabel is nearly identical to its PC counterpart.
It’s so identical, in fact, that it even offers cross-platform multiplayer. This co-op play is probably the biggest distinguishing feature that Madman Theory has on offer, and it’s an interesting one. Playing with random users isn’t especially rewarding, but with a friend, Lesabel’s co-op can help turn a grind into something much more enjoyable, especially if players of differing classes learn to work together.
The narrative here is nothing to write home about – few fantasy RPGs have really exceptional storytelling – but it’s notable for even existing. Where so many other titles have practically streamlined the story right out of the game, Lesabel features a dense narrative with a large cast of characters, and it really helps to move the game along and impart the exploration with a sense of purpose. There’s no voice acting, and not much in the way of a cinematic presentation, but in this case, it’s exceptional that the developers even tried.
When I reviewed SoulCraft, I concluded that even when implemented fairly, the existence of in-app purchases is at cross-purposes with a loot-based RPG, and it’s for this reason that so many of these games fail. Lesabel, amazingly enough, avoids this problem altogether, and is completely free from any kind of in-app purchases. There is one currency, and you can’t buy it with real money. For a scant $2.00, you get the whole game, and you’ll never be asked for another dime.
As a PC game, Lesabel is nothing to write home about, resting largely on the merits of its multiplayer. But on Android, it stands out as the best of its kind so far. It avoids the overbearing free-to-play monetization schemes that have ruined other games, just as it does the streamlining that turns a would-be Diablo into Gauntlet. Lesabel is a real, old-school PC-style action-RPG, finally done right.
Lesabel may not be exceptional by PC-standards, but it successfully avoids the pitfalls that many other developers have fallen into. It has a story, a real world to explore, and is blissfully free of in-app purchases, making it well worth its meager asking price.