Ruined By Greed
The first hour or so of Unimob’s action RPG Stickman Master: League of Shadows had me convinced that I had stumbled upon something special. Hacking through enemies felt great, the upgrade system was simple, and special abilities gave the push needed to eliminate certain enemies. The challenge of Stickman Master: League of Shadows progressed at a steady rate, but the combat felt fair and well balanced. After that first hour of gameplay though, the game becomes restricted by the tight grip of in-app purchases and the grind of collecting upgrade materials.
Hack and Slash
Players find themselves in control of a large knight who is capable of swinging his sword through large swathes of enemies. Although it uses touch-screen controls, the game is incredibly responsive, and I never experienced any issues with Stickman Master: League of Shadows doing what I wanted it to do. Players have access to several abilities that will help them on their journey to murder everything in sight. Swinging the sword, leaping over enemies’ heads, and dashing behind them all feel immensely satisfying.
The most fun features of the game are the special abilities. At first players will only have access to X-Slash which when triggered launches a wave of light at any enemy in front of the player and causes massive damage. As the game progresses, players will be able to unlock tons of other abilities like Blade Vortex, Blitz Attack, and Ancient Sword. All of the special abilities will be integral to success throughout the game, but each one has a short cooldown time.
Stickman Master: League of Shadows’ campaign is split into three separate areas with 12 missions in each one. The areas have different kinds of enemies with several methods of causing damage. One spider-like creature displays a three-second timer before exploding, whereas a much larger monster sports a cannon that causes massive damage. Players must be quick on their feet and use both the jumping and dashing mechanics in order to avoid enemy attacks.
There are also two other game modes: Arena and Ascension. Arena allows players to go up against other players’ characters and climb up the leaderboards. Ascension, on the other hand, gives players access to levels that drastically increase in difficulty as they progress but give out rewards like upgrade materials.
Stickman Dress Up
One of the most interesting facets of the game is the ability to equip new weapons and armor as you play. Players have access to four different armor slots for chest pieces, gloves, boots, and helmets. There is also a weapon, ring and amulet slot. Armor pieces enable players to boost their defense, weapons increase damage, and accessories can boost multiple stats. As players progress through the game, they will be able to find more powerful equipment or acquire resources to level up the items they already own.
Leveling up equipment is a very simple process. Using gold, all equipment can be leveled up to a maximum of +10. Each level will increase that item’s stat by one. Additionally, players can upgrade the rarity of said equipment with special items like Demon Eyes, Golden Bones, or Blessed Bones. Upgrading an item’s rarity will result in new stat modifiers like increased damage or defense. Enhancing equipment is necessary to progress through the game on harder difficulties.
The Slog of Progression
After progressing through the three different areas, players have the ability to go through them again on a harder difficulty. This is where the game begins to fall apart and ceases being as fun as it was on easier modes. At this point, upgrading armor is the only way to progress, but upgrade materials are very hard to come by. Once I moved to hard mode, I almost never found enough Demon Eyes to level up my armor properly. This becomes even more frustrating as the more advanced pieces of armor require more materials and currency to upgrade them. Eventually players hit a wall and must decide whether to grind for hours to discover materials or purchase them with real money.
In-app purchases in Stickman Master: League of Shadows are much more than predatory it initially lets on. The game doesn’t constantly ask you to make purchases, other than the occasional advertisement. Instead, it forces players into a situation where they can’t progress further and then allow them to purchase upgrade materials. The worst part is that the package only comes with enough materials to upgrade one item. Therefore, in order to upgrade everything, players must buy at least four or five packs of materials. At the very least it will cost players roughly 10 dollars to upgrade their entire set of equipment. Even if players decide that the amount is worth it, they’ll find themselves in the same position a few levels later when the difficulty increases again.
Ruining A Good Thing
I really wanted to like Stickman Master: League of Shadows. It was very promising in its opening moments and reminded me a lot of other popular hack-and-slash video games. Ultimately, the predatory in-app purchases ruined what could have been an amazing title. I recommend playing it for an hour and then quickly deleting it from your phone.
Is it Hardcore?
Stickman Master: League of Shadows seemed like it would be an interesting hack-and-slash video game at first. After a few hours, the in-app purchases creeped in and ruined its excellent gameplay and visuals.