There was a time when Gameloft was one of the favorite mobile developers of traditional core gamers. Sure, some of their games cost $7 or $8, but they offered the kind of experience that you’d expect from a handheld console, not a phone. Recently, Gameloft has been shifting more and more its traditional games to free-to-play schemes, with mixed results. Games like Asphalt 8 manage to retain their fun factor, but others like Dungeon Hunter 4 have squandered much of their potential with frustrating mechanics designed to bilk players out of money. Thor: The Dark World, follows in the footsteps of the latter, but despite its superficial similarities, it has no such potential to squander in the first place.
Like seemingly countless other games on the market, Thor: TDW is a simplified action-RPG, vaguely in the mold of games like Diablo and Torchlight, but without any real exploration. You guide the eponymous Marvel hero through a series of short, perfectly linear stages, littered with enemies, basic traps, and a few obvious puzzles. You won’t discover meaningful loot, because Gameloft wants you to pay for it, and you won’t find anything to reward you for skill, because Gameloft wants you to pay for continues.
Linearity might be forgivable if the action were solid, but Thor’s controls are absolutely miserable. Almost every other game in this genre has settled into a familiar control scheme, but Thor abandons the direct control of games like Dungeon Hunter 4 and SoulCraft in favor of a tap-based indirect control method more like the classic mouse-driven games like Diablo. This is all well and good, except Thor is still a heavily action-oriented affair. You’ll feverishly tap on enemies to rip loose combos, and then tap elsewhere on the screen to dodge their attacks. Virtual d-pads are certainly imperfect solutions, but Thor’s tap based controls will make you long for something more traditional. Dodging and evasion becomes awkward and difficult, and hit-and-run techniques are effectively rendered useless.
There are a few twists on the traditional formula. Thor can summon AI-controlled allies to his side to help him in battle. There are different allies that can be selected before beginning a level, and these characters, like Thor himself, can be leveled up over the course of the game. You’ll also be able to use some basic magic attacks to take on more difficult enemies, but these are often used sparingly with long cool-down periods. None of these ideas do much to alleviate the repetition. Mercifully, the levels remain quite short, but it can be tough to tell one from the next at times.
As you’d expect from Gameloft, Thor is certainly beautiful to look at, and each world has its own distinct look. There are cut scenes with voice acting that help lend some sense of progress and purpose to the game, but progress itself can be quite difficult to make.
Therein lies Thor’s fatal flaw. Progressing in the game is an expensive proposition. Once you use up your small initial allotment of healing potions, you’re going to have to pay real money for more. This means working through levels is a slow, careful affair, and the controls are simply not up to the task. Almost everything in Thor requires paying a toll, from unlocking new gear to basic healing, and trying to work around this feels nearly impossible.
Freemium schemes can work when the player feels as if he is actually buying something, but the outrageous prices and tedious progression in Thor rob it of any sense of value. You could spend $100 to slog through the game for a few hours, if you were so inclined, and still find yourself at yet another wall before long, and for what? If Thor were at least fun to play, you could justify it in the way one might an arcade game, but instead, it’s just an exorbitant fee to clumsily tap your way through the same corridors to no real end. If this is the sort of scheme that makes money, then core gamers should be very afraid.