Do you know what isn’t it fun? Slogging through days of gameplay before spotting even a glimmer of engaging content. It’s why I abandon most MMO’s within a week: I just have better things to do (and play) than the endless farming, grinding, and repetitive, lackluster combat that’s required to reach the interesting raids and actual strategy. Do you know what else isn’t fun? Actually trudging through all that mindless, busy-work, eagerly awaiting that long-promised prize…only to find that it’s locked behind a paywall. With that in mind, do you know what has a ton of potential but really isn’t fun? Canadian studio Uken Games’ latest strategy title Titans
Initially, as I played Titans, I found myself wondering over and over again, am I even playing a game? Because it appeared like Titans suffered from an extreme lack of…well, actual game mechanics. I was basically spending hours tapping the screen, hoping for interesting things to occur. You play an alchemist, exploring different locations, collecting exotic materials used to craft the eponymous Titans, which you can then use in battle. Each location is actually a set of cards, and based on which of your titans you’ve designated as your “leader”, you get to flip over a number of these cards before heading to the next location. Flipping over cards reveals materials, used for crafting, or battles with wild titans. The problem is that flipping over a fixed number of cards is hardly an engaging core mechanic. It’s not a test of reflexes, a memory game, a set of strategic choices, nor a puzzle of any sort. It really is just flipping over cards. You’re probably thinking: ‘maybe the battles are the fun part?’ And you’d be sadly mistaken. Early on in the game, battles consist of simply tapping your enemies one by one. The fights are so easy that there’s absolutely no need to use your titans’ special skills, to reorder their attacks, to reposition them on the field. In fact, there’s no need to think, as you mindlessly tap away. Battles are simply nuisances that get in the way of clearing out locations.
It was only after much tedium and toil (and days of playing) that real gameplay emerges, and I grudgingly admit, it can be pretty cool. While exploration remains the same, humdrum, card-flipping affair, battles introduce tougher foes and become much more challenging, forcing you to think about which titans to bring into battle and how to position them on the battlefield: Do you need to use your intelligence focused titans for their special skills? If so, you’ll likely want to place them in the rear, where they can use their abilities with impunity. Does the situation require a defense-focused approach? Then line up your meat shields as needed.
Each titan also bestows a bonus to your team if made the team-leader, adding another strategic choice. Do you want your speed-focused hero as your leader, allowing you to flip over more cards in a location? Or do you need to bolster your defenses and promote one that increases your team’s armor? A new PvP mode is made available later in the game, allowing you to create decks of titans and challenge other players. Unfortunately, even at this stage of the game, Titans still forces you to grind (the in-game text actually encourages you to revisit locations to “farm”). Levelling up your titans requires you to spend materials, and since the materials you get are randomly determined by the cards you flip, you may have to play the same locations over and over again to get the necessary ones. You can always spend real money on “Lyra” (no, not Philip Pullman’s Lyra, an in-game, paid currency) and buy more powerful titans, but even then, they’re randomly selected for you, and may not be the ones you want. Meaning your bet is still grinding, or spending ridiculous amounts of money. The end result of which is you’ll end up either broke or bored silly. Never the way you want to go in a game.
The most fun part of Titans is the Pokémon-like way you pursue all the different titans, using your alchemical powers to bring life to your materials. There’s a huge variety of them: you use skulls to create Marrowtome titans, made entirely out of polished bone and grinning skulls, paper to create Korscript titans, with jagged folds and sinister painted features, and stained glass to make Sacramentis titans, elegant and colorful but deadly, masked monstrosities. However, Uken makes it incredibly annoying to indulge in your inner titan-ophile. Remember Lyra? There’s a limit to how many materials you can store, unless you spend Lyra. There’s a limit to how many titans you can have, unless you spend Lyra. Heck, there’s even a limit on how many locations you can play in a row, unless you spend Lyra. There’s a neat trick where you can fuse your titans to create powerful, hybrid titans, but guess what, it costs Lyra (seriously, I grinded for ages to make a fusion titan, only to be smacked in the face by a “You don’t have enough Lyra” message). And unless you want to spend months collecting the pitiful daily sums of Lyra you earn, the only consistent way of gaining the coveted currency is by spending your cash. Which totally killed the game for me. At Hardcore Droid, we firmly believe that charging money to purchase a game is always more preferable to the brand of in-app purchases that insidiously drain your funds, and Titans is a major offender.
Finally, there’s the artwork. I think Uken was aiming for a colorful, epic-fantasy feel, with high shadows and fine details. Unfortunately, the title’s art direction is rather uneven. While some of it is quite nice, a lot of it ends up being garish, cheap artwork that’s confusing to glance at, and painful to contemplate at length. Ultimately, when it comes to praising or panning Titans, I find myself drifting to the latter. The game definitely has a bunch of fun elements, and the whole “gotta catch ‘em all!” feel makes it very replayable. Unfortunately, the frequent instances of hollow gameplay, the incessant grinding, and worst of all, the unforgivable prodding to make in-app purchases makes me want to lock the game up in Tartarus, much like the titans of yore.
If you can stand the in-app purchases, tons of grinding and bouts of weak gameplay, there is some fun to be had.