|Publisher:||Crescent Moon Games|
|Developer:||Crescent Moon Games|
Note: This review is based on version 2.12 played on a 3rd generation iPod Touch.
In late 2009, a game was released that fans billed as "Oblivion on an iPhone." That game was Ravensword, but as we said in our review, it didn't exactly live up to that billing. In late 2010, Aralon: Sword and Shadow was released, and if you're still looking for portable Oblivion, you've found it. Although not exactly Oblivion, the comparison is not an insult to either game.
Aralon's story follows one of the classic fantasy formulas; your father was once the king's trusted advisor, but that changed when someone new caught the king's ear and turned him against his friends. Of course, you first hear of this long after your father's death, from a man who shows up at your house in the middle of the night, with a story and fatal wounds. After learning the truth, your quest is clear: to uncover the truth behind the man who had your father killed, and who now sits as the king's right hand.
It's not an original story, but it's told well, and there's more to the game than the main quest. There are numerous side quests to be found if you look for them, including several guilds that you can join. You even have the choice to break the law and work with the thieves' guild, although if you do so, there's no turning back, and city authorities will attack you on sight. Since it seemed to me that doing so would make the game very annoying to complete, I stayed on the side of the law.
Aralon offers you your choice of three classes (warrior, ranger, or mage), and all three are viable options. Their skill trees vary quite a bit, and although I hadn't maxed out all of my skills by the time I beat the game as a level 47 mage, I had maxed out all of the skills I wanted to use, with just a few points left over for skills I didn't care about. I could have finished the game a few levels earlier, but I was having fun wandering around, looking for side quests, and making trouble for the local ruffians.
Aralon is a single-player only game, but that doesn't mean you'll be alone. There are a few mercenaries that you can hire to fight by your side, as well as several different mounts that you can acquire. The mercenaries are useful enough that I hired them, but they are by no means flawless. For example, I can't tell you if you can have more than one at a time because they all died before I got somewhere I could hire another (and no, they can't be resurrected.) They didn't die right away, but they since they didn't level up as they fought, they were inevitably overwhelmed as the enemies we faced became stronger. The other issue is that tapping on a character targets them, whether they're friend or foe. Outside of battle, the game asks you before you attack a friendly target, but all bets are off once the fists start flying, which lead to a few situations where I set my own merc on fire.
Aside from mercenaries, mounts give you a way to get places more quickly while looking good. Fairly early in the game you get a free horse, and as you progress, you find other mounts cool enough that I'd prefer not to spoil them here. What's more, unlike mercs, mounts can't be hurt or killed, so which one you use is entirely up to you.
I was also impressed by the fact that Aralon includes some non-combat activities, just for the sake of having them; you can craft potions using plants you find in the wild; if you're out in the field and want a break from crushing enemies, you can spend some time fishing; if you're back in town at the end of a long day, you can relax by the fire with a nice pipe. Yes, if you want to, you can smoke a pipe in this game. No, I don't care if it's PC, I think it's a cool option. The list of non-combat activities isn't incredibly long, but the few there are really contribute to a sense of immersion and make the game feel more like an open world game on a home console.
Visually, Aralon could have been released at a better time – it came out just after the iOS' first Unreal Engine game. Still, it looks good, and its biggest strength is in the details. The game includes a full day/night cycle, complete with rising and setting sun and moon. The ground has textures and shadows, and while looking closely reveals the tricks the developers used to pull this off, it doesn't take away from what they've accomplished. In fact, the biggest graphical problem is popup: objects suddenly appear as you move through the environment, and enemies and NPCs sometimes look as if they're falling out of the sky. Mountains and other large background items sort of "slide" into existence – you can only see the part of the mountain that is sufficiently close to you, so as you walk toward it, more and more appears. The issue becomes especially apparent when you're riding a fast mount, although it's rarely (if ever) a big enough problem to affect gameplay.
In my reviews, I often mention whether you can listen to your own music while playing the game. In this case, you can, but I'd advise you not to. Aralon's music is some of the best I've heard in an iOS game, and it'd be a shame to miss it. The voice acting, on the other hand... the best that can be said of it is that it is scarce. The opening scene is the only time when dialogue is voiced, and while it's not bad, every time you interact with an NPC, they will audibly greet you... and those greetings are pretty bad. I appreciate the personal touch that the hellos bring, but they are not done well enough to justify their existence.
Aralon's controls are good, and should be very easy to learn for any RPG veteran. I appreciated the fact that there were three camera control schemes: third person fixed (where the camera only changes angles if you move it), third person relative (where the camera follows behind you as you turn), and first person. I found the first person camera very disorienting, but the third person relative option worked well and felt natural. I occasionally ran into trouble when I had a merc and was trying to shift the camera, because I'd try to drag my finger to move the camera and accidentally hit him. And honestly, when it was annoying, it was very, very annoying, but most of the time it was fine. Those who don't like virtual joysticks may like the fact that double-tapping a spot on the ground will walk you to it, but I found it to be an annoyance when I tried to tap a dead enemy to loot them and the game decided I was trying to walk away.
As I said earlier, to call Aralon: Sword and Shadow "Oblivion on the iOS" is no insult to Oblivion. It's a game where you can spend hours and hours playing the main story, a few more hours on side quests, and a few more hours just goofing off. Aralon isn't as full-featured as its home console inspiration, but it is the best open-world iOS game I've played yet.