|Publisher:||Crecent Moon Games LLC|
The iOS may not yet offer quite the same gaming experience as its longer-established console brethren, but it does offer one thing that I really love: games that take chances and try new things, such as Rimelands: Hammer of Thor. I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into when I started playing, and I wasn't quite sure when I finished the first time, either. Still, I played it a second time, and then a third, and I think that says something.
I'm not going to see any super mutants, am I?
Rimeland's story is OK, but it's one of the areas where I have questions even after playing through a few times. I think the problem is that the developers were a little overambitious. If I followed things correctly, in this game's world, humans polluted Earth to the point where it was unlivable, and then hid underground in vaults. While they were down there, fairies and magic appeared on the surface, which lead to a war after the humans came back out of their vaults. Thankfully, a compromise was reached, and the humans and fairies now live in a cold-war-esque peace.
The player takes the role of of a girl who spends her days raiding old vaults for treasure, instead of claiming your inheritance and being part of the government's ruling council. This is part of where that overambition comes into play – there doesn't seem to be any followup to the whole inheritance thing, or really to the human/fairy cold war. If this is the first in a series, I can see the setup becoming more important in future games, but in Hammer of Thor it's just overkill. Regardless of future possibilities, this game's story is confusing and inconsistent. The grandmother doesn't talk like any grandma I've ever known ("Don't be a wuss!"), and the main character transitions – in just one or two scenes – from expressing a fairly casual attitude about having killed a large number of enemies to being outraged that her grandmother would ask her to steal a map ("What's next, murder?").
There's one glaring issue with the story, though, and that is the complete lack of an ending. When you win the final battle, the game simply hangs. The developers say that they're fixing this issue in the next patch (I played version 1.1.1), but that it won't be released before December.
Come on, lucky seven – baby needs a new pair of shoes!
Where Rimelands really strikes out on its own is in its turn-based battle mechanics, and in that respect it is largely successful. All attacks and defensive moves are governed by dice rolls – not just numbers behind the scenes, actual dice on the screen. They appear to be six-sided dice, but they only have four possible outcomes: one skull, two skulls, a shield, or an X. Your leveling progress and equipment govern how many dice you get, and those stats are independently set for melee, ranged, and magical combat. That is, near the end of the game, if you've been focusing on a barbarian-style character, your character might be rolling 6 dice on a melee attack, 9 when I am defending against a melee attack, and only 2 and 1 for ranged attack/defense. During an attack, the attacker and defender both roll their dice. Any skulls the attacker rolls are added up, and the number of shields the defender rolled are subtracted from that total. If the total number of skulls left over is more than 0, the attack hits. If the total number of skulls left over is higher than the number of dice the defender got to roll in the first place, it's a critical hit.
But what sets these dice apart from the invisible, behind-the-scenes kind are that on most attack and defense rolls, you can choose to spend one mana point to re-roll any unhelpful dice. That is, if you're attacking, you can re-roll any shields and Xs you rolled, and if you're defending, you can re-roll skulls, double skulls, and Xs. Your mana points are capped at 5 from start to finish, but there are a number of skills and pieces of equipment that can help you replenish that mana during battle. This is very important, because some skills (including all magical attacks) cost mana to use. After each battle, your mana and health refill within just a few steps, and enemies have a chance to drop a mana or health potion when you kill them, both of which help keep the game moving along at a brisk pace. I sometimes wished for more mana when I followed the path of the magician, but that's the case in most games, so I can't feel too badly about it.
Speaking of paths, I should mention that you never select a class in Rimelands. Instead, there are three skill trees available (melee, ranged, and magic), and when you level up, you select which one you want to put another point into. One point equals one skill, active or passive. All three paths are viable and include some cool skills, but the dedicated magician will find himself dying a lot more often in the early game than other characters. You don't have to dedicate yourself to one tree exclusively to succeed, but even if you put every single point into just one tree, you still won't be able to unlock every single skill in that tree.
Those are the ways in which the gameplay succeeds, but it's not an unmitigated success. I had two issues with the way the game plays, and one's bigger than the other, so let's get it out of the way. My biggest complaint is that each skill in the skill trees only becomes visible when you put a point into a skill next to it, and that when you level up, you have to select which tree you're going to put your new point into, rather than just getting a generic point to assign wherever you want. The game auto-saves fairly often, as well, so both of those choices are permanent as soon as you make them. Being unable to see what skills will be available to you down the road can make a huge difference in where you place your current points, and nobody likes finding out that they wasted a precious skill point.
My other complaint is less of a problem, but it's with the combat stats. You have the number of dice you roll, and that's clear. Your weapons also have a damage range, and armor has a defense stat, and I believe that those work together in the standard way to determine how hard you hit your enemies when you do hit them. But then there's a separate "power" stat for each of the three attack types (melee, ranged, and magic), and even after playing the game three times, I'm still not sure what it does. The game implies at one point that your power affects how many dice you roll, but I was never able to quantify how it does so.
So it plays OK. Great. But aesthetics matter too...
Visually, Rimelands holds up well against other iOS offerings. The characters are detailed, and your weapons and armor affect your appearance. The environments look pretty good too, and although they're not all unique little snowflakes, there is variety to them. The developers' website claims that some levels are predefined and that others are randomly generated, but there weren't any that stood out to me as being different from one playthrough to the next. I would really have loved a minimap, on-screen or even through a menu, but I never got irretrievably lost without one. The menus are easy to follow, and there's a quest log to remind you of what you're supposed to do. Admittedly, the quests are almost exclusively of the "go fetch" variety, but it's still nice to have a reminder for those times when you've put the game down for a while. My only gripe is that there's no way to scroll on an item's description, and one of the cool items you can get has its best attribute cut off as a result. That is, the only way to know that the Ring of Mobility makes you immune to stun is to wear it and have someone try to stun you. That's the only item it affects, though, so it's a very minor issue.
In terms of sound, I guess the only negative would be how forgettable it is. There's no voice acting, which is standard, but the battle sounds are fine. The music is unobtrusive and easy to turn off, and I assume most players will do so, in order to listen to their own tunes. That, of course, is always the difficulty in scoring the music in an iOS game – I'm mad when I can't listen to my own music, but when I can, I generally do so rather than spending lots of time with whatever music the developers included. Under such circumstances, who could blame the developers for choosing to put less emphasis on their music than they might have on another platform?
But I like to touch things. Is this game for me?
iOS games offer a lot of control flexibility to their developers. The folks behind Rimelands are among those who did a good job in capitalizing on that flexibility. The controls are simple and large enough that you can easily select your intended button, and you can decide whether you want the d-pad on the left or the right.
Any more "clever" comments?
No, I suppose not. As I said above, Rimelands is a game that takes a classic element of RPGs and adds its own spin, and it does a good job. The dice mechanic works well even though some of the game's other stats are a little confusing, as is the game's overambitious setting. It's fun enough that I played it three times before writing this review, it controls well, it looks good, and its price recently dropped to $0.99. What more could you want? OK, an ending, but the developers say that we'll get one soon, as well as an expansion to the gameplay, and they've done well enough with this game so far that I'm willing to trust them to follow through.