A couple of weeks ago, I did something I’ve never done before, and for once, it didn’t end me up in front of a judge. I actually bought something from a banner ad. Specifically, I bought Crusade of Destiny after seeing an ad for it here on RPGFan. I don’t believe that last fact influenced my feelings towards the game, but since this doesn’t come up often, due diligence requires I point out the potential conflict of interest.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the important stuff: the game.
Crusade of Destiny’s story is pretty lean… actually, it’s almost non-existent. After a short cutscene explaining that the queen’s evil sister has summoned a dragon, you wake up at home, are given the task to go see the queen, and requested to help her defeat the threat facing the kingdom. You aren’t apparently special – you’re just another able body, and after playing “the chosen one” for the millionth time, I kind of liked that anonymity. Of course, you can’t just run out and fight the end boss – you’ll need to beat four other bosses to collect the pieces of the dragon-slaying sword. Along the way, there are about half a dozen side quests you can choose to take on, each of which earns you one piece of the game’s best equipment. Some require you to kill a certain number of monsters, but most simply ask you to find something (or someone) that’s gone missing/is needed by the townsfolk. The side-quests are optional, but the game requires a lot of grinding, so you really have no reason to skip them.
In terms of gameplay, Crusade of Destiny is an action RPG, and it follows a pretty standard formula. Killing enemies nets you experience, and after so many points, you level up until you hit the cap at level 50. You have three adjustable stats: melee, bow, and magic, and each time you level up, all three go up by one point. In addition to that, you are given one point to allocate as you see fit. Each stat has a number of skills associated with it, and they are unlocked by hitting certain stat levels. For example, a melee stat of 7 gets you the “hilt bash” skill, which deals blunt damage rather than the sword’s usual slashing damage. If you’re careful, you’ll be able to earn all of the skills for two of the three stats.
Unfortunately, there are several problems that hold the game back from being more than just “OK.” The bow is too slow to be really useful, and since all of your enemies will make a beeline for you immediately following your first attack, you’ll probably switch to the sword for its speed bonus after just one shot. The sword skills I wanted to use most often tended to be really slow as well, so I stayed with the basic attack even after I had several other options available to me. The magic is nice and powerful, although it seemed to include one more element than was actually useful – certain enemies were more vulnerable to fire or ice, but I didn’t notice anyone being particularly weak to electricity. The final magic skill lets you steal health from enemies. It was a real bright spot in the skill tree, and a game-changer for me (I also liked the late-game poison arrow as an opening shot) before switching to a sword for close combat. Like the bow, magic is fairly slow, but unlike the bow, it’s powerful enough that it can be worth using.
Having said all of that, the game’s biggest weakness is the slow pacing. Or at least it feels slow. After I finished, I was amazed to find that I had only spent 15 hours playing. Maybe the feeling had to do with the game’s loot/economy system. Enemies each drop exactly one related item – beetles drop beetle legs, vampires drop vampire fangs, etc. You sell those items for cash, which you can use to buy better equipment. Unlike many action RPGs, though, your equipment choices are very slim. Buy a sword that causes slashing damage, earn some money, buy a sword that causes more slashing damage. Lather, rinse, repeat. You won’t find any equipment with cool modifiers, which robs you of the joy of hunting for loot and makes level grinding sheer tedium.
Still, there are some nice touches to be found, although you may not figure them out at first. For example, I was at about level 30 before I realized why tapping on some enemies displayed green names above their health bars, while others displayed red names. It turns out that the green names indicate an enemy that won’t attack unless you attack them first. The game is neatly divided into five areas, each of which contains enemies of specific levels, as well as a “bind stone.” Four of the areas are based around the central hub where you start, and where the weakest enemies are found. When you hit a new area, you can bind yourself there, and from then on, if you die, you’ll be returned to that area’s bind stone. (While I’m on the subject, death carries an experience penalty that nicely straddles the line between leniency and punishment.) When your magic skill gets high enough, you’ll earn a teleportation spell that allows you to teleport back to your current bind stone or go home for a trip to the store, a nice HP/MP-restoring nap, etc. I really appreciated that aspect. Also, when you talk to the right NPC, you’ll find the entry to a sixth area covered mostly by a lake. You can swim there, searching for pearls and fishing for HP-restoring seafood. It’s a nice break from the rest of the game, and I was impressed by how well the swimming was implemented, especially after playing so many games in the past where falling into a pond meant instant death for your otherwise nearly-invincible warrior.
Graphically, Crusade of Destiny is somewhat of a mixed bag. Both the main character and his enemies are drawn fairly well, although some of the enemy attack animations are very awkward. Kudos to the developer for the enemy variety – there’s only one pallet-swap to be found, and the enemies are very well-suited to their environments. Fairies, ogres, and trolls can be found in the enchanted forest, while skeletons, zombies, vampires, and grim reapers are in the final area, a sort of hell/nightmare realm. The environments aren’t bad, but they feel fairly sparse, and although they’re not bad, they’re not really good either. The only element that is really bad are the character portraits that appear next to dialogue when you talk to NPCs. They’re hand-drawn, and they’re just not good. One of the characters actually looks like she’s crying blood, and I’m pretty sure that was not the intention.
The sound is similarly mixed. The music fits the game’s fantasy setting, and it’s pretty decent if not particularly amazing. Fortunately, if you don’t care for it, you can turn it off and listen to your own tunes (always good for a few points from me in an iOS review.) The sound effects are less well done, but not terrible. With the exception of the opening cutscene, I don’t remember any voice acting, but the quality of that recording was so awful that its lack in the rest of the game was definitely for the best.
I found control very easy and intuitive. There’s a joystick you use to walk around, and swiping the screen moves the camera. Tapping on an enemy allows you to target it from afar, but when things get up close and personal, swinging your sword will auto-target anyone in reach. Unfortunately, the areas are sometimes hilly, and you can’t target someone who’s too far away from your current elevation. On the other hand, if you target someone, start to cast a spell, and then tap on someone else while your fire/ice/lightning bolt is flying, it will instantly swing around and head to the new target, which I thought was very cool. You are given three action icons to assign to your skills as you see fit, and as you gain more abilities, you can fill up as many bars of three icons as you need. Sadly, it can be difficult to change rows quickly in the heat of battle, and you can only assign each skill to one bar. This makes setting up macros more difficult.
At the end of the day, it’s always hard to score iOS games. After all, I only spent $0.99 on Crusade of Destiny. How high is it fair to set my expectations? This wasn’t the best game I’ve ever played, but it’s far from the worst. It was developed by just one person, and he did an admirable job. In brief, I’d say that although I won’t go back and play this game a second time, my buck wasn’t wasted. Crusade of Destiny holds up just fine at its price point, and I can see the developer learning from it and coming out with a sequel that will deliver even more bang for that same buck.