A3: Still Alive is the latest MMORPG from netmarble, and it tasks players with saving the world from a cultist plot set to destroy everything, while at the same time building a character from a novice fighter to a champion that chops their way through enemies like a farmer scythes wheat. It’s a well-made game with tons of pretty, flashy effects, but sadly it has an identity crisis.
The most controversial inclusion for some people is the auto button. For those who don’t know what an auto button does, a lot of MMORPGs on mobile devices allow the game to play itself; completing quests, grinding for levels, and farming for resources. It can be a useful tool when used sparingly, but there’s always the temptation to press it early on if what you’re skipping is not worth playing and unfortunately that is the case with A3: Still Alive.
As such, there are two big questions to answer regarding this polarising feature, the first one relates to the stuff that you’re about to skip. Is the campaign good enough to warrant playing myself? If not, how long did it take for me to press the button? Sadly, in the case of A3, it was 20 minutes.
There are several factors to this: the abysmal storytelling and gameplay that just wasn’t challenging in the slightest. World of Warcraft this is not, even if you have multiple different classes that can rain destruction on their foes. When hordes of enemies attack you in WoW, it can be an overwhelming challenge if they have the right combination of perks. In A3: Still Alive, enemies seem to melt away like ice under a running tap.
Quests don’t fare much better, as they mostly consist of talking to someone, gathering items, or killing a certain number of enemies: standard MMO stuff. Plenty of other games have similar structures and while they are tried and tested, they’re a tad unoriginal.
I didn’t feel like I was playing a game for fun. I felt like I was checking my emails at work.
But weirdly that’s not the crux of A3’s biggest problem. No, instead it’s that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Nowhere is this issue more apparent than with the inclusion of the battle royale mode. It’s perhaps the best thing about A3, as you and a horde of other players fight your way through to the centre of a ring, collecting stat buffs and skill upgrades along the way.
The catch is that there is a timer that’s constantly running down and if you don’t make it through each sector before the timer expires, you are instantly killed off by a grim reaper. I played a few games and found it to be alright, but not great: it’s a bit light on substance compared to more dedicated battle royale games. However, it is reliant on you playing through the campaign to unlock all the primary weapons, which feels like needless busywork.
The MMO/battle royale divide is not the only tonal shift that’s baffling, as it’s the same with the Soul Linkers: the gacha style companions that you upgrade by sacrificing the redundant copies obtained via Soul Stones. Looking through the codex, there are ghouls, liches, fairies, knights, and plague doctors, together with other creatures that are in keeping with the tone of this dark fantasy RPG, filled with cultists and the dark arts.
But then there’s the first one you get: Hannemorin, who is a bunny girl with a pretty dress. She’s not the only one, but she’s certainly the most egregious inclusion, there just to check some boxes rather than make the game cohesive as a whole. The same can be said for a lot of A3.
Not worth the price tag
There's far too many ways that A3 wants you to pay money. The smallest bundles are between $3/£3 and $9/£9, but they give you only a tiny amount of premium currency to spend on Soul Linkers and other enhancements, while the larger bundles and retainers cost anywhere from $26/£26 to $100/£100! Luckily you don't need to actually buy anything to play the game as intended.
For most of the game, I just found myself enabling the Auto button, tapping the screen only to speed up the dialogue, and changing some items every ten minutes or so, and clearing out the inventory when it gets full.
Your interactivity when you are not the one doing the fighting or exploring the world is reduced down to managing upgrades and opening notifications in a UI that is incredibly cluttered. There’s more buttons here than a car stereo. The worst bit is that because the game endlessly bombards you with notifications, I didn’t feel like I was playing a game for fun. I felt like I was checking my emails at work.
Thankfully, whether you enjoy A3 or not isn’t 100% dependent on if you play the campaign or skip it. This does, however, lead me to the second question. If I push the Auto button to not play the campaign, and aside from the aforementioned battle royale mode, is there enough here to warrant my attention? The answer is no, but not for a lack of trying.
Occasionally there are special events, like the World Boss or Dark Invasions, where tapping their location brings you to the event, but you then need to assume control. Those events in particular are not challenging, simply because they are open to the entire server. Your character may contribute very little to the overall effort, but when hundreds of players are battering the same enemy that has over 100,000 HP, it doesn’t take long for the boss to burst.
A3 has failed spectacularly to keep my interest beyond a day or two of play. The laughably bad campaign, the far too simple combat, and the lack of meaningful stuff to do outside of a half-baked battle royale mode are just some of the reasons why this is not one I will stick with. It is certainly ‘playable’ without paying a single penny, and that’s a point in its favour, but time is valuable as well and that’s what A3 wastes. If you don’t mind thinly veiled management sims with endless notifications and a disjointed theme, then you may get more out of this than I did.