AFK Journey is a fantastical delight with a balanced gacha system

In our AFK Journey preview we explore our first impressions of the fantasy RPG mobile game, based on early access to the closed beta.

AFK Journey character looking ahead with the moon behind her

Five years after AFK Arena, the smash-hit fantasy RPG for mobile, developer Lilith Games is back for another adventure in Esperia with AFK Journey. As a follow-up to the idle battle simulator, AFK Journey’s goal is clear: to retain the core identity of its predecessor, while building a more expansive, innovative, and addictive game. Thanks to our hands-on early access to the closed beta for the game, initial signs are all very positive.

For anyone eager to get on board, Lilith Games is yet to announce the AFK Journey release date (except for the fact that it’s coming in 2024) and the beta period has ended. That means you’ll have to temper your excitement with patience. When that patience is rewarded, you’ll be dropped into what’ll inevitably be one of the best mobile games of the year – though as a cross-platform title, it will also be available on PC.

To start, naturally, as a gacha game, AFK Journey will either live or die on the success of its characters. From our early impressions, the balance here seems extremely fine-tuned. There’s a wonderful variety of characters from across factions, each with brilliant designs. Even putting their stats and classes aside there are some (like Seth) who you’ll be desperate to pull simply because they look so distinctive and cool. This is paired with a wishlist pull system that allows you to narrow down which characters you do or don’t want, giving you a better chance at bagging your most in-demand warriors.

With these characters, you’ll assemble a small team to explore the world of Esperia top-down style, traveling through different biomes and taking down foes, and it’s in this arena that the fantasy game truly excels. Putting the combat aside for a second, journeying across the game’s landscapes is a complete and utter joy. The visual design is astonishing, and AFK Journey’s most impressive achievement is in giving you a beautifully rendered world with a glittering atmosphere, begging to be explored. This makes it incredibly easy to sink hour after hour into the game.

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As you wander across Esperia, you’ll encounter enemies needing to be slain. This is where the battle mechanics come in, AFK Journey presents you with a system not dissimilar to Valve’s Dota Underlords, or Auto Chess. As you engage in battle, you position your warriors on a board opposite your opponents (sometimes with obstacles blocking your path) and the battle ensues as you sit back and relax. Or, more accurately, sweat as you worry about the outcome. On the surface, this is incredibly straightforward and allows the experience to be just as immersive as you want it to be. If you prefer a hands-off approach, that’s fine. If you want to be more involved, monitoring every detail, that works too.

AFK Journey golden sunset time landscape

However, as you progress further through the game, the simplicity of this battle mechanic gradually becomes more complex. How you position your fighters on the hex-block battlefield greatly determines the outcome of the battle, for example where you place your melee units in contrast to your ranged ones. This invites you to really get to grips with your units’ individual strengths and weaknesses, ultimately providing a more rewarding experience than a basic hack-and-slash.

It’s hard to speak to how well all these features will work upon the full release of the game: things change, and in gachas especially it’s incredibly easy for developers to throw the balance off with seemingly small adjustments. But so far, AFK Journey is absolutely a game worth playing, regardless of whether you played Arena or not. This is distinct enough that it can be your entry to the series, and familiar enough to please existing fans too. All that aside, what we’ve played so far (judged exclusively on its own merit, without thinking about the future) makes us very excited indeed.

AFK Journey ongoing battle between heroes and opponents

For more fantastical worlds, check out our guide to the best games like Genshin Impact, as well as our list of the latest Genshin Impact codes. Or, you can see our picks for the best Nintendo Switch games, and our speculation about the upcoming Switch 2.