Review: Aralon: Forge and Flame

By Zac Belado 04 Jan 2016 0
An empty bar The Aralon writing staff meeting to discuss character development

Aralon: Forge and Flame is the latest release in Crescent Moon Games' series of mobile RPGs and is a sequel, of sorts, to 2010's Aralon: Sword and Shadow. Aralon: Forge and Flame is an open-world 3D RPG in which the player follows quests; explores dungeons, cities, and caverns; and is tasked with finding the bastards who killed their father all while bringing peace to the kingdom of Aralon.

Or something like that.

One of the immediate problems with Aralon: Forge and Flame is that there is almost no plot and what is presented to the player is so laden with RPG tropes that it almost seems like parody. In fact turning it into an "RPG tropes" drinking game might be a lot more enjoyable than playing it sans ale. The game opens with an attack by baddies who want to put your father to the sword, and your widowed dad warning you to hide. It matters not what race, gender or class you picked, the story always starts the same way. The female Troll Mage gets the same story as the male Human Ranger. In neither case is the story very compelling.

So it is off to the safety of nearby caves where you find equipment and a weapon and fight your way through a cast of large crab-creatures. Why your father thought this was safer is confusing and makes you wonder if, maybe, your father didn't really love you all that much. After you wander through the caves, killing crustaceans copiously, you come out quite close to where you originally fled and then kill some of the same people who your father was trying to hide you from. Clearly you didn't need to hide, you just needed a good sword. Or, just maybe, a better reason to be hiding.

Sadly the story never really gets any better.

Most games benefit from good plot development and it is quite difficult to engage with Aralon: Forge and Flame because there are never any narrative hooks to catch your attention. The game provides the slightest skeleton of a storyline to act as a rationale for your actions and if you are looking for more then you are, sadly, out of luck.

Cloning is a valid game development technique Have we met before?

The same quick and dirty approach to story development also finds its way though other elements of the game. The human models in the game appear to all use the same animation. This leads to guards, thieves, and the nice people trying to persuade you to commit murder bowing towards you while they talk. Repeatedly.

The game's UI is quite simple with a strip of action icons to trigger spell or special abilities. In addition, there are two invisible control areas to move your character and rotate the view. Most of the action in the game comes from the two remaining buttons: an Attack and a Dodge control. Oddly the Dodge button doesn't really appear to have any impact on combat other than making you do a barrel-roll which leaves you in exactly the same place.

The Game UI Get ready to mash some buttons

Playing Aralon gives the sense of having paid to play a beta rather than a fully finished product. These problems might be forgivable if there was a compelling game experience underneath all the mess, but Aralon: Forge and Flame is really an extended series of combats strung together with some rudimentary dialog and story. Even with the combat, there's not much more than mashing the Attack button to use your equipped weapon or casting the odd spell. There is no option to change weapons in combat, but that doesn't seem to matter as you are just as good with your bow in melee as you are with a sword. Casting spells also seems to be a hit-or-miss affair. The Ranger character I used in the game has an Entangle spell that is useful for holding off opponents while you pincushion them with arrows. Casting it successfully is another matter entirely, and I was never sure if the problem was with my timing, the speed of my opponents, or just a bug in the game.

Certainly the opponent AI doesn't help improve combat. Enemies either swarm you or stand still and watch you hack down one of their friends. There is no apparent strategy to any of the computer opponents and for the most part you either cut them down one at a time or have to hack your way through a crowd of monsters.

If you played the earlier Aralon: Sword and Shadow then there is some good news for you. The on-screen controls are much smoother and easier to use in Aralon: Forge and Flame. The Inventory, Skill and Character screens make better use of the iPad screen which makes them easier to navigate and interact with. If you liked Aralon: Sword and Shadow then this new game fixes two of the biggest issues with that older title.

Sadly that is really the best thing that could be said about Aralon: Forge and Flame. It isn't quite as unplayable as its predecessor. It is less of an RPG and more of a solo MMO where you find local flora and fauna to grind through on your way to the next dungeon and the only rationale for combat or exploration is to advance your character. If you played and enjoyed Aralon: Sword and Shadow then this game is more of the same with a better UI. In any other case, there are much better RPGs available for the iPad.

This game was played on an iPad 2 and iPad Mini.

Review: Aralon: Forge and Flame

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