It’s hard to believe that we are only just coming up to one year since Infinity blade hit our iOS screens.
I remember when I first booted up a preview of that game in November 2010, and how I truly could not believe what I was witnessing on a 3.5″ screen in front of me. Fast forward to November 2011, and it’s happened all over again!
For those of you who played and loved the first game, you’ll be right at home here. There is a strong whiff of familiarity, and when viewed from afar you could be fooled into thinking it’s the same game. Yet, there is enough of ‘the new’ here to make it all feel so fresh. The devil really is in the details: new weapons; new items; new enemies; new attacks, new environments; new graphics; refined controls; and of course the new ‘epic’ storyline.
The last game told of the God King, an immortal and holder of the legendary Infinity Blade, a weapon imbued with blood of generations of warriors. You played the role of these warriors, and with each defeat your bloodline grew stronger until you were powerful enough to defeat the God King and take the Infinity Blade for yourself. That game ended with – and this is a spoiler for those who didn’t finish it – the God King warning you that you would now be a target of many deathless warriors, and that they would stop at nothing to get their hands on the blade for themselves.
Infinity Blade 2 continues from here, but the story and the journey is far greater than the last. The first game’s short and simplistic story was by design. It was a little unbelievable of course, that your descendants would inherit your powers and items, but it was a great way of giving purpose to the need of levelling up your character and revisiting the same areas and enemies over and over, before the inevitable showdown with the God King. To do exactly the same with Infinity Blade 2 though would have been hard for the fans to stomach, and while the basic structure and gameplay is the same, I’m happy to report that the whole experience has been greatly expanded upon.
The game has now been spilt into what I see as three acts. The first of these acts sees you searching out one of your fellow immortals in order to learn the location of The Worker of Secrets – a man who you hope will take the Infinity Blade off your hands. To get this info you must first best their champions in order, before facing off with the deathless yourself. This is very much a linear – tournament style – section, and is essentially a tutorial to get you up-to-speed with the game’s fighting mechanics.
In the second act, and after learning the location of the Worker, plus some pretty cool story elements that unfold (for which I will not spoil), you find yourself on the outskirts of a large castle (a far bigger castle than before). For reasons I will not divulge, you have been stripped of all your powers and the Infinity Blade – much like Samus in the Metroid games – and you must work you way through the castle, powering yourself up and defeating enemies in a bid to free the Worker who is being guarded by the Deathless.
Unlike the first game where you only had one objective (The God King), here you have four main bosses you must defeat. Each of these has multiple branching paths you can take in order to get to them, which in turn are home to a multitude of enemies. There is still a bloodline-style spin to it, though this time you are ‘reborn’ and the time spanned is months and not decades. But, with the variety of routes and the scale of the journey, each rebirth still feels fresh.
The third act is the final showdown with the main enemy of the piece (again I will not spoil). Like the first act, this is very much laid out in a tournament style, pitting all your skills that you have learnt and built up through act two, against the best of the best.
The game takes a lot longer to complete than the first. I was able to beat the first game at the 4th bloodline. But with IB2 it took me up until the 12 rebirth (bloodline) before getting to the final showdown (and I’ll have to admit to restarting a few rebirths several times too). Of course, beating the game only scratches the surface of the full experience, with multiple play throughs unlocking more power and items than before.
The real beauty of Infinity Blade 2, and something that the first game was lacking, is that there are multiple ways to play and beat the game. Yes it does still involve grinding to a large degree, but, like Burger King, it’s grinding ‘your way’. This is helped greatly by both the new weapon types, and the ability to combine, or craft, items with weapons. Giving you, the player, a bespoke experience that will differ each time you play.
There are two new weapon types, or fighting styles, this time round. As well as the standard sword and shield combo, you can now either dual-wield two swords or opt for a two-handed broad-sword style. All three offer a different way to experience the game, with dual-wielding giving you more speed of attack over power, but less defence, and the two handed option giving more power but less speed. The sword and shield offers a middle ground to these, and is the best option for beginners.
(You can read more about these fighting styles and view video of them in action in our ‘part three’ preview here)
In addition to these new weapons, the mechanics of fighting in terms of controls has much moved. Parrying is far more responsive this time round (often failing to register swipes in IB1), making the sword-play more precise, and in turn far more enjoyable.
New to Infinity Blade 2 is the new crafting ability. Almost all weapons and items – as well as being mastered like before – can be upgraded with gems. Each gem has it’s own unique ability, such as offering up increased XP, better health or defence, or increasing magic ability. Not all gems are compatible with every item, and must instead be matched by their shape to the same shaped slots that the item carries. With many items carrying multiple shaped slots it’s possible to create many unique combinations of gems and weapons, adding greatly to this bespoke experience.
The main course for success in this game, like the one before it, is levelling up. As you fight and successfully win battles, you are awarded experience points (XP), and like before you can divide these points across your character in the areas of health, attack, shield, and magic. Along the way you can collect cash, which you can use to buy better weapons, as well as mastering weapons which in turn rewards you with more XP.
Like many iOS games you can of course buy your way to the top with real cash, but in my opinion to do so will ruin the experience (though it will know doubt make the guys at ChAIR happy bunnies). Instead you will have a far more rewarding and balanced experience levelling up with pure skill. New weapons can be purchased from the itinerary/shop – with a new visually improved and intuitive interface – with treasure you find on your travels, or can be taken from the bloodied corpses of your fallen foes. There is even a special crypt-like area that you can find, that lets you unlock advanced weapons and items by using specific weapons, you have earned, as keys.
Let’s not beat around the bush. Infinity Blade 2 is simply gorgeous to look it. Be it on the small screen (iPhone 4S) or the bigger screen (iPad 2) it creates unparalleled eye candy and atmosphere in handheld gaming. The Unreal Engine (courtesy of Epic Games) is really pushing the boundaries of graphics on mobile devices. The dynamic lighting is probably the most obvious improvement. This is most evident when an object or character passes in front of light rays, and fractures the rays around them. It’s an impressive effect.
Add to this more detailed and grander architecture in which to battle – not forgetting the dynamic vegetation and environmental ageing over time – and the game feels far more epic than before. The creature count is expanded upon too. There are still many creatures from the previous game, but they make up a small amount of the full roster. Most impressive of these creatures are the Deathless bosses, they are more intricately designed with their own unique fighting styles. And, unlike their mute minions, they have their own voices and personalities. I particularly like the seemingly weak looking boss, who proceeds to jump into a giant mech!
To get the most out of this game visually, you will need the power of the A5 processor (currently limited to the iPhone 4S and iPad 2). But the game will run on older devices, and despite missing out on the new lighting effects and silky smooth frame-rates, it still looks and plays great.
(You can read more about the graphics of Infinity Blade 2 and view video of the effects in action in our ‘part one’ preview here)
To free-roam or not to free-roam? That is the question!
Much has been said on comments and message boards around the interwebs about the lack of free-roaming ability in both the original game and this sequel.
I can understand where the pro free-roam camp are coming from. The environments in IB2 are gorgeous, so why wouldn’t you want to spend some time checking out every nook and cranny? However, I truly believe that ChAIR have done the right thing by limiting your characters travels to simple point and click.
One of the main reasons against free-roam for me would be the loss of the cinematic feel to the game. Much of the wow-factor and thrills come from the beautifully framed angles and shots of the camera as they introduce new areas of the environments and the deathless that dwell there. Put that camera control into the hands of the player and, sorry, but it would be far less effective.
The second is that this just isn’t that type of game. Essentially it’s a beat’em up, with RPG elements… and well, I have never heard anyone saying of Street Fighter that they wish they could have free-roam, to travel between bouts!
To make this free roam would dilute it’s true focus. And as I often say of games in general, they should never aspire to being jack of all trades, and a master of none.
Of course, the Infinity Blade universe could be expanded to new genres, and I for one would be well up for a 3rd person spin-off adventure continuing the story. Just don’t go breaking this formula in the meantime!
In conclusion – and as any sequel should be – Infinity Blade 2 is bigger, bolder and better than before. It delivers an experience so finely tuned to the abilities of iOS, that it would be hard to replicate perfectly on any other ‘current system’… It’s the killer app that legitimises iOS as a gaming platform, and in a year where the competition has finally had to sit up and take stock.
Infinity Blade is out December 1st for $6.99 as a universal app for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Get it on the