Some days when you wake up, instead of having a shower, eating breakfast and heading off to work, you just want to call in sick, find a really big hammer and proceed to hit things. Your neighbours might take umbrage to this kind of behaviour howeveer, and do something drastic, like call the Police. This could lead to a lot of embarrassment; potentially a short stay at a correctional facility. Not the most desirable of Monday mornings.
After magic has returned to the world leaving the crumbling remains of the fallen age, and seeing the earth infested with wraiths, goblins and werewolves, Wraithborne’s mission is to protect what remains of humanity. Can you imagine the interview panel for that job?
Mr Borne skulks round lush wasteland environments filled with overgrown vegetation and ancient ruins, smacking anything that comes his way with his Monday Morning Hammer. The game throws objectives your way, but because it’s a tight, isometric 3D action title with frequent invisible walls instead of a sprawling open-world epic, the tasks are usually the cursory type you’ll be able to complete without going too far. Combat is definitely the focus here.
And that combat is at once shallow, frustrating but still enjoyable. Virtual controls take care of movement and attacking, which consists of light and heavy blows, along with a shield which when charged up, unleashes a stun move which dazes your enemies for a few seconds allowing you to finish them off. The problem here is twofold: the first is that when a game offers light and heavy attacks, unless there’s a strategic reason for you to use the light attack (Street Fighter’s combo system for example), you’ll just end up spamming the heavy button. To it’s credit, Wraithbrone does instruct you that using the light attacks along with the heavy results in combos, but mashing the heavy button is nonetheless much more effective, especially as enemies throw themselves at you like saucy women of the night. When you’re facing six goblins, you just want to get rid of them the fastest way possible. This is something I experienced first hand with trick-or-treaters at Halloween this year.
The second problem is an over-reliance on the stun move for the exact same reasons as above. When enemies pile up on-screen, it’s easy to feel outnumbered. The stunner is an easy coping mechanism, giving you breathing space to attack before your energy bar decides it’s had enough and heads to the pub. Unfortunately this stun/heavy attack cycle soon becomes repetitive. There’s also a touch to move/ swipe to attack method of input, but it makes combat even more confusing and less accurate.
Good thing there’s another set of combat options in the form of magic then. Downed enemies leave behind crystals which you can exchange to purchase and upgrade spells. Each has a different effect, with some being defensive – speeding up your healing for example- and others which are offensive such as ranged attacks. In a page ripped out of Infinity Blade’s playbook, activating them is a matter of tracing a specific shape on the screen. Unfortunately, the act here isn’t quite as intuitive or satisfying. Infinity Blade allowed you quickly call up some magic without missing a step in battle, and responded swiftly to your shape-swiping, almost making you to feel like you were actually waving your hands about casting a spell (well, kind of). Wraithborne’s action on the other hand, can be frustratingly slow. A shape appears which you have to trace, but not all the tracing can be performed without taking your finger off the screen, and the trail your swipes leave behind to show what you’ve traced doesn’t always follow your finger fast enough, meaning you have to go back and redraw the missing bits like a pre-schooler with a box of crayons. Somewhat ironically, there’s also a time limit to complete this before the spell is redundant.
The thing that makes it all bearable is the fantastic visuals and sound. The game looks and sounds so good that it distracts you from it’s problems. Kind of. The interface is clean and well-produced, and in-game it’s a product of the Unreal Engine, so you know you’re getting detail, a sense of weight and seamless animation. The environments are also full of lovely detail on the ruins, weathered walkways and crumbling bridges. They also have touches of destructibility with certain gates and walls shattering when you hit them, and your charge attack producing tectonic fault lines in the ground when you unleash it. This does close back up straight after (this is iOS, not a 360 after all), but it’s a nice touch.
It’s not all perfect though. Being able to zoom out slightly to get a sense of exactly where you are would be helpful, and there’s no mini-map either. The detail on the environments might even be too much at times; in some battles it’s hard to tell who’s hitting who as everything can become a confusion of colour. The trees – they are beautiful indeed– but getting lost behind them isn’t helpful when those six trick-or-treaters produce sharp knives.
Sound is brilliant. Play this with headphones to get the full effect of the thumping score and meaty effects. Combat is definitely enhanced by the gratifying sounds with a lot of bottom. That is, bass, not ass.
To end, I want to point out the weird/ surprising/ odd/ [insert your own adjective here] thing about Wraithborne. I checked every screen in the pause and main menus three times, as well as the App Store description, and even the inside of my underpants (don’t ask). But for the life of me, I can’t find any IAP in this game.
Yes, you read that right. This game has NO IAP.
Yep, the year is 2012. Yep, this is an iOS game. Nope, it has no IAP. Every spell and upgrade is purchased by in-game. Amazing. Which is something Wraithborne had the potential to be but for a few niggles. Nevertheless, sometimes you just want to keep things simple and find the fastest way hit things with a hammer. Here it is.
If there is IAP in this game and Kevin’s missed it, let him know on Twitter @KevThePen