Epic Island is a loot-collecting simulator. It’s an RPG that says combat and gameplay aren’t really that important – the game’s value is in the loot. The process of fighting is simulated here, so for those who enjoy the idea of loot collecting even more than they do undertaking the battles to get it, Backflip’s latest game should be right up your alley.

Players manage a team of up to five heroes, sending them out on missions to fight enemies and get the weapons and armor they leave behind as loot drops. These items can be forged with other items to make more powerful ones, and imbue items with other elemental effects. Fighting all takes place on wait timers, with warriors given color-coded odds to win or lose. Characters can of course be equipped with better items, and level up over time. There are factions to join, asynchronous player-vs-player battles, giant community boss monsters called Titans to fight, treasure chests to unlock, and new worlds to explore. It’s all simulation, no real gameplay – and it’s all wrapped up in a two-currency free-to-play bow.

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That sounds bad, but it’s kind of satisfying to just be able to sit back, assign tasks to characters, and wait for them to complete. Sometimes the fun part of an RPG isn’t the combat, it’s managing your characters and watching them grow. You can hardly blame Epic Island for cutting the combat out – in a way, it’s smart. Also, the use of iOS 8’s notification widget to show character wait timers is genius.

Epic Island sits in an interesting place when it comes to whether it’s possible to play for free or not. There are plenty of things to spend gems on, like skipping wait timers, buying additional characters, opening chests, buying expensive rare items, trading gems for coins, and more. There’s no shortage of uses for the gems, and many items cost a lot of them. But, the game hands them out regularly at a NimbleBit-esque rate, and skipping short wait timers is even a thing that can be done from time to time.

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The game is really set up to where it can be played for free, but in doing so, it becomes necessary to stockpile gems for a while or just realize that certain parts of the game are, well, off limits. I’ve admittedly spent a few bucks in the course of this review – I wanted to buy a third character, and maybe a fourth, though the cost increases greatly to buy additional characters. (If you’re willing to part with your cash, we recommend buying the Starter Pack with a bunch of gems and an extra character).

Backflip really does avoid a lot of annoying pitfalls in making a free-to-play game that, granted, is all wait timers. Instead of a hinderence, they feel like a useful core system to the game: greater challenges should take longer. Forging doesn’t have a wait timer, nor an unreasonable amount of coins. The PVP is asynchronous and has an energy system to it, but it’s cool to fight what are actually other players with their own loadouts. The factions are easy to get into on a casual basis; there’s no need to join a guild and have any actual interactions with people. Huzzah! Just fight battles and get points towards a common cause. Good enough for me.

I’ve had a Backflip employee once passionately defend DragonVale to me as a game that can be played for free, it just requires patience to do a lot of things. And really, I think Epic Island is the same way. It’s a game that can be picked up and played casually, sure. But those who want to get involved, dominate the PVP, contribute to factions, and really get sucked in to the loot systems? Sure, they’ll need to spend money for that. But it’s really quite the honest game in that regard.

The game is not without its drawbacks though. Each of the characters is really just an avatar, rather than any particular archetype. I’d like the ability to customize them more, as there’s just the five different avatars. I don’t want some old dude on my team, I want a team of five fighting woman warriors! Is that so much to ask for? Still, I do like that it’s possible to choose and upgrade each of their stats individually. Short stocky dwarves that are actually really strong magic users? Yes.

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That magic stat is an odd proposition, as fighting normal enemies doesn’t really make it clear what the stat’s use is. Defense and attack are obvious, but some enemies are a little more magic prone. The only way to find out is by seeing how each character is expected to perform against them. It’s not a huge deal, just a bit odd as the magic stat is always seems to be an uncertainty.

I feel your enjoyment of Epic Island is going to depend heavily on how much you enjoy the concept of character progression and loot collecting. Is the fun of an RPG putting in the work to get the loot, or the loot itself? Epic Island is for the person who believes the latter.