Raid Leader feels a little too simple for its own good

Raid Leader is the freshman effort from developer Red Zebra Games and — for better or for worse — it feels like a first title from a fairly talented group of people. It promises things like epic boss battles, unique character classes, and an amazing real time strategy experience. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite deliver a truly fun or memorable experience, but there are often glimmers of something better beneath the surface.

Raid Leader’s plot starts off on an epic note: the kingdom of Eldentir has been invaded after a demon king known as Belfanor opened a rift in the skies above the capital. Although the villain manages a swift and brutal takeover of the kingdom, the royal princess manages to escape and sends her three champions on a desperate quest to save her empire. However, that’s pretty much all the story you really get, and it’s kind of disappointing that the developers didn’t do more with the mythology they created.

You control said champions — a priest, a knight, and an archer — as they progress along a linear world map path, leading ever inland towards the princess’s former home. At each stop, you battle one of Belfanor’s lieutenants. The way combat works is that you send the knight after the main enemy to keep it busy, use your archer to provide ranged support, and your priest will hang out in the back in order to heal your party members. These actions and movement are all handled via a simple touch-and-drag interface that work nicely.

As the game progresses, you use the gold you earn to purchase perks for your party characters. Each character can only use two of these at a time, so it pays to figure out what perks will compliment one another and help your characters last on the battlefield. Before each level, you can switch out perks for different ones (or just upgrade them). Of course, getting enough gold to unlock higher-level upgrades will take you quite some time, but there’s always a shortcut of spending some real money on the currency. Thankfully, this system isn’t too expensive: You can purchase enough gold to buy the most powerful perks and max them out for $5 to $6.

The main problem with Raid Leader is that the gameplay feels pretty shallow. At first, you don’t have to really do all that much other than set up your party’s basic formation. As the enemies start to get more powerful (and sport long distance special attacks), you’ll have to get your support characters to move around the map a little so they avoid getting hit one too many times and knocked out. Still, the system it doesn’t feel terribly deep, and if you spend any real money on perks you won’t really have much of a challenge through the game’s thirteen main levels (though the side-levels featuring survival gameplay do add a bit of difficulty to the overall experience).

Raid Leader

Even the enemies don’t really impress all that much after a little while (though I did rather enjoy the monster that was designed as a Beholder send-up), mainly because the last half of the game just has you going up against more powerful versions of the same monsters from the first half.

Also, once you beat the game, there’s really no replay value. When Belfanor is finally killed, you’re treated to a nice enough (though very, very short) narrative saying that peace is restored to the kingdom, your princess has retaken the throne, and… well, nothing. That’s it. There’s no real reward, no new abilities, no extra characters. There’s really nothing left. Granted, you can start a new game and play through the entire game all over again, but there’s really no point.

At first, the game features some pretty glorious visuals. The opening cutscene is filled with some truly beautiful still images. The character portraits, too, are stunning. However the in-game graphics are a bit less impressive: Character models look and animate well enough but several of the levels seem kind of lacking when it comes to actual details, although they do include some lovely ground textures. The music, too, is nice enough, but there were a couple of problems with the sound not turning off when the iPad was muted (even after the device was restarted).

Raid Leader

It should also be noted that the English translation could have used another pass. It’s kind of weird to notice, since the game doesn’t really have all that much text to read.

Raid Leader feels like it had the groundwork laid for a much better game laid until the developers got bored partway through the development process. It’s not exactly bad, but it’s just not really deep or exciting enough to recommend wholeheartedly. That said, based on the solid fundamentals, I’ll be very interested in seeing what else Red Zebra Games puts out in the future.