These dungeons aren’t going to crawl themselves.
Diablo has influenced a large number of dungeon-crawling loot-fests that, while sometimes marginally entertaining, have never really been able to match the sheer scope of the PC classic. But as the iOS gaming experience grows more refined, so too do the options for mobile hack ‘n’ slash experiences. Some of these titles (Dungeon Hunter or Castle Master 3D)aren’t half bad, either. No, they’re not as huge as their PC or console cousins, but this is only to be expected of the medium, and there is still plenty of fun to be had. The recently released RPG Dark Avenger follows in these footsteps, and is packed with quite a bit more content than you might expect from a F2P title.
You are a templar charged with slaying hordes of undead deep within ancient dungeons because, well, developer Gamevil never really tells you why you are on this quest. It’s a bit disappointing to be dropped into a series of dungeons without an explanation, but is ultimately a minimal complaint.
The real star of the show here is the system of upgrades. For the first few levels you slog through, it can be frustrating and even a tad boring. But as each level provides stiffer challenge, new weapons, armor, abilities and accessories are discovered or unlocked to create plenty of reason to keep crawling. By the time you reach the 10th stage, you’ll have an inventory overflowing with awesome weapons, helpful potions, ability-boosting jewelry and beyond. Swords that seemed perfectly suitable in early stages become weak and distant memories as your templar grows ever-more badass.
The interface, though not entirely responsive, is simple and accessible thanks to the virtual joystick and oversized attack button, which unleashes a devastating three-hit combo attack. Surrounding your main attack button are three smaller slots that can be used to assign the various skills you’ll unlock as you delve deeper into the game. These skills range from a quick and powerful dash, to a hard-hitting slash combo or a brutal whirlwind that sends your enemies flying. Each skill requires various cool-down times between uses, as well as some of your magic points. It’s disappointing that skills can’t be chained with the main combo, but as your enemies grow in size, you’ll be glad you have them.
Each stage can be played in one of two ways: as a campaign (though you shouldn’t forget there is no actual story) or time attack, a mode in which you’re given a set amount of time to kill every monster. Each enemy type you slay adds time to the meter, and the time attack mode also yields more gold drops and forge stones—a means to upgrade your weapons and armor. Playing each stage in both modes is a good plan as you absolutely need to strengthen your character through passive abilities like more HP or MP, stronger critical attacks or faster regeneration of your active skills.
Gamevil has, of course, provided micro-transactions for those interested in a shortcut, but if you are patient and/or willing to replay each stage a whole hell of a lot of times, you’ll eventually build up a super-strong character that you can take into the addictive PVP death match mode.
PVP death matches are 3 vs 3, and actually a rather impressive addition. There’s a certain level of strategy required to timing your attacks and powering up with random upgrade potions that drop at various times throughout each match. The downside is that low-level players can be tossed into matches with much stronger foes, and being pinned in a corner by a never-ending combo attack is incredibly frustrating to say the least.
You can also take your character into the Infinity Tower, a never-ending series of challenge rooms with wave after wave of challenging enemies. You’ll be given five chances to advance through the tower every 24 hours (unless you buy more chances with real-life money). Low-level players ought to spend more time in the campaign and time attack modes before taking on the tower – this mode is pretty damn difficult right off the bat.
The music of Dark Avenger is your basic medieval-esque fanfare and isn’t really anything special, but the sound effects of a swinging sword or the satisfying “Thwak!” of cutting into an enemy are awesome even on the tiny iPhone speakers. Plugging in decent headphones makes the sound even better (duh) and does wonders for a more immersive experience.
Despite the lack of story, Dark Avenger is fun and satisfying in short bursts. Finding that more powerful weapon or getting past that difficult boss really spurs you on, and there are a whole ton of stages to experience. This isn’t the most beautiful game you’ll ever play, but it’s far from ugly even if each stage is pretty much the same as the last.
Gamevil has promised that a new character type and an additional Boss Raid mode will be released in the near future, which ought to spice things up a bit: and besides—it’s free! Gamers looking for a more engaging RPG title might want to check out the likes of Infinity Blade, but for those who are either new to hack ‘n’ slash or are a little more casual when it comes to video games should definitely give Dark Avenger a try.