It’s not always possible to log into your WoW account. If you’re trapped in a drab cubicle, on vacation, stuck on a bus in traffic, or just plain don’t have access to the internet, time can drag.
Your iPad saves you from all that. You can read or draw or play Sudoku to your heart’s content. If you’re a hardcore gamer, though, you’ll find yourself missing Warcraft, eager to fill the void with a game more complex than Words With Friends (not that there’s anything wrong with Words With Friends).
It’s hard to separate out the wheat from the chaff in the ocean of apps, but after extensive (and expensive) testing, three apps stood out. These three games should offer you some solace when WoW is not an option.
Note: I’d like to make special mention of one additional game. I was sorely, sorely tempted to add Aralon to the list of recommended games.
It has extensive character selection and customization, a crafting system, a good story, and a great camera and movement engine. I left it off because it just isn’t of the graphical quality it ought to be at this point. It was ported from an iPhone app, and not enough effort went into upgrading it- which is a shame, because it’s really an excellent game but for that one (albeit major) flaw.
However, if you have money to burn and really love crafting or exploration, I’d recommend trying it out.
So what do you like about Warcraft, and what apps would best suit you?
If you like Questing, try Dungeon Hunter 2.
If you like Raiding, try Battleheart.
If you like Combat, try Pocket RPG.
If you like Crafting & Exploration, try Aralon. See above note
Aralon . Battleheart . CastleCraft . Chaos Rings ω (Omega) . Dungeon Hunter 2 . Eternal Legacy . Fantastic Knight . Infinity Blade . Pocket RPG . Ravensword . Solomon’s Keep . Stranded . Zenonia 3
$2.99 | iPhone & iPad | Single-Player only
Battleheart on iTunes
The glossy vector animation style of Battleheart reminded me of a nouveau-Final Fantasy, but the fighting style is pure Warcraft. You play not one character, but the unseen battle commander of a party of four: a tank, a healer, and two DPS. As you progress, you recruit additional party members- whose entertaining backstories are rife with Old Gamer jokes- and swap them out at will to fill your fighting roster. Multiple classes are available for play, including rogues, knights, witches, wizards, clerics, bards, barbarians and monks.
Each party member has his own four-slot gear panel with gear that can be upgraded or purchased outright. An ‘Academy’ window allows you to choose the spec of your party member, right down to a miniaturized talent tree that borrows heavily from Warcraft.
Fighting is fantastically simple: Tap a party member and drag towards the enemy you want her to demolish. Special abilities, each on their own cooldown, appear in the upper left corner. Tactically, though, you’ll have to keep your wits about you. The tank has to protect the healer and pick up all the adds; the healer needs to move away from adds and target the necessary team member; the DPS frequently stare off into the distance instead of targeting new adds and must be brought back to task.
The main drawback to combat is the clunkiness of selecting each team member in the heat of battle. When everyone piles in to fight it can be difficult to choose the correct party member. Also, rather unusually, the healer can’t heal herself. I’m unsure if that’s a combat design choice or just an oddity of coding. Greater attention could have been paid, too, to the flow of battle; you’re often not sure if you’re fighting a boss, or hold off on blowing your cooldowns just to find that the battle is, mysteriously, over.
Of particular interest is the addition of an ‘Arena’ section on each map. The Arena pits your team against endless waves of monsters, rewarding you for the number of kills you’ve achieved before your team’s inevitable demise. It makes a fun addition to the usual level-by-level crawl.
Special Note: The healer has a Power Word: Shield ability. What more is there to say?
Pros: Deceptively simple, Battleheart is graphically appealing and heavily influenced by Warcraft. The story is entertaining and lighthearted, and gameplay moves forward at a good clip against cute, ever-changing backdrops.
Cons: The simplicity of the graphics pall after a while, and the fights themselves are not terribly challenging. Multiplayer support would be an welcome and fun addition.
$2.99 | iPad | Single-Player & Multi-Player
Pocket RPG on iTunes
The two-thumb controls of Pocket RPG reminded me instantly of , which I use to play World of Warcraft on my iPad on my home network. Perhaps because I’ve gotten so used to that control system, Pocket RPG felt wonderfully easy to operate. Slashing and hacking through gelatinous cubes and monstrous trees with my dual blades was exhilarating, not unlike a .
A health and mana/rage bar on either side of the screen are easy reminders of your stats, and purchasable talents guide your lone combatant down his path of personal improvement. Trees, bushes, benches and treasure chests- along with nearly every object you see- can be hacked to pieces for a gold or item reward.
Combat with the Blade Master character is instinctual and easy to control. His satisfying swings and special maneuvers are beautifully scripted to respond well to your thumb controls. Desultory exploration of the mage and hunter classes went nowhere, as I couldn’t get either of them past the first level and soon got sick of the unending deaths and appalling lack of control.
The creepy, skeletal guards you’re relieving populate the dungeons and caverns of your adventure like creatures from Alice; bobble-headed and jittery, their hints of a greater evil is surprisingly effective. Boss fights are extremely challenging and require tactical thought- exploding barrels, objects that grant temporary bonuses, and the like all need to be used in thoughtful succession along with your attacks to successfully down a boss.
After death, you have one opportunity per level to respawn near your last point of death (after several hours and many, many deaths, I still was not able to figure out how this respawn point was chosen). After that, you have to restart the whole looooong level. Once you complete a level, you have your only chance to upgrade your stats; your gear, on the other hand, disappears into oblivion once the level is over.
On the one hand, it was interesting to focus on personal stats solely, rather than stats and gear acquisition. On the other hand… I wanted my gear! I wanted to improve it! I wanted to level it and craft it lovingly! Without the ability to improve your gear, the game has a half-finished air about it.
The graphics are well done without being staggering (the exception being the Main Menu screen, which is top-notch). Not as vectorized as Battleheart, nor as realistic as Dungeon Hunter 2, the graphics are in line with the feel of the game, adding to the ambience of the game and supporting the story and combat style.
Pros: Combat is seamless and perfectly integrated… for the Blade Master. Though the levels are long, the sub-levels are well laid out and build to more difficult monsters particularly well. The rhythym of fighting is seamless, though the fights themselves can be extremely challenging.
Cons: The respawn and saving systems are bizarre, and threaten to ruin a game that’s otherwise highly entertaining. The lack of gear persistence is disconcerting, and the ranged classes need work to become real alternatives.
DUNGEON HUNTER 2 HD
$6.99 | iPhone & iPad | Single-Player & Multi-Player
Dungeon Hunter 2 on iTunes
The first thing I noticed about Dungeon Hunter 2 was the price tag. The second was how long it took to load. The third was “AMFG THE GRAPHICS AMFG!”, which explained #1 and #2 instantly. (That said, the goofball ‘HD’ in their app icon is horrifically ugly. Let’s put it down to an upper management decision.) The only game I’ve seen with superior graphics is the sublimely beautiful but deadly boring Infinity Blade.
Let’s just say right now that if you like the classic Bioware RPG series (Fallout, Icewind Dale, Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Dragon Age), then this is the iPad game for you.
You begin your journey as one of three classes: a mage, a warrior, or a rogue. You view your world in typically Biowareish top-down fashion, though this detracts not an iota from the richness of the environment.
A selection of companion fairies follow you around, an excellent map is integrated into the character panel, character improvements are made in the classic D&D fashion, your avatar visually changes attire, and regular cutscenes help the action feel much more computer game than iPad.
Side quests are included along with the main quest, but feel nicely integrated and add to the main theme of the game rather than detract with unnecessary distraction. The story itself could’ve been better, but for a $7 app, I wasn’t expecting epic storyline (yet!).
The multiplayer feature is great, and works particularly well when you’re playing with friends or- better yet- with someone sitting in the same room. The random multiplayer groups I joined were a little chaotic (think mid-level BGs and you get the idea), but those with friends went off without a hitch. The only major multiplayer problem I found is that you can lose sight of your character as monsters pile on up.
The major drawback to DH2 is the number of times you catch yourself thinking, “Why isn’t there a Warcraft app?! Why isn’t there a Baldur’s Gate app?! Why isn’t there an app for every game that’s ever existed?!” Dungeon Hunter 2 pushes the limits of the graphic, control, and story limitations of iPad gaming, and gets you salivating for future possibilities.
Pros: A finely polished, sweeping RPG story set against a great soundtrack with solid controls and good character progression.
Cons: Zero character customization (who wants to play a girl, anyway?!). The story is less engaging than it could be, and cutscenes feel less polished than the rest of the game. Occasional bad pathing issues.