The rules of chess are somewhat simple. They’re not overly complex, so virtually anyone can pick it up and play without much trouble. The satisfaction for those who want complexity comes from the strategies that can be employed. It’s a game where acting on instinct can be dangerous, where careful thinking is needed to truly appreciate and enjoy it. Robot Entertainment’s latest title, Hero Academy, is unlike chess in this sense. It fits within the strategy game genre, but it feels like a lost child not sure where it’s supposed to be. It’s a strange move to make a strategy game that lacks any proper strategic thinking to play, so naturally it’s a bit hard to really define it. The closest you’ll probably end up getting to a definition for it is “battle arena board game”. Even with this minor issue of genre confusion, Hero Academy still tries its best to offer something, even if its iOS roots tend to have a habit of tripping it up.
The game does a good job of teaching you the basics, offering a short string of tutorials upon launching the game. It teaches you about the different types of units, attacks, items and the logistics of the game. What the game doesn’t teach you in this section is how the different factions in the game differ from each other. If you want to learn this, you’ll have to brave through the single player challenges the game offers, which is by far the worst thing included in the package.
Challenges are separated up into faction specific groups of tasks, giving you a try before you buy type scenario for some of the premium factions that you may not yet own. The problem with these challenges, however, is that they don’t even seem to make an effort to tell you what you’re doing. The most that the game will give you as far as instructions or help is concerned will be something as vague as “knock out the enemy knight to win” before it throws you into a pre-arranged game board, unaware of how you’re supposed to go about your task in a single turn. There’s not much reason for hand-holding here, but a small nudge would have been appreciated. Thankfully, this is as deep as Hero Academy dips its foot into the idea of single player content in a board based strategy game.
The process of actually getting a game set up is relatively simple. It’s essentially just a case of picking a random opponent or a friend, picking your faction and then pressing a button. One of the things the game does incredibly well is how simple and easy the on-going game menus are. If you’re involved in more than one game, the menu on the side will tell you what games are waiting for you to move and which games are waiting for your opponent to move. It’s similar to the system of other strategy games such as Frozen Synapse and it’s more than welcome.
This system gives the game an air of something that doesn’t want to be taken too seriously. Even when you’re juggling several games at once, you’ll find yourself often multitasking and doing something entirely separate from the game while you wait for someone to take their turn. It gets to a point where you don’t really need to think about the moves you’re making. It boils down to the simple decision of choosing to attack or not to attack. This makes the game feel more like a device for wasting time than it is a fully fledged title. It’s not at all surprising that a game originally designed for mobile devices feels this way though, because Hero Academy seems incredibly lacking when compared to the large assortment of strategy titles Steam has on offer.
The game’s victory conditions are fairly odd. You’re either going to be wiping out enemy units or destroying their team crystals. More often than not, you’ll opt for the former. Even if you don’t, the game ends up going down that route anyway – attacking a crystal provokes the other playing into trying to kill the unit attacking the crystal, which results in the game entering a state where there is no objective but killing all of the other players. Adding to that is the fact that the Team Fortress faction is stupidly overpowered. Not only do they have overpowered units and items, they also have higher numbers of units to use in a game. More often than not, this team is going to win in a straight deathmatch.
Hero Academy is a strange game to add to the Steam store. The store is full of huge, fully fledged strategy titles that actually offer some depth. Hero Academy just sits there as an obvious iOS title, fit with the same sort of depth you’d expect from an iOS title. It’s a cheap package at £3.99, but whether or not you can consider it a worthwhile purchase ultimately comes down to whether or not you want something to play casually or something to play seriously. If it’s the former you’re after, Hero Academy may be good in short bursts. Just don’t go in expecting the depth of chess and you might find something to enjoy.
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