While a free-to-play Dragon Age title is hardly what anybody asked for, Heroes of Dragon Age delivers where it needs to by focusing more on the core game than its game universe.
Heroes of Dragon Age (Android, iOS)
Developed by Capital Games – Published by Electronic Arts
Heroes of Dragon Age is a collectible card game-esque app with a new take on the Dragon Age franchise. Seemingly realising how the title’s Facebook-based predecessor Dragon Age Legends could never live up to the main series entries in the tactics department, Capital Games has instead taken a strategical approach to their new game. Long-term planning is key in every aspect of this game with no micro-managing decisions to be made.
The main activity in Heroes of Dragon Age is its automated combat system. Not wanting their players to be turned off by the idea of not being in control, Capital Games is quick to put the player through a 15 minute tutorial which is just as tedious as it is informative. By introducing how the same characters can be placed on various parts of the battle grid to receive different stat bonuses, the game’s element system and the most common unit abilities, the player is brought straight into the game knowing there is still a huge skill element here.
Once the Fight button is touched, the game displays the strategically placed characters from both the player’s and the opposing sides taking turns to impress with its well-animated cast. Each character model is detailed and looks like a carefully crafted, although animated, miniature on its stand. The graphical effects hold up well, which is good considering how common the fire-breathing and titular dragons are.
There are over 100 Dragon Age characters and creatures available, all ranked according to their rarity and general potency. They range from Common units such as the Nug and the Coterie Thug, Uncommon ones like the Silent Sister and Ashaad to Rare characters including Ser Cauthrien and the Revenant. There’s Epic heroes such as Sister Nightingale and Alistair and even Legendary units like Flemeth and Corypheus. An Epic is generally far more useful than an Uncommon, but if the Uncommon is the only creature carrying a desired special ability such as an area stun, then it may be difficult to argue for the stronger piece’s inclusion. Or perhaps the Epic can simply soldier through the enemies? This kind of choices are the bread and butter of Heroes of Dragon Age and its strategies.
The characters are bought in collectible card game-like booster packs through the game’s shop screen. There are three kinds of packs which all have different chances of containing units of various rarities. The two packs that can be bought using gold, the coins awarded upon winning bouts, can contain any unit ranked Epic or below with the cheapest pack being the sole way of receiving Common characters. The third kind of booster is paid for using gems, a currency the player can receive through game play or by spending real money. This is the only way to receive the potent Legendary characters and the packs will never contain anything lower than a Rare.
Two common problems with systems like this are receiving characters you do not care for and getting doubles. Heroes of Dragon Age solves both of these issues. Unwanted units can be consumed, sacrificing them for a hefty experience point bonus for a chosen character as well as permanently adding a bonus to their chance of scoring critical hits. Doubles can be combined, giving the player an upgrade to the character’s class. Any given character can be upgraded three times in this manner, each time receiving a graphical update along with strongly boosted stats.
Like most free-to-play games, Heroes of Dragon Age limits what play time you get for free. What is unique however is how this limit takes the form of two separate bars – the Energy and Stamina bars. Both contain six charges which translate into six combat scenarios each, with the bar refilling a stack at a time for free every 20 minutes or instantly for the price of a micro-transaction.
The Energy bar is expended by taking part of Quests. Quests are solo player experiences, designed to immerse the player in the game’s setting through quest descriptions. These texts are so shallow however that few returning Dragon Age fans will experience anything new, while they also seem too short to give newcomers any reason to care for the series’ narrative. Luckily there are other boons to questing, as these fights are not only good sources of experience points for the combating heroes and gold to buy new ones, but they are also the only way for players to earn gems without a credit card. Since there is a finite number of quests and a single quest line can only reward the player with gems once, it would seem there is an upcoming absolute pay wall coming up several months into the game should the player aim to get their hands on new Legendary characters.
The Stamina bar governs the progress of Battles. A Battle is a combat scenario played against a randomly selected player or an AI opponent named after a Dragon Age series character. These fights reap both gold and experience, along with a status symbol called trophies that decide the player’s place on the global trophy leaderboards. After taking on a human combatant, they may be added to the player’s friend list for further Battles. Oddly enough there is no other way of adding players to one’s friend list at this time other than randomly running into them online. Considering there are no options to communicate within the game either, the friend list functionality as a whole ends up feeling like an afterthought.
There are a lot of interesting strategies to try out in the game and I can’t wait to refine my set up further through the addictive buying of booster packs. As much as I like outsmarting opponents online, it’s almost uncanny how few moments I spend remembering that this is a Dragon Age game even as it re-uses all of its audio from the main series games. Even so, it may be the Dragon Age-skinned free-to-play collectible strategy game you have been looking for. The core game is solid.