Infinity Blade II (iOS)
Developer: Chair Entertainment, Epic Games
Release: December 1, 2011
Mobile games have a perceived aura of simplicity about them. Maybe diminutive price tags are to blame. Or maybe the fault lies with their pastel colors and often charming mascots. Or maybe, just maybe, the ever-growing ubiquity of smart devices has perpetuated the “phone games are for moms” attitude held by so many purists.
Then comes Infinity Blade 2, a game that fully understands both the strengths and limitations of its platform. A title that should satisfy anyone looking for a mechanically elegant experience backed with gorgeous presentation, challenging combat, and strong role-playing elements. This latest effort from Epic Games and Chair Entertainment captures the precise and intense combat of Dark Souls but remembers that it is – at its core – a mobile game. Read on for our full review.
BIGGER AND BETTER
Every single aspect of Infinity Blade 2 is a step above what its predecessor achieved last year. Combat is more responsive, if also more punitive. More types of weapons are available, and they can be upgraded via magical stones a la Final Fantasy VII. The world is larger, with several paths and doors that encourage exploration. There’s even a narrative that – while not outstanding – is leagues above what we got last time.
The game begins immediately where the previous one left off. Siris, your avatar and hero, must find the Worker of Secrets – the creator of the Infinity Blade. He has been imprisoned, guarded by several “Deathless” that you must first eliminate. To say much more would tread into spoiler territory.
EVERY DAY IS EXACTLY THE SAME
Repetition is the name of the game here. You will explore, you will fight, and you will die. When you come back (this is explained in the story), your boots will fill the same footprints they did one life ago. All your equipment, experience, and skills will make the journey with you. So, ground down to its basest objective, Infinity Blade 2 is a game about growth, about improvement. It’s about amassing power until you can slay the foes that seemed indomitable eight lives ago.
The game is on-rails, which, much like “linear,” is often a dirty word. This was a great design decision, however, as full spatial movement in a three-dimensional environment would require a cumbersome on-screen d-pad or unwieldy tilt controls. Instead, just tap in the direction you want to go. A cut scene will begin, and as your character moves, you’ll see coin bags and other goodies littered around the environment. Simply touch the items to add them to your inventory.
Combat is the star here, though it may seem deceptively simple at first. You’ll begin your journey equipped with a sword and a shield – the only option available in the last title. As you find cash in chests or on fallen foes, you can purchase dual-wielded weapons or heavier armaments that require two hands. Each loadout has its own distinct set of advantages and disadvantages.
Enemy attacks can be blocked using a shield, though you have a limited number of blocks per battle. It’s also possible to parry an incoming attack by swiping and meeting it head on, saving you a precious block point. This was nigh impossible before, but it now feels fair and doable. There’s an option to dodge to the side as well – a move that often leaves foes vulnerable to a series of damaging counter attacks. Dual wielding swords removes the block ability, but adds a downward dodge. Heavy weapon users can’t dodge, but they gain the ability to block in specific directions.
When you mess up, you will feel it. That shield bash looked like it was coming from the left, but it actually came from the top down. The hulking giant raised his sword high above his helm, but then he unexpectedly kicked you, ruining your parry. Combat is about timing, pattern recognition, and judgment. Watch your enemies, learn their bluffs, and counter accordingly. Swiping the screen madly will work for your first half-dozen lives, but you’ll need to step up your game to survive later battles.
It’s tough, but felling a foe after multiple tries is incredibly satisfying – and not just “in a mobile game way.”
ALWAYS ON THE MOVE
Successful battles grant you experience points, which you can use to upgrade health, attack power, shield block points, or magical proficiency. You’ll also come across shaped gems, which can be placed into corresponding slots on your equipment. These stones add elemental damage to your strikes, opening up damage over time possibilities.
The number of available upgrades is staggering, and as soon as you master old equipment, you’ll have something else waiting for you. New armor can fortify your health or blocking points, while a new ring may grant healing spells or a more damaging fire attack. There's always some new sword to lust after, or a ring that could really help you out against that especially tricky poisonous foe.
There’s a place for cute and simple games on mobile devices, but there’s also a place for challenging fantasy games with deep upgrade systems and beautiful visuals. If you’re frustrated that you can’t take Skyrim or Dark Souls on the go, pick up Infinity Blade 2 and be happy. It by no means replaces those games, but as far as combat-heavy, action-adventure RPGs go, there is currently no better option on iOS.
Just remember to play responsibly. This game casts a wicked damage over time spell on your battery.