Preview: League of Angels

Casual and free-to-play games have surged in popularity over the past several years.  There’s no denying their ability to hook people who may have never picked up a controller in their life.  And when it comes to free-to-play games, many developers and publishers strive to find the next concoction that will whip the world into a frenzy.  And then there are those that decide to throw everything and the kitchen sink into their game.  By following the latter approach, did publisher Reality Squared Games spell success or doom for their new title, League of Angels?

For a browser game, there’s actually a surprising amount of story framing the entire experience in League of Angels.  Rather than blindly trudging along and playing for the sake of playing, players must take up the sword or staff in order to free the many angels imprisoned across the land by the forces of evil. 

Rescuing several damsels in distress isn't the most original story, but it’s better than some of the blatant rip-offs riddled throughout the game.  First and foremost, ads for the game depict scenes from Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball with the League of Angels logo plastered on top.  It’s theft from another series and misleading to players.  Moving into the game itself, it’s clear that several races were heavily inspired by World of Warcraft.  Granted that orcs, tauren, and worgen weren’t new with Blizzard’s highly successful series, but League of Angel’s character art rings so true to the WoW art, it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow.  And when the leader of the tauren in WoW was named Cairn Bloodhoof and the leader of the tauren in League of Angels is Cain Bloodhoof, only more credence is lent to the belief that there’s little originality to be found here.  Toss in the Lord of Vampires, Dracula himself, in a war against the worgen and another foe named Jetli (Jet Li) and you begin to get the picture.  It’s one thing to throw nods to other series and put in Easter Eggs, but it’s another matter entirely to borrow so heavily from other series that players begin to question integrity.

Speaking of character art and design, League of Angels is a pretty game.  The environments are static, but there’s a substantial amount of detail that makes it a delight to look at.  And as one would expect, the angels are voluptuous and quite pleasing to the eye.  However, it’s clear they’re there primarily for sex appeal.  Beyond that, character models and NPCs look nice, but the animations are a bit stiff.  Despite being a 2D RPG, the attack animations only have a handful of frames and lend a disjointed appearance to combat.

But if only the somewhat lackluster animation was the least of the problems with combat.  The decision that kills the entire experience in League of Angels and makes the ‘game’ a game in only the loosest sense of the word is that players can’t control combat.  Each fight is completely automated and utterly pointless to watch play out.  Instead, what each encounter breaks down to is which party has the higher battle rating.  Battle rating is comprised of party member’s levels, the gear they’re wearing, their abilities, and passive skills.  This is culminated into a number which must be compared against other player’s and NPCs’ battle ratings.  If your number is higher, you win.  If it is lower, you will almost certainly lose.  There’s no other way of affecting the outcome.

And when playing through the story component, so long as a player’s level is high enough to accept a quest, there is zero chance of them not being able to complete it.  That is because the player can’t lose a fight against NPCs within the storyline.  It just isn't possible.  So when the possibility of death is removed and any input from the player isn't required, there isn't much of a game to be played.  Due to this, League of Angels is more of a time sink than anything else.  It is a game for people who don’t actually want to play a game.  Until level 30, players are rushed through and all manner of mini games are thrown at them.  It’s a very confusing affair until things finally settle down and players must then grind to level up in order to proceed with the story quests.  Because that’s what happens.  Eventually players hit a point where they must grind through an ungodly amount of quests just to be a high enough level to progress.  This isn't anything new for either RPGs or free-to-play games, but it is still artificial padding.  Especially when players can’t lose a fight otherwise.

As players make their way through the game, many other elements will unlock like mini games.  Included are not so subtle versions of popular titles like Candy Crush and Farmville.  Again, ideas from other successful franchises are so blatantly ripped off that it’s disheartening.  Every game has the potential to be great.  But when a developer/publisher makes a title that requires real world currency to make real progress, then no one wins.  Not them and most certainly not the player.  Despite being free to play, players will hit an invisible wall.  To speed up their progress and eliminate time locks on activities, they must be willing to hand over real world currency in the cash shop.  Again, this isn't anything new.  But if you want players to spend money, then at least provide something compelling and original.  If not completely original, innovate enough to make your game stand out from the crowd.

Unfortunately League of Angels lacks any soul.  By using sex appeal and gameplay and design heavily influenced by other popular titles to mask the lack of compelling features, there’s little reason to get invested with this tile.  For what it is, it’s not awful if you’re willing to look past the glaring moral issues plaguing it.  But that’s not because of innovative design of compelling gameplay.  It’s only because it heavily stole from predecessors and cobbled the best bits into their own patchwork title.