Kings new smartphone game reinvents match-three puzzlers, but is this brave new world one you want to be part of?
Even though King is one of the worlds largest and richest developers its best known for just a single franchise: Candy Crush Saga, an ultra-casual match-three puzzler that builds in some pretty unsubtle inducements to nag your friends. King has also been responsible for the Puzzle Bobble style Bubble Witch series and a few other lesser known titles, most of which involve matching coloured tiles with no need to ever think too deeply about what youre doing. All of which makes Legend Of Solgard a bit of a surprise.
The fact that Legend Of Solgard is free-to-download and involves matching sets of three coloured monsters is entirely expected, but this is not in any way a casual game. It features mechanics that despite being introduced gradually over many, many games, are extremely complicated. Thats because this is part of that mobile-friendly movement known as midcore. Like other hated hybrid words, such as Brexit and heartburn, it may induce mild nausea but in this case theres a lot to be positive about.
Taking place on a portrait-mode battlefield, each round is turn-based: you get three moves, followed by your opponent. During your turn you drag monsters from the end of one column on the grid and drop them onto another in an attempt to make a line of three, which fuses them into a larger, stronger monster. Or you can make a row of three, which turns them into a defensive barrier.
The twist is that you can also arrange troops in cross, L, and T-shapes, all of which produce different big monster variants with their own skills and buffs, many of which have knock-on effects for nearby units – both friendly and enemy. Its a highly involved system that requires a huge amount of head space to understand.
If that all sounds eerily familiar, it may be because youve played cult hit Might & Magic: Clash Of Heroes, a game that originally appeared on DS in 2009 and is based on absolutely identical turn-based troop-combining mechanics.
Whats baffling though is why nobody has ripped them off before, because the unstoppable plethora of match-three games blend into one wallowing morass of over-simplified grind and this twist makes the whole genre seem fresh and new again. Which is a boon for a game like Legend Of Solgard, whose intention is to keep you hooked for years rather than weeks.
It does that using a role-playing style upgrade system, in which you need to collect cards to unlock and eventually upgrade new units, and within that use gold and colour-matched ability dust to upgrade individual stats and special moves.
The resulting grind is absolutely massive, and it will take weeks of steady play to level up enough to unlock the games multitude of play modes, which includes the base 160-level campaign, the loot-heavy treasure caves, baddie-busting bounty mode, dungeons, a PvP hero arena, a boss arena and the even more challenging Underworld, which becomes available when you hit level 12.
There are also guilds to join, where youre encouraged to donate gold every day to help towards buffs in your daily clan mission to weaken and then kill a series of boss monsters, all for further rewards. Naturally, winnings arrive in the familiar but unwelcome form of loot boxes, supplying a random scattering of cards and currencies. In this case in such a tiny trickle that it takes many days play to unlock single cards, let alone start to upgrade them in a meaningful way, which is something that on current form will take months or even years.
You can speed the process up by paying, but quite frankly with the gearing so low, the amount you would have to spend to make a meaningful difference to proceedings is so overwhelmingly large as to make most peoples fivers and tenners all but irrelevant in the scheme of things. It might save you a week here or a few days there, but when looked at in the broader picture, its like filling a swimming pool with a teat pipette – so unutterably slow that a few extra pipettes arent really going to do you much good.
The message is that you dont need to spend money to have fun, something worth remembering during the numerous moments in the campaign that appear insurmountable, where your current troops seem nowhere near up to the job of winning. In these situations the games built-in random factor will always take care of you given enough re-attempts.
The combination of cards youre dealt, and which columns each unit drops into when you re-stock the board, have an enormous impact on your chances of success. These deus ex machina moments, where a lucky deal pulls you out of a hole, feel less like triumphs and more like blind luck, but after a particularly arduous boss fight wed be lying is we said they werent welcome.
So Legend Of Solgard, despite the usual sleazy energy countdowns and inducements to spend that go with free-to-download gaming, is a solid, interesting and surprisingly complex game. Whether you enjoy its undoubtedly fascinating gameplay enough to undertake what will be years of grinding is another story. But as a reinvention of Kings conveyor belt of hoary old monetised match-three games, its wonderfully refreshing.
Legend Of Solgard
In Short: Might & Magic: Clash Of Heroes is remade as a highly engaging free-to-play touchscreen gem.
Pros: Mechanically intricate and with an almost impossibly vast mountain of content to explore, you wont run out of Legend Of Solgard any time soon.
Cons: The grind is so concertedly drawn out it makes even Supercell game seem pacy, and it suffers from all the expected mores of freemium gaming.
Formats: iOS (reviewed) and Android
Release Date: 15th August 2018
Age Rating: 9+
By Nick Gillett