So, a while ago, I played Raid: Shadow Legends for the very first time and didn’t like it at all. Eventually, after that, someone prompted me to try out AFK Arena since I was talking badly about it without having tried it out at all, and… yeah, they had a point. I was talking badly about idle games and them not being my cup of tea because I just don’t like them, despite not having tried every single one of them. I tried some… but not all.
In an empiric sense, I can’t make a judgement on idle games as a whole yet. I can just say that I disliked most of them so far…
Anyways: What is AFK Arena? Well, according to the ads that I’m getting on all of my YouTube videos, it’s an animated 2D turn-based idle-game with Gacha-mechanics and you don’t have to grind to get strong. There are misleading ads on YouTube that tell you that you have choices in the game and puzzles and some weird isometric thing where a lion-character called Brutus is performing a spin-attack on a lot of enemies that all drop a lot of gold.
And lately, I’ve been getting worse ads. There is a bad German dub on it and usually, you’ll see the same actors telling you about how good the common characters are that you get instead of the epic ones and how little you have to do in the game. Some ads share “tricks” to unlock free heroes. Others tell you about how video games are a waste of time and how they made them sick and how AFK Arena fixes that as you can, I guess, use your time productively? I’m getting mixed signals. Are games bad? Are mobile games not games, too? Isn’t AFK Arena also bad then if all games are bad?
Anyways, so I installed it and there actually is a story of sorts. Basically, the god of death was jealous of the peace in the overworld and hence created the Hypogeans, the main antagonist/villain faction in the game, to destroy Dura, the goddess of the Living, I guess. Dura, being super graceful and not wanting to die, sent mortals to fight the Hypogeans. That didn’t really work out since she got weakened a lot and used her last power to scatter seven divine artefacts over the world and now a lot of time passed and nothing happened but something will probably happen. Idk.
Note: I’m going to include pictures of characters from the wiki because I forgot to take screenshots. If you don’t believe me that I’ve played the game, I’ll reinstall it and shove it in your face. But I really deslike it, and here’s why.
Honestly, no clue why they created an actual alright-ish story if they didn’t plan on rebranding around it… “Legends of Esperia” or “Tales of Dura” or anything else could have turned this into some sort of Anime or show or proper game. Instead, we have AFK Arena, a game that is all about being AFK, as the name suggests.
Anyways, in the beginning, you get to chose between two heroes: Zaphrael and Lucretia, who kind of stand for a good vs bad kinda choice. Obviously, I have chosen Lucretia, the Betrayed. She’s a Hypogean character that is agility-based and does a lot of damage. Zaphrael wasn’t my cup of tea. I was hoping to get to play more Hypogean characters but haven’t encountered any at all so far really… which feels like a missed opportunity.
As time went on, we defeated enemies in combat and started accumulating more and more diamonds, gold and experience. Diamonds can be used to summon heroes (among other things) that most of the time are common, rare or sometimes potentially legendary. Most heroes can be upgraded into higher rarities, using copies of the same hero. It doesn’t have as “many” characters as Raid: Shadow Legends but it has a lot more unique ones that aren’t just recoloured, especially due to the faction-system.
There are seven different factions: Wilders, Graveborns, Maulers, Lightbearers, Celestials, Hypogeans, and Dimensionals. Having three, four or five heroes of the same faction in a team (max 5) grants your heroes up to 25% bonus attack damage and 25% bonus HP. Having three of one faction and two of another adds 15% bonus attack damage and 15% bonus HP, instead. Celestials basically contribute to this – so you can, in theory, play four Wilders and have Zaphrael in your rows to unlock the 5 Wilder bonus. The Hypogeans, however, grant you a bonus independently. Having one Hypogean grants you +30% defence, having more adds other bonuses. Hypogean heroes deal and receive bonus damage to and from Celestials.
The other four factions have an advantage-disadvantage-system similar to other games, with IE Wilders dealing more damage to Graveborn and receiving more damage from Maulers while also being neutral to Lightbearers. This adds a little bit of strategy to your game but most of the time you’d end up just playing your strongest characters or levelling up the character you like the most… and it works. Really well actually. I would have liked to play Graveborns but they just do not have any characters that I like… Wilders, however, are cute and interesting and have a lot of supportive characters that tickle my fancy.
So, there are different “classes” of characters and you get to level them up and try out different formations… so there is a bit of strategy involved in the game… Generally speaking, though, you can just put in anything and everything and it will work. While some characters are stronger against other ones, you don’t really have to care about that as you only care about having strong characters in your party. Just force your way through the game and you’ll be fine. Occassionally, you’ll notice how one character is underperforming so you replace them with someone else and you’ll be fine again. Changing the position of characters sometimes helps, too… having a healer is super important in later fights but then you’ll need to draw one from the gacha mechanic… and since luck isn’t always on your side, you instead have to level your characters until they’re overlevelled. Similarly, some characters come with only three abilities while others have four, so you eventually wanna get those with more abilities since they’re better than your normal ones. The game feels a bit pretentious as it gives you all of these classes, races, and abilities,… but in the end it’s pay-to-win anyways. The top-ranked players have put money into the game and continue to get better at the game since they have better characters. You can make it quite far into ranked against other people but generally speaking those that spend money at the game have a lot better ways of making it in the game. They have higher winrates and better success chances as they most likely have the better characters. The Guildmaster in my OwO guild approved of this statement, btw. AFK Arena’s PvP is pay-to-win-based. There is no skill needed.
Meanwhile, if you wanna play it casually, you don’t need to pay anything at all. You can grind away and chill… uh, I mean, there is no grind. Nope, no grind. Grinding is bad after all – that’s at least what the ads say! Alas, I started playing four Wilders+Lucretia for a lot of time and then eventually switched over to five Wilders because I like more damage. Then I needed to get the levels all the way up. There is a Crystal that you place heroes into, so that you don’t need to level them up. They instead take over the level of the lowest-level-character in your top five. Alas, you want to level your top-5 to be able to exachange heroes at any given time and keep the levels high. At the same time, you need good gear, and you want some of those uniques… and you also need to get missions done and use diamonds that you’re given to be able to afford the summons at the Tavern.
“You don’t need to grind like in other games”, they said. “You just AFK.” But I needed gold and experience… and the campaign wasn’t giving me enough and also was hard to get to, since you can’t target the enemies at all. Your character hit targets and if they don’t finish off the right ones, they’ll die.
“So what do you do to get stronger?”, I asked in chat.
“Just go AFK”, someone else responded.
“But can’t I just grind something to gain more levels or gold or whatever?”
“Send nudes”, responded some other person. There was no report button, so I didn’t know what to do about that creep.
“You don’t grind in this game. You just AFK.”, said yet another, and I felt as if they were just repeating words they heard in some badly mixed ad on YouTube.
In times like these, I would have loved a good grind. Like, when you want to improve your light level in Destiny 2 and farm some Strikes… or when you clear bounties to be able to get some mod for your weapons… or when you kill fifteen Ebony Odogarons in MHW and still didn’t get that Ebony Odogaron Mantle that is keeping me from posting about Monster Hunter World (there is the reason), so you go at it again in another session and kill it another five times with no drops… and then you’re tired and don’t want to play MHW again for a while so you just don’t do it anymore until 2021. It’s a bit annoying… but when it drops, it’s glorious and satisfying and you’re happy. In AFK Arena, it gets grindy inevitably. But you cannot grind without going AFK. So, if you really like the game, you don’t get the chance to play it, since you have to do something else instead. According to the ads, other games are bad, however, so… uh… mixed signals. What do I do? What do I do?
Ah, right, business! You gotta do business stuff and come back in two hours… or six hours…. or twelve… yeah, still didn’t have enough quite yet for the level ups you need… I guess I just need to hop onto two other guys’ shoulders and wear a trenchcoat in order to get more business stuff done…
Eventually, I uninstalled the game and returned it two weeks later, after seeing that Ainz Ooal Gown from Overlord made it into the game, and indeed I got gold and experience for not playing the game. It was stupid. When you want to progress and get the satisfaction of gearing up your favourite characters, you can’t because you need to wait for whatever reason. In the meantime, you’ll do nothing, I guess, or you play actual games with actual gameplay. Games where you control your characters and where you don’t just spin a slot machine to get more units to use.
Nemora, Arden, and Solise were my favourite characters by the way. I liked them a lot. I won’t miss them, I guess.
So, in the end, I kind of understood why people like the game: It’s basically a clicker game. When you’re not participating in the game, you accumulate gold, experience, diamonds, and gear by just idling. If you upgrade your characters and use them in the campaign, you get more and more gold through the AFK function. Eventually, however, it gets grindy. Which is understandable since it’s a game with a late-game at one point. But the game markets itself as this “non-grindy idle game that is a ton of fun and very strategic” when it actually is quite grindy and nothing like its premise, I guess.
And well, clicker games are great. You have to put in the work yourself at the beginning (or use an auto-clicker). Then you upgrade the different thingies to unlock more ways of clicking in the background. Then you essentially upgrade your thingies even more… and then you do it even more. And then you get bored and move on to other games because… it’s just a clicker game anyways.
Another issue with AFK Arena, however, is that it’s a glorified slot machine really… I’m not entirely sure about how I should feel about a game with a gacha mechanic when it also has cute and cool characters in it that kids could be drawn to… Like, the problem with Gacha games is that they reward you every now and then but often do not do it enough. So, you spin again and again until you get something good. You get dopamines, feel a kick, and suddenly you’re addicted. I guess it’s not that extreme in most cases but I still get a tad worried about loot boxes and slot machines and stuff in games. Not entirely sure how to feel about it, just yet, so I’ll have to think about that some more in the future. Potential writing prompt here, fellow bloggers!
At last, I don’t like false marketing.
Getting to level 100 didn’t take as little time as in the ads. There are no choices. There is little to no strategy involved. Sure, it’s free to play and there is technically no need for you to play it… but I’m not sure if those are selling points. The game doesn’t make you feel energized and healthy again. The common heroes suck.
I guess the ads don’t really have the goal of promoting the game but rather of provoking you into talking negatively about it. In one of the ads they draw ten heroes each to see who’s better at… gambling? And then someone wins because they get this overpowered character who seems to be broken… so uh, while it was about quantity of legendary heroes in the beginning, it suddenly was about who gets that broken character that I’ve never seen anyone use. In the same manner they were battling each other in a different ad, talking about how their characters are better than the other ones and then someone shows up and just brags about this max level character… I don’t know. The ads are super annoying at best and kind of want you to shittalk them because bad PR is good PR. Some of the ads want you to try out the game to see if it really is that bad after all… and some others are just weird…
I don’t think that AFK Arena is a good game at all. I kind of liked the idea of using Wilders and thinking about strategies and stuff… but once I realised that strategy doesn’t matter at all, I was quickly disappointed again.
Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk. See you next time. Happy Holidays.
I never really understand why games have to market themselves in that self-ironic way where they try to upset you in order to try it out yourself… or where they just lie to you in order to get you try out the game. There is an ad with an evolution-mechanic that you use in combat, which is just not true… One ad also shows an easy grind from an isometric perspective that isn’t part of the game. Generally, I feel like this is a bit of a problem with ads these days, especially on the mobile market. To get attention, you need to get lots of reviews or impressions of it… but reviews themselves mean nothing as they can be bought, while “impressions” doesn’t really describe it too well as the only relevant stat is the number of downloads.
AFK Arena doesn’t care about the player experience as long as you download the game, adding to their number of total downloads. I feel like that’s a problem of sites like the Google PlayStore and iTunes and whatever where downloads get put over average playtime and other scores. When people give it a negative review, it doesn’t really matter since at least ten bot accounts gave it five stars without writing a single word. Only caring about the number of downloads means that the same games on mobile app stores are in the top-ten, each and every year – and that’s a bummer.
At last, I don’t want to just shit on games like that. People that like the game are allowed to like it, just like how I’m allowed to dislike it. I feel like I’ve been fair about what I didn’t like and what I criticized about the game, its premise and the false marketing. If that stuff doesn’t bother you, that’s totally okay. You can enjoy the game regardless of my opinion and I’m not judging ya. It’s just an opinion that I published on my blog. So, no hate there.
If you wanna share your opinion on it or if you think I’ve been disrespectful or whatever, let me know in the comment section or hit me up via DMs on Twitter or Discord. Hope you have had some nice holidays and I wish you a great start into 2021. Stay awesome, stay healthy, and live and let live. :)
This post was first published on Indiecator by Dan Indiecator aka MagiWasTaken. If you like what you see here and want to see more, you can check me out on Twitch and YouTube as well.
Strange timing. I just downloaded AFK Arena and a couple other mobile gacha games (Arknights, Sdorica, Evertale) on the iPad a couple days ago, just for the sake of sardonically admiring the tricksy designs of encouraging people to play gacha game (like flashy levels, rewards out the wazoo when first starting out and then trickling off to create the need for jackpot effect, etc.)
I haven’t seriously gotten around to the others, though Arknights seems to be built on a tower defence backbone. AFK Arena is, as you say, built on an idle game backbone. To be able to play it for extended periods of time means being comfortable with just dropping it for a while and coming back to it later, while enjoying the Progress Quest feel of gradually incrementing. I do suspect that the discomfort of those wait periods is intended, because those who cannot wait might feel obliged to spend.
I do think AFK Arena has a secondary backbone of MOBA auto-battlers in its design. The whole 5 vs 5 class based heroes matchup is very reminiscent of DOTA or LOL team collisions. There is some possibility for variation of results if one can sequester say, a damaging mage or assassin in a corner to wreck havoc, tanks with good control or invulnerability skills at the right moment to counter the other team’s ultimates and so on, if the level range is close enough. At some point, naturally, the level gap becomes insurmountable and the idle portion of the game flips back in.
It has a couple of other mini-games to create lateral avenues of progress. There’s a match-3 mini-game in the winter event, and the arcane labyrinth is a clever cheaty way to let players feel the effect of more powerful teams than they already own, so that the desire for more is ever kindled.
Frankly, I’ve never really understood why people pay for gacha games (beyond fooling the odd kid into spending their parent’s money, or correspondingly financially/phone illiterate individuals). There’s always going to be another ladder to climb. Always someone higher than you. Always a longer way to go. You could throw hundreds and thousands of dollars progressing 200 ranks further, but the ranks are effectively infinite. Is getting to a higher level of striving a little bit faster (in a gacha game, where skill is barely a factor, as compared to luck and wallet size) -that- worth it?
I can only surmise that it is comparative rates of progress that catch these people. They want to be faster than their friends, their guild, their network, etc. and thus perceived as better or more superior or more prestigious in some way.
Yours truly has always been content wallowing around in the shallow end of such pools, obligingly waving to those speeding past and just splashing around to feel the water bob us around for fun. This usually means taste testing the mechanics in gacha games, collecting some random card pack openings for the fun of it, putting it aside for the requisite wait periods… and then forgetting about it after some time if those wait periods get too long. Dungeon Boss was one of those games which I enjoyed for a time, and then just never got back around to.
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While I agree that AFK Arena is built on a clicker/idle game, I disagree that it compares anywhere to a Moba. Sure, it’s 5v5 but there is basically no tactic involved. I noticed at one point that in the “high ranks” of the AFK Arena leaderboards people were just placing down their strongest units. There are some people that had two to three healers, for instance or people like me that had a tank, a damage dealer and three supports. I get that there could be some sort of Meta involved but as far as I know, there aren’t really any nerfs or whatever happening… people just end up finding solutions against stuff or spend more money for in-game items to equip their characters with.
While DotA and League have tactics and strategy involved in them, you basically have no choice apart from how you place units down and which ones you use. They attack anyone they want. I noticed that more often than not my “team” would focus the tank while the damage dealers of the enemy would just melt through my supports. That’s a quite accurate description of League’s lower elo but apart from that, I don’t think you can really interpret that much into AFK Arena’s combat.
Again, you have no choice at all. Level characters, put them in, change the formation and then hope that they focus the right person on the enemy side. That’s it.
It does have those labyrinth-levels that feel kind of roguelite-ish but honestly, they were more of a bother than anything else. You spend some time on it and would end up losing the run, getting less rewards, which sucks… But in the meantime, the chest from the Arena didn’t collect all that much loot, so you end up being frustrated.
At the same time, the chest fills up every twelve hours, so you need to start it up again, which is annoying at best.
Otherwise, I agree with you. I mean, succeeding the abundance of quests you have there is somewhat satisfying. You get a lot of rewards but they’re often not quite enough to level up your highest character again. Then you do another one and suddenly are quite close to having enough for yet another level-up. Alas, you spend some extra time but can’t progress since you’re under levelled, so you need to grind levels again but the game doesn’t actually let you grind. You just do the Guild Hunt or alternate modes (King’s Tower, Labyrinth, Event Places, etc.) but they don’t give you quite enough and it all feels like a drag.
I mean, The Friendly Necromancer/Stingite, as well as Naratess/Tessa, said that they put hundreds of hours into the game already and that’s fine. I could see myself logging in between play sessions in MHW/LoL if the game had not gotten this boring.
Just not my cup of tea but certainly better than Raid: Shadow Legends. :)
They attack anyone they want. I noticed that more often than not my “team” would focus the tank while the damage dealers of the enemy would just melt through my supports.
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Yeah, the A.I. isn’t the smartest.