Spelltorn separates itself from a sea of Social RPGs on iOS by basing itself more firmly on the principles of a pen and paper role playing game than other such titles. Offering an experience that is in part decided by player choice, with branching paths and dungeons that have been carefully crafted to provide an interesting experience.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Spelltorn is that it eluded people’s attention for so long, gathering a modest following but not reaching the heavy heights of the king of user-base seen in ‘Book of Heroes’ or ‘Castle Age’. Developed by 2XL Games and still running (though unsupported, as the last in-game event was in 2014!) on current iPhones and Tablets, it offers a unique experience for a free-to-play game.
Graphically, Spelltorn has a lot going for it, using high quality hand-drawn 2D illustrations to set a scene. This is drawn in a style similar to that of artwork seen in western game-books and immediately inspires thoughts of Games Workshop and Wizards of the Coast. Semi-serious in tone, the game displays background artwork to set the location of a dungeon and then builds it one room type at a time on top of that artwork as you explore. These rooms can be literal wooden buildings with doors or long grass, wilderness, etc. It brings a sense of exploration missing in many social type games where you usually go to a fixed area and grind out battles without moving and allows for some clever dungeon design. A highlight is a jaunt around a haunted ship where the game uses the narrative and a maze-like structure to keep the player guessing as to where to go next whilst maintaining a ship-like formation of square rooms at all times. Monsters are well drawn static images, as are player avatars, though you change their gear as you progress. There is a slight lack in monster variation, but this is overcome by the situations the game uses to re-introduce them making logical sense in-game. Menus are easy to scroll through, with the home page relatively uncluttered given the amount of things that can be done or accessed using it, and the top corners of the screen always have quick-links to the ‘back’ and ‘menu’ options.
Sound is nicely implemented, however largely uninteresting. Exploration will take you room to room and one can only hear the movement effect so many times before muting the games sound, which is a shame as some of the musical pieces used throughout the game are excellent for setting the tone of each area. Short though they may be, the game does manage to produce a distinct atmosphere. Combat effects are better, though with a limited range of attacks to choose from, these too become annoying over longer sessions.
In terms of narrative the game does an excellent job. Taking on the role of a player-named avatar the game casts you into a story that takes place in a fantasy realm that is equal parts sword and sorcery and pirate adventure novel. Serving as the right-hand of a pirate captain, often charged with specific tasks for the good of the crew, you’ll see a lot of action and the game breaks down into 100 chapters that can be replayed at will (with experience and bonuses intact) that each make up self-contained adventures as well as forwarding the ship’s journey across a group of islands. Character dialogue is well written and story branching decisions are common to the game, which takes time out to delve into inter-character banter to preserve a sense of place. I was extremely impressed with the games narrative structure and wish that more games of this kind took the time to focus on a compelling story in this way.
If the game suffers in any area it’s because of the use of an energy meter, which can limit how long you spend with the game at first. As you level up and progress this slowly ceases to be an issue, but out of the gate you’ll find that some of the dungeons are immense and whilst you want to complete them in one sitting you’ll be forced to come back later when it’s been restored or spend money on a premium potion to restore it immediately. Health works in a similar manner, regenerating slowly at all times and with no real punishment for losing, but the game will make you wait to restore it or push you toward buying a ‘life stone’ to continue a failed battle. It’s the freemium element that you can either knuckle down and ignore or consider a deal-breaker. There are few to no other hassling points to spend real money in this title, and those that are presented are worked around easily. Battles themselves take place in a strictly turn-based manner but are also on a timer of roughly two minutes to prevent you just standing still to regenerate health and win through attrition. You will always have five options to draw upon in battle, decided by your class (a choice of Warrior, Rogue or Mage) and sub-class, which offers the same choice to further specialize or allow for overlap between classes. Spell casting rogues and sneaky warriors are easily made, or you can double down to wield two swords in combat as a knight. As you attack a special gauge will fill, providing energy to use on better attacks. Beware however as the same applies to an opponent and some bosses have devastating attacks to call upon, requiring stunning at the right time to skip that turn. Normally these encounters are 1-1 affairs, but up to 4 allies can join you in battle and on these occasions the game really shines, opening up a simple system into something more complex. Missions each take place in their own story chapter and come with a large map to explore which can range from modest in scale to huge multi-floor affairs. Not content to simply be time-sinks, these have sub-events, switches, traps, areas of interest and secret locations to explore on top of being brilliantly designed mazes. Loot gathered gets added to a bag which keeps it separate from your inventory until the mission is complete. Once you can access it however you can use it to upgrade weapons and armour, as well as enchanting it with bonuses that wear-down in real-time such as bonus exp or strength. You also have a chest which can be upgraded and this acts as a barrier between your inventory and the modest amount taken by an opponent if they best you in PVP. Guilds, allies and social structure are all present as are special events, though sadly 2XL Games seem to no longer be supporting this title, focusing instead on sports and racing themed titles.
Overall, Spelltorn is an excellent game that offers some brilliant narrative based roleplaying and features brilliant dungeons, but is let down slightly by a small community that largely keeps to itself and a developer that has seemingly given up on the title. Were the game at the height of its powers it would easily be a whole star higher in this review, but sadly we’ve encountered it as it begins the end of its lifespan. Hopefully the game will be available for a few more years before it breaks or be taken on by another company.