Unlike the other spin-off titles in the Dragon Age franchise, which serve to support the narrative and act as subtle advertisements for the main events, Heroes of Dragon Age is an altogether different beast. Aimed squarely at the mobile market, it’s very much a collect-a-thon.
Cutting to the heart of the matter right from the get-go, this is not the game you’re hoping that it will be. The large EA slapped next to the title shows firmly that BioWare have had little to no input on this game and honestly it shows. Whilst the game is a freemium Social RPG by definition, I would struggle to call it a game in any meaningful way, likening it more to those little machines where you put money in to get little collectable figures out.
Visually the game is of a higher quality than ‘Dragon Age Origins’ or ‘Dragon Age II’. EA have spent a great deal of time and attention taking the character models, designs and artefacts from the console games and prettying them up for the smaller screens of your mobile, so much so that screenshots of this game look almost current-generation console quality at times. Each character has their own animation across multiple frames to keep it looking smooth and quality textures are used throughout the experience. Artwork is a miss-match of different artist’s styles, drawn with expert competency but lacking a singular focus. Sometimes characters have a painted quality to them but on other occasions they look like they could be from the pages of one of the official comics. It goes without saying that the main draw of this title is undoubtedly its look.
Sound is taken from across the main-line series, with some remixes of past music and direct ports of others. The same can be said for the SFX, which benefit from having a broad range, though the gameplay is set up in such a manner that you’ll likely hear the same five or six combat noises indefinitely after the first hour of play, once your party has settled on a fixed roster. The advantage of this is that it links it directly to the Dragon Age titles in a way that makes everything feel legitimate and produces an environment that feels like it belongs in the series.
The cracks begin to show when the game turns its attention to a narrative, which is completely fails to produce. EA made the decision to produce a series of battles set up and down the established timeline and lore of the Dragon Age setting, including alternative histories and ‘what if’ scenarios that all add up to make the game a seething mess of mis-matched battlefields with the only linking factor being that they exist to give your characters a reason to fight. It’s a big come-down given the build-up that the game has up to the point you realise this, and given the blighted history of the setting it wouldn’t have been difficult to set the game in a past period and set up a band of heroes trying to save the day in a manner similar to the first games plot. The trouble is that EA want to also include character models of pre-existing named characters from the console releases, and in jamming them into historical settings the game loses all consistency and trace of narrative.
Gameplay is where the game really falls down, which is the biggest problem because without a successful narrative to keep you invested you’re left with a sound and visual show that can’t hold itself together. The gameplay is thin here, with the player basically drawing random characters from a pool and putting them into a squad of four, supported by a single large figure such as a monster. This squad then auto-battles other squads to unlock and progress across a map, technically telling a story but really only giving the concept of one a brief nod in descriptive text subtly kept to the fringes of menus and options screens. You can attach runes to characters, which are won in the same way, and characters come in several rarity’s that depend on how much premium currency you pump into the luck of the draw. Basically it’s a collection game with an auto-battle system bolted on with the rarest team always winning, even if characters occasionally level up and increase stats after a battle. Silver based characters will always beat brass, gold always beats silver. Coupled with an energy system to limit play unless you pay actual money for additional turns and a premium currency used to push for rarer characters and the whole thing becomes a time-sink designed to milk money from fans of the series.
If you’re looking for a deep and compelling slice of BioWare RPG goodness then you’re sadly looking in the wrong place with this title. Heroes of Dragon Age is a good-looking but utter waste of time that takes the name of the franchise without managing to hold itself to any of the ideals that Dragon Age is known for. You’d be better off finding copies of Journeys or Legends.