Mobile games tend to generate a lot of dislike, and of those Idle games seem to be the most universally despised by those who consider themselves hardcore gamers. But they have their place. We all love to dive into a deep and rich narrative and engage with every system a game has to offer, but we also have to work, and sometimes having a game run beside us while we do so is just what we need to break the monotony. Champions of Avan has taken some slack for not being the same kind of RPG as the last title produced by Early Morning Studio, but it produces a very cathartic experience dripping with a sense of character.
Early Morning Studio made something of a splash on the mobile scene when they launched the grim-dark RPG ‘Vampire Fall: Origins’, and as a developer they have made no attempt to hide their love of RPGs. Champions of Avan falls neatly into a space between resource management, exploration and mission-based objectives, bringing to mind the mouse-driven PC titles of yore.
Graphically the game styles itself around a single, vast world map that is filled with wonderful small details and can be viewed from a distance or zoomed in closely to engage in little aspects of the world design. Whilst largely static, there are animated elements that preserve a sense of life in what is a dying landscape. Tiny fires radiate light and flicker, sink holes steam in the wastes and flies abound in the marshes. It’s a brilliantly laid out, grim and moody environment to explore as each victory in combat pushes back the darkness and reveals more of the wider world. Whilst markers signpost locations, carts and parties work the roads, keeping a sense of productivity that circles your growing kingdom. Artwork is static but full of character, with every party member having a distinct look and monstrous creatures suitably repulsive.
Sound is sparse by design, though it helps when the developers already know that the target audience will be playing whilst working and will have muted the game by default. Birdsong and ambient sounds litter the world map with no music to be found. Sound is used to punctuate decisions in menus, sound the start of combat and add life to the battles, or roar a victory, but otherwise this is a bare bones package for those seeking a depth of audio design. Coupled with the world and tone they are building, it works very well, but lovers of a good soundtrack will have to look elsewhere.
The title’s narrative sees you overseeing the building of a castle in the bad lands. Avan is one of the first locations you visit in Vampire Fall: Origins and because of this the title plays as something of a prequel to the Studio’s earlier work. Starting with a simple mot and bailey affair and tapping the most local of resources until it can be upgraded and you can spread your wings and afford to build a tavern, hospital, forge and other necessities. Rather than play out in dialogue, the game presents the player with missions with the smallest traces of flavour txt to draw them onto the next location to conquer, encouraging expansion to keep the game rolling. Similarly characters recruited all have a personality to them, but their backstory is told in their skills and weaknesses rather than made. It’s the kind of subtle we like, but really, it’s not enough. The game could easily have had a few lengthier text segments to build a better narrative and even manages to have a character speak upon the games conclusion, showing that the engine already incorporates this. The subtleties are appreciated, but the opportunity to really story tell or dive into some lore for the land they created is missed.
Gameplay is simple but oddly satisfying. Build a stable of adventurers and outfit them with gear, sending them out on missions in parties to earn gold, experience and push the boundaries of the explorable world. Locate and claim sites to generate wood, ore and gold, then pump that into building up a stronger castle, forge, hospital, arena and more. It’s a satisfying game loop and literally everything can level to become more productive. When the party is dispatched to a location the player will usually know what resistance they will be meeting and plan accordingly, then it’s a case of waiting for them to get there and engage in turn based combat that plays out automatically. Skills trigger, crits and misses occur and it’s surprisingly deep below the hood given that it’s displayed to the player as two rows of faces hammering into each other until one site falls. Checking on your party provides information such as what skills each member possesses and they can be equipped with a weapon in either hand alongside chest, leg and head armour that can be purchased from the shop, won in battle or forged over time by the blacksmith. Time is the real currency here, because even closed the game will continue to mine and play out tasks, with some small events cropping up around the kingdom to keep things rolling. Skill trees, arena duels and special battle events at weekends play out alongside a generous free to play system that encourages you to watch an ad for a chunk of gold, or to spin a daily wheel for a free item or weightier loot drop. It’s all very passive but quite satisfying to drop in and out of as you play. When the world map is cleared and every mission accomplished a sole mage will appear on a mountain and allow for the game to be reset, increasing the difficulty but allowing you to maintain your kingdom, items and stable of heroes. At first this wasn’t something that we thought we would bother doing, but the allure of more play had us restart several times over and the game remains fun on subsequent play throughs.
So would we recommend Champions of Avan? If you’re looking for something to concentrate on, sink your teeth into or tell you a story, then no. It’s also a very short game and playthroughs become faster on subsequent playthroughs with maxed builds or party members. But if you want to prop up your phone, get to work and tap the screen between calls whilst watching a kingdom wide quest unfold it’s a pretty good time. Given the title is entirely free, you’d be a fool not to give it a look and see what you think for yourself.