Dungeon Hunter 5 – iOS Version

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They really should have named this one “Wallet Hunter 5” because Gameloft clearly invested more time into figuring out things to charge players for than in designing a game that you could play long enough to get lost in.

But lets start with the “good news.” DH5 is a really good looking game. At least Gameloft ensures that the quality is always there. The animations and scenics are top-notch on the iPad and the movements of the characters look surprisingly natural. The variable zoom (zoom changes based on where you are on the map – not sure what logic drives it) is kind of pointless and makes using ranged weapons more of a fire-and-forget affair.

The main dungeon is big enough with lots of missions. I’m only up to number thirty. And you can play through at three different levels. The environments are all interesting looking and there’s treasure chests hidden in corners and corners on every map.

There’s essentially three activity modes. There’s the solo play where you try to get through missions. There’s contests where you are trying to win cool gear. And then there’s your “stronghold” which you have to populate with minions to defend it – and you can attack other player’s strongholds. Winning a stronghold attack gets you currency and experience.

There’s tons of equipment and a pretty complex upgrade scheme. You can’t buy equipment, you have to find it and the “fuse” it together to make better gear. You can also get gear from buying chests – but these essentially cost cash money. The game does have a lot of depth – the art work for all the items and monsters alone is impressive.

And now, the “bad news.”

Everything in this game is rigged to force you to spend money. There’s two kinds of “energy”, one which you use to play missions and contests, and one which you use to raid other player’s strongholds. You don’t get much energy. You can refill for “10 gems”. So you quickly find that you can play for around ten or twenty minutes and then you’re out of energy. You either pay cash to keep playing, or put the game aside.

Now, as your character advances, you get more base energy to work with. But, of course, the cost of missions also increases as you advance. And the rate at which mission costs increase greatly exceeds the rate at which character energy reserves increase. A Level 25 character can play about 3 “Hard” missions before running out of energy – that’s maybe 10-15 minutes of real time. Then you have to stop for at least half an hour. Or: spend cash money.

Next, there’s health potions. In “Dungeon Hunter 2” you found potions as you traversed the dungeon. Or you could buy them with currency you found in the game. Not in DH5 – potions cost cash-based currency. One bad mission can cost the equivalent of a couple dollars if you run out of potions.

Also, in DH2 your character could regain health over time. They auto-healed. So if you got beat up and were out of potions, you could just slow down your progress on that level and rebuild your health. In DH5, you can regain health with certain items but only when you score hits or kills. The problem is you’re usually outnumbered badly on the higher levels and in order to score hits to regain health, you end up taking hits which knock you back down. So the only recourse is – you guessed it – spend money on more potions.

In DH2 you could buy whatever you wanted from various “shopkeepers.” In DH5 you have no control over what you get. It’s random. That also means you don’t get to tailor your gear to your style as much as you’d like – you take what the randomizer gives you. Of course, this means you have to spend more time and buy more stuff to get the gear you want.

The upgrade requirements are bizarre. There’s “fusion boosters” and bonuses for fusing the same kinds of things together. And then there’s special items needed to move something from two-star to three-star, or three-star to four-star. Only one problem with that – some of these items are only available in contests on certain days. So if you get a weapon ready to advance to the next level on the wrong day: you have to wait.

Oh, and of course the cost requirements to advance items goes up geometrically as you advance. The only way to keep up is, you guessed it: spend money.

Then there’s the “chests”. A chest promises you could win “up to a five-star” item. One item. Chests cost the cash equivalent of $5 (50 gems). But you don’t get a five-star item. Or a four-star one. You get a three-star item. It’s bad enough ripping players off, but this kind of hucksterism is deplorable.

In order to make any kind of progress early on, you need to buy a couple of chests. This will get you enough capability to get to around a Level 15 player. And that’s where you hit the wall. Three-star items barely get you from mission to mission after around the twentieth mission. You’re always running out of healing potions. You start losing Stronghold raids. And you have no way to get a four-star item other than grinding through.

The dungeon levels are fine for what they are, except it’s way too linear and there’s no sense of there being any “places.” In DH2 there were different worlds and a real sense of going from one to the other. DH5 is just a linear stream you wade through without any really well-defined story – at least not a story you notice or give a damn about.

The end result is a game that’s more about managing currency than exploring dungeons and killing monsters. You literally spend more time managing these aspects than you do crawling through dungeons. And it’s a game you can’t sit down and say “I’m going to lose myself for a couple of hours” – because you can’t play that long without running out of energy or currency or both.

I thought EA’s “Real Racing 3” brought Freemium gaming to a new low. But DH5 is just as bad, if not worse. In RR3 you could at least keep playing – maybe you had to switch to a lower car class while repairs were made on your “good” ride, but you could keep playing. Not in DH5 – you constantly run out of energy and have to stop playing for sometimes an hour or more.

DH5’s whole design seems to be guided by the need to make players spend money. And not just a couple of dollars here and there – $20 to $50 to get anything worthwhile. I have no issue with game developers making money, but In-App Purchases should be to get stuff to get over hurdles so you can keep playing, or to get special stuff (skins, add-ons, etc.). When IAP’s are needed just to keep crawling a scripted dungeon for more than 20 minutes, there’s something seriously vile happening.

Follow up to this review … a month later …

After messing around and spending more than I wanted, my opinion hasn’t changed. It’s a really good game, but way too driven by revenue-generating instruments. To their credit, GameLoft spends serious resources on artwork and updates and providing new “special events” every few days.

If you want to play this game, plan to spend $100 at least. There’s no point fighting it. Get the big bucket of gems right away, invest in opening “chests” to get some good equipment, and then go kill stuff. After that, as long as you can maintain some self-discipline DH5 is a nice little diversion. Especially if there’s a “collector” side of you – the artwork on a lot of the armors and weapons is really well done.