From Final Fantasy Tactics to Ravenmark, the Turn-Based Strategy genre has been well endowed with great stories. Far more rare is the great multiplayer TBS, but D20Studios just set the benchmark with Hero Mages (Out Now, $2.99). It definitely has lots of room for growth, but with great game mechanics, a stable and lightning-fast server, and a healthy online community from what I’ve seen in its opening weekend, Hero Mages is your go-to game if you’d rather skip the political plots and get right to cutting down your friends with swords and sorcery — virtually, I mean!
Check out last week’s hands-on preview for a rundown of Hero Mages’ battle system. It plays just as well as it sounds on paper. Together with last month’s Hunters 2, Hero Mages demonstrates the truism that the more the dev lets you squeeze out of a game’s characters, the more fun it is! So while you’ll only be working with a team of three aside from any monsters you happen to summon in, you’ll always feel like you’ve got an entire army at your fingertips. And don’t forget that the game lets players ally into teams of any practical size, so there are some truly epic battles to be fought here.
While scale isn’t a concern, the range of units at your disposal feels pretty limited at six. Detail-oriented players are sure to appreciate the offensive and defensive nuances of every combination, and yet a wider character roster would bring so much more to discover. It does help that there’s a positively dizzying deck of spell cards for your mage to use, affording game-changing moves like tearing down battlefield walls and teleporting units. Also check our interview with the developer for some of the welcome ways Hero Mages is set to expand. My personal hope is that player performance – measured through an internal leaderboard system – will eventually factor into character unlocks, as that would give veterans something delicious to work toward.
When it comes to multiplayer, I reckon the options for setting up a game are just about as important as what happens inside. And boy, does Hero Mages serve up options! When you host a game you have an astounding level of control over turn time limits, battlefield size, the composition of AI-controlled squads, team assignments…if you can imagine it, Hero Mages probably lets you determine it.
There is a downside to this ultra-high degree of configuration. Gamers who are already well-steeped in multiplayer might not bat an eyelash, but novices can easily drown in all the options here — and unlike the gameplay itself, match setup isn’t particularly well documented. I’m still trying to figure out the difference between an “Elimination” match, an “Assassination” match, and a “Mage Duel” match, for example. It’s not entirely clear if there’s a way to back out of the match config screen and preserve your settings while you declare an invitation to the main lobby, or if there’s a way to save a match template for later use. For better or worse, you’ll definitely want to keep the game’s forum URL handy to ask about the more esoteric things and request features for updates.
Hero Mages is very aesthetically polished, with some of the most impressively animated sprites I’ve ever seen in a game presented from a top-down perspective. It’s just a darn shame that there are only two music tracks; here’s hoping for more in updates because what’s already there is pretty groovy.
iFanzine Verdict: Hero Mages sets a high standard for multiplayer TBS games on iOS, both in gameplay and in technical terms. With more units and better match setup documentation in the future, it can easily reach for perfection as it matures.