In the land of a million mobile MMORPGs it takes a lot to separate a specific one from the pack. There have been a few big hits such as Mobage’s Rage of Bahamut and Square Enix’s Guardian Cross, but most others have gotten lost in the big sea of free-to-play mobile apps. Well, I happened to stumble upon a very promising title, Summoners War: Sky Arena, while browsing the app store last week. The Google Play page definitely made the game sound enticing with its “breathtaking graphics” and “enormous collection of over 400 monsters,” but I’ve heard all that before and wasn’t going to be so easily impressed. There are lots of mobile RPGs with decent graphics and lots of things to collect, but most of them aren’t much fun once you actually start playing them.
Once I downloaded the game, the intro wasn’t anything to get excited about and the storyline was pretty generic; greed over mana crystals caused the world to breakout into war and the only solution was to devise an arena to settle differences. The game begins on a floating island where a girl greets you and takes you through the tutorial of summoning and powering up monsters. The island is essentially your home and the monster you collect roam around and can be picked up and moved. I thought this was a pretty cool aspect, since most mobile MMORPGs feature card systems and you never actually get to see your creatures moving in 3D.
The tutorial was pretty basic: summon monsters, power them up, equip runes and purchase buildings. However, when I got the actual combat I was pretty blown away. Not only are all the fights in full 3D, but occasionally monsters get special cut scenes when performing critical attacks. On top of that, every monster has a completely different set of skills that vary depending upon its element type. The elements are fire, water, wind, dark and light with some elements being strong or weak against others.
What really separates Summoners War: Sky Arena from the rest of the mobile MMORPGs is the combat. Players have full control over what happens while fighting; there are no automatically calculated damage totals or simulated card fights, everything happens in real time and the player gets to choose which of their monsters attacks the enemy and what skills to use. The combinations can get really crazy, and with healers, damage dealers, and tanks there are a lot of team varieties with varying amounts of depth. I personally prefer an all-out attack team with three high-damage dealers and a monster with a critical chance buff. There are others that stack health and take advantage of shields or chain healing.
FREE-TO-PLAY OR PAY-TO-WIN?
So the game has relatively great graphics, a fun combat system with lots of depth, and an interactive monster island, but what’s the catch? Well, like many similar games, this one also has a lot of “pay-to-win” aspects to it. However, they have shortened the gap between free players, and those who spend a little or a lot. Monsters fluctuate greatly in usability and rarity from one star to five stars. Unknown Scrolls can be easily acquired throughout the story mode and generate a one to three star monster, but Mystical Scrolls, which can very rarely be obtained through dungeons, summon three to five star monsters and can be purchased with the red mana crystal premium currency.
This obviously means that a player with unlimited money could keep summoning mystical scrolls until they had an entire team of five star monsters, which is a huge advantage over any free players. What saves this system from being completely unbalanced is the fact that any monster can eventually be leveled up to a six star rarity form. Some of the higher level monsters have really strong skills, and this doesn’t balance that out, but there are also a number of great two and three star monsters that could potentially take free-to-play accounts quite far in the game.
In addition to being able to evolve all monsters to the same max level, red mana crystals can also be obtained through missions and daily tasks. Approximately 30 of these crystals can be gathered in a day, which is 1/3 of a mystical summon, but they can also be used for special buildings, extra energy, or additional arena fights. There are also a variety of missions that grant regular mana, red mana, or summon scrolls and can be quite generous (reaching level 35 grants 300 red mana crystals). Now this doesn’t mean that free and paying players are on par, but spending a small amount, between $25-100, would set most players up for a successful start, where similar games can require constant spending into the thousands.
NOT QUITE PERFECT
The massive amount of grinding in Summoners War: Sky Arena is probably going to be the selling or breaking point for most players. There are a ton of things to collect and grind out from runes to awakening material. Each monster has six slots for rune upgrades that can do everything from increase health to give a chance to stun. These runes also have rarities and randomly generated stats, so finding the perfect runes can take quite a long time. Not only can monsters be evolved into stronger versions, but they can also be awakened by collecting material from dungeons. These awakened versions are stronger and usually gain an additional skill or improve an existing one. My Ninetails, for example, will gain additional attack and a chance to stun with one of its skills once awakened.
So does Summoners War: Sky Arena still contain many of the issues that mobile MMORPGs are known for? The short answer is yes, but they are clearly working on them and lessening the disparity between free-to-play and pay-to-win. Anyone looking for an incredibly fun and addicting mobile game should definitely give this one a try for the great combat and graphics alone. I give Summoners War: Sky Arena an overall 4/5.
Great mobile graphics
Compelling combat mechanics
Interactive base building
Pay-to-win to an extent
Lots of grinding
Some game errors/glitches