I come from a time when games had to have the total attention of the player, now, this is a completely foreign concept to me, but apparently, there’s an influx of very popular games in the Asian market that pretty much allows for a good portion of the game to operate on its own while you go do something else. When I first I learned about this, I had my doubts because there’s no way this design can work and be fun. Yet somehow, Nexon Red’s AxE: Alliance vs Empire manages to make this mechanic enjoyable while still offering what you would expect out of an MMORPG.
Off the bat, the story of AxE isn’t anything to marvel at. There is a good and bad faction who are at odds with each other. The basic gameplay loop has you run around meeting a bunch of NPCs, doing quests, fighting a wide variety of enemies, and picking flowers, so yes, this game gets pretty deep. I haven’t really seen too many MMORPGs with engrossing lore besides World of Warcraft, so I can’t fault this game for that.
Players can pick from three different classes in each faction. The Alliance offers an Archer, a Titan, and a Blademaster, while the Empire has a Valkyrie, Warrior, and Mage. Ultimately, this system makes certain classes locked behind a faction and I’m not a fan of the fact that I can’t play certain classes just because of the faction I pick. In games like this, I typically like to play assassin style or ranged damage characters. Yes, the mage is ranged, but I hate playing mages in any game. Usually, I like to play “the good guys” when it comes to picking a side, but sadly this game doesn’t allow that combination based on its character class system.
That said for this review, I ended up picking the Valkyrie who has a good variety of heavy damage abilities while providing support like healing spells. Upon starting the game, I was blown away by the visuals which rival that of the likes of TERA. It was surprising, to say the least for a mobile game. Character designs all look fantastic and enemy types aren’t always the same. Even major cutscenes look fantastic, almost reminiscent of epic fight scenes you would see in The Lord of the Rings. However, the dialogue scenes show somewhat crudely drawn NPCs which is a sharp contrast to the visual beauty the rest of the game presents.
Throughout the game, you gradually unlock more abilities for your character as you level up, opening up the different ways you can approach each fight. Fighting is actually engaging enough to feel like the abilities I used were impactful against enemies. I have to manage cooldowns, determine when it’s best to stun an enemy, heal myself, and more. However, I was almost force fed a huge amount of equipment to boost the stats of my character that I sometimes wonder if I need to put much thought into fights, to begin with. It creates the illusion of choice in fights since at times I could literally button mash my basic attacks to win. Take that how you will, but they did a great job of at least giving the feeling of choice, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing. When I’ve played MMORPGs in the past, I kind of mindless clicked around killing enemies. If anything, a lot of games in this genre depend upon your item and equipment management alongside your mechanics. There were a few times where I ended up taking a lot of damage just because I didn’t upgrade my items or equip my better weapons.
What I find most interesting is AxE’s auto-battle/movement feature, where you can literally put down the game as it plays itself. Occasionally, you have to pick up the game to navigate a menu here and there to progress, and you can even open up other menus while the game continues to play in the background. While a bit of an odd concept, especially here in the West, I found it pretty useful since there have been plenty of times in other MMORPGs where I hated endlessly walking or having to farm small enemies for a quick quest. Normally when I play video games, I expect to play the game. However, this was a welcome addition given the format of AxE. Aside from that, there are plenty of dungeons, raids, and other events that offer PVP and PVE game modes that greatly extend this game’s length and can be unlocked as you go along the main campaign.
AxE does a lot of things right in providing what people expect out of a traditional MMORPG. With its relatively engaging combat, a robust (although force fed) list of items and equipment to use for your character, and beautiful design, AxE offers something that I haven’t exactly seen from other mobile MMORPGs. It is weird that I can find joy in not actually having to play the game, but at least I don’t have to always button mash for a fight while I just kick back and watch some of my favorite anime. In the event that I wanted to actually play AxE, it does provide everything that I would need out of an MMORPG experience. However, that’s where the game loop finds its faults. I’m not incentivized to always play aside from having to progress through some menus. I would have liked more hands-on quests that play out alongside these automated systems. Either way, AxE is a much-welcomed experience since the mobile platform lacks MMORPGs as unique as what AxE is offering.
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