Dungeon Hunter 4 (iOS) review

Dungeon Hunter 4 is a new iOS release from Gameloft, set to release later this week. It will be a free download from the App Store, with additional in-app purchases. An Android version will likely follow in the near future.

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The previous game in the Dungeon Hunter franchise, Dungeon Hunter 3, ruffled a few feathers when it was released for two reasons: firstly, it represented a shift from the “pay once, play forever” model of the previous two Dungeon Hunter games to the fashionable freemium model, and secondly it abandoned the series’ Diablo-style action RPG exploration-heavy gameplay in favor of multiplayer arena-based battles with little to no exploration. Despite the backlash from fans of the series, Dungeon Hunter 3 wasn’t a fundamentally bad game; it just wasn’t a Dungeon Hunter game.

Now Dungeon Hunter 4 seeks to address at least some of the issues fans had with the previous game. The freemium model still remains, much to the chagrin of those who disliked it in Dungeon Hunter 3, but the focus has returned to a narrative-led, exploration-heavy experience rather than cooperative multiplayer arena battles — though the latter are still present for those who enjoy them.

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In Dungeon Hunter 4, players can control one of several different character classes, each of whom has both male and female versions. Different classes have different strengths and weaknesses — some are good at close-up melee attacks, while others prefer to strike from range. All characters can survive perfectly well by themselves, but once a certain amount of progress has been made in the game, it becomes possible to team up with other players or even battle against them.

The game is controlled using two virtual thumbsticks — the left stick is used for movement, while the right is used to aim and attack. As with most virtual thumbstick controls, these are not particularly accurate and are quite difficult to use on the small screen of the iPhone due to the fact that they are both surrounded by other buttons — which can sometimes lead to accidentally triggering skills unintentionally when all you wanted to do was move. It is also difficult to aim special skills accurately using the right thumbstick — it’s all too easy to set a spell off in completely the wrong direction.

As the player defeats the hordes of demonic monsters attacking the kingdom, they earn experience points, and on each level up can use a skill point to upgrade or improve their skills. Players may also use gold they collect through adventuring to purchase and upgrade equipment, though the latter option takes varying periods of real time that can, of course, be bypassed with hard currency. Strong items may also be crafted using raw materials collected through adventuring.

The game caters to both solo and social players. Much of the game’s storyline can be completed as a solo adventurer, but the game also offers cooperative levels where the player may team up with their peers, cooperative arenas similar to those seen in Dungeon Hunter 3, and player vs player areas for battling against live opponents. The game also allows the user to brag about their achievements and level-ups on Facebook via Gameloft’s proprietary Live service and Facebook, though this is always optional. Game Center support is also included, but at the time of writing there were neither leaderboards nor achievements implemented.

The game monetizes primarily through its hard currency of gems, which can be used for a variety of purposes — many of which, such as the ability to unlock skills before reaching their normally required level, or purchasing “booster” potions to give a significant boost to the player’s stats and rate of growth, err towards the “pay to win” side of things. The option that is most likely to cause upset among players, however, is the game’s implementation of health potions — players are given three health potions for free, and after that, they must either wait for them to regenerate over several hours, or purchase more using hard currency. The player is also regularly bugged with popups of “special offers” at inappropriate times such as while in the middle of leveling up, as seen in the screenshot below. Most loading screens also display a “featured item” of some kind.

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It’s all very well wanting to embrace the freemium model for a game — Dungeon Hunter 3 obviously proved profitable enough to warrant a sequel, despite complaints from the community — but the contrast between the “business” and “game” parts of Dungeon Hunter 4 is extremely jarring. The excellent graphics, dramatic music and high-quality voice acting provide the potential for a hugely immersive experience that rivals computer and console games — Gameloft is clearly shooting for the crowd who enjoyed Blizzard’s Diablo III with Dungeon Hunter 4’s aesthetic and tone — but this immersiveness is brought crashing down as soon as the game starts begging for money, which is quite often. If the monetization was provided as an option to the player rather than being rammed down their throat at every opportunity, Dungeon Hunter 4 would be a good example of a high-quality free-to-play game. As it stands, however, its “business” side systematically unravels all the good work that its “game” side does, leaving the whole game feeling like it’s not quite sure what it wants to be. Objectively speaking, it’s a good game — it just could have been a great one without the freemium side of things getting in the way of the lovingly-crafted (if rather clichéd) world and narrative. It remains to be seen if the player base will tolerate the rather aggressive monetization.

Following its release, you’ll be able to follow Dungeon Hunter 4’s progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social games and developers.

Wait

A quality Diablo-like for iOS with some uncomfortably aggressive monetization.

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