Castle Age comes to iOS with gorgeous art but well-worn gameplay

Castle Age HD is a new text-based RPG from Phoenix Age, Inc. It’s an iOS reimagining of a Facebook game that we last covered back in January 2010. Players must recruit heroes, purchase troops, grow their “army” of friends and battle their way through a fantasy storyline accompanied by some extremely well-drawn artwork. It’s available now for free via the App Store, but despite the HD suffix, it’s an iPhone-specific title.

Gameplay in Castle Age HD is similar to the myriad of other text-based RPGs in the App Store and on Facebook. Players develop their character primarily by taking on quests, which in practice amounts to little more than clicking the “Do Quest” button repeatedly until a bar fills up or energy points run out. In a nod to some narrative development — more than many games in this genre offer — the game does provide some description and occasional dialog scenes between characters as quests are completed. Unfortunately they’re presented as simple text boxes beneath the game’s main interface rather than cutscenes, which means they don’t provide much of a sense of achievement or story progression.

Certain quests may only be completed by specific heroic “General” characters, which the player must purchase using the in-game soft currency. No narrative explanation is given as to why only certain specific heroes may accomplish the tasks in question. Heroes also add certain special abilities to the player while “equipped” — some might provide bonuses in battles against monsters and other players, while others may provide bonuses to the player’s statistics. Other quests require the player to take troops with them, which must also be purchased. These troops perform the same function as the items of “equipment” collected in games such as Mafia Wars and iMob by adding bonuses to the player’s statistics when used in battle against other players.

Battling other players may be accomplished in two ways, both of which require the expenditure of stamina points. Firstly, a “duel” between two players simply compares attack and defense statistics and immediately declares a winner. The player may keep attacking their opponent until they are dead or “too weak to continue,” at which point they may send a taunt message to the other player. Players with large numbers of friends recruited into their “army” may choose to instead “invade” another player, which carries bigger rewards and greatly favors those who play more socially. There is no means for a player to avoid being attacked by rivals — like other games of this type, everyone in Castle Age’s world is fair game for an unprovoked PvP beatdown.

The player may also choose to battle boss monsters once they have been unlocked through questing. These strong beasts also require the expenditure of stamina to defeat. Since these monsters typically have a very large amount of health, recruiting assistance from other players is practically a must if the creature is to be taken down within the 72-hour time limit. The game provides the facility to issue a “call to arms” to members of the player’s army of friends to assist with this, and monster battles also have a “public” list where anyone is able to join and help out with others’ battles.

Daily play is encouraged in several ways — a daily “slots” spin which provides the player with useful items more often than not, and the ability to be blessed by any of the game world’s gods. Accepting a blessing provides a day’s bonus to a statistic and also builds up a pool of “Demi Points” with the deity in question. By acquiring increasingly-large numbers of Demi points, the player is able to unlock numerous rewards such as new equipment, special quests, energy potions and even hard currency, which may be spent on restoring energy, stamina and health, or purchasing premium items and heroes.

The game also features a chat facility, with private chat rooms available for player clans and monster battles, and a public, global chat which requires the purchase of “World Chat” tokens for participation. Despite the use of this system, adopted by many recent games of this type as a spam prevention measure, World Chat is still rife with unhelpful and offensive comments, many of which appear to be sexually explicit in nature. There is also no immediately obvious means of blocking a player or reporting a comment as offensive, making the game potentially unsafe for some players.

Castle Age HD’s highlight is without a doubt its beautifully drawn artwork, though there is something of an overfocus on scantily-clad females in woefully impractical, clearly ineffective armor. As the game is an iPhone title, however, much of this gorgeous artwork is relegated to tiny thumbnail size in the menus making it seem like a bit of a wasted effort. Completing a questline often sees a larger image being put on display, though, and monster battles are accompanied by an eyecatching piece of static but dramatic artwork.

The fine-looking visuals do not, however, disguise the fact that this is a game that we have played many, many times before, disguised beneath a variety of different skins. In gameplay terms, there is very little to distinguish it from its numerous rivals. Although the Demi points system is probably the game’s most distinctive feature, it’s simply another means of retaining users and ensuring they play as often as possible rather than a true innovative or  new mechanic.

All of this means that current fans of text RPGs — of which there are many worldwide — will likely jump on board as something to do while their other games’ energy and stamina points recharge, while those who prefer RPGs where they must actually interact with quests they’re given rather than simply clicking a button over and over will continue to be bewildered by this type of game’s enduring popularity.

Castle Age HD is currently the No. 170 top free game in the App Store charts following an initial peak at No. 3 earlier in the month. It’s also the No. 28 top grossing app and the No. 23 top grossing game, suggesting it is monetizing well among its players. You can follow the game’s progress with AppData, our tracking service for iOS and social games and developers.