Legends: Rise of a Hero is a new mid-core role-playing game from MobScience, published by Zynga. It’s been available for a short while on the social network, but has now officially launched globally.

Legends: Rise of a Hero is split into two main components: a building section that is somewhat akin to CastleVille, and a dungeon-crawling action-RPG component. The two parts overlap slightly, in that it’s possible to engage in combat with wandering monsters around the player’s “home” town, and certain actions while exploring the “action RPG” areas require the use of energy, which is primarily expended in the building component. The buildings the player constructs in their home town also provide services for the player’s hero character rather than simply being a means of income.

The building component is fairly conventional. In order to construct buildings, the player must collect raw materials from nearby trees and rocks and then use them to construct the building in question. Unlike a lot of social building games, there is no wait time for the building to be constructed once the resources have been acquired, but the player will have had to expend energy on both collecting the resources and the action to complete construction. Once buildings have been constructed, the player may make use of their special function. Shops are fairly self-explanatory — in exchange for money and raw materials and a wait time (bypassable with hard currency), they will craft equippable items for the player character.

The tavern is an interesting structure, however — it allows players to recruit either their friends who are playing the game or various computer-controlled mercenaries. Recruited characters join the player’s party for a set period of real time, accompanying them on their explorations and assisting them in combat. Adding mercenaries to the player’s party requires either “Loyalty” medals, which are acquired by completing quests and sharing achievements on one’s Timeline, or hard currency. There is no discernible difference between characters hired with Loyalty or with hard currency — the hard currency characters simply provide an alternative means of payment and for the player to hire more per day, since hired mercenaries become unavailable once they have been used once.

Once out in the field, the player and their party explore, battle monsters and uncover treasure. Each map is initially covered with a “fog of war” which must be dispelled by moving close to it. This then reveals its contents. The player is unable to click on anything which they might see poking out of the side of the fog of war until it has been dispelled completely, which can be a little frustrating. This also highlights some of the game’s issues with pathfinding — at times, clicking on an object which is right next to the player prompts an “I can’t get there” message, meaning the player must micromanage their character’s movement rather than relying on the game’s built-in intelligence (or indeed lack thereof).

Battling monsters is considerably better than in other self-professed mid-core RPGs on Facebook. Rather than simply standing in place waiting for the player to knock them down as if they were nothing more than a piece of foliage, monsters in Legends: Rise of a Hero will actively pursue the player and attack them independently. The player has access to a number of different skills depending on the character class they chose at the beginning of the game, and may make use of these by clicking on icons at the bottom of the screen. More powerful skills take longer to “cool down” before they can be used again — the player character will automatically switch to their default auto-attack after one of these special attacks has been unleashed. It is good to see some variety in the skills, but the game’s interface is poorly designed to cater for the real-time action RPG gameplay — the icons for the various skills are very small and difficult to click on in the heat of battle, and there is no apparent means of assigning the skills to “hotkeys” on the keyboard. Simply assigning the skills to the number keys would have made them much more practical to use.

Unusually for a game of this type, it is possible to “fail” by being defeated. The player has a health bar that is independent of their energy bar, and if this drops to zero they are knocked out. If they are in possession of a revival potion, they may get straight back up again with either half or all of their health restored depending on the strength of the potion; if not, they may either expend hard currency on acquiring aforementioned potions or return to their home base with no health. Health restores over time, so the player must either wait or acquire suitable potions to heal themselves. This implementation of a “fail state” works well — it punishes the player for reckless play and being defeated, but does not penalize them with anything more than a wait time. In this way, it will encourage the player to improve their skills and consider alternative strategies to combat.

Legends: Rise of a Hero is off to a good start and has some nice ideas sure to appeal to mid-core RPG players, but there are a number of niggling issues which mar the experience. First of all are the aforementioned pathfinding and skill button issues. Alongside this is the fact that there is no option for the screen to automatically scroll and follow the player character around, meaning that the player must constantly click and drag to follow their progress. This feels somewhat clumsy and isn’t very practical in more intense combat screens. To make matters worse, it is sometimes difficult to accurately click on enemy characters to begin attacking them, which can lead to the player taking damage or even being defeated while they are trying to trigger combat.

Another issue that is a matter of taste but still worthy of note is the game’s visual style. Legends: Rise of a Hero adopts a Zynga-style super-deformed big head aesthetic for its characters, with close-up portraits of characters looking completely inconsistent with their counterparts in the world. This will likely prove divisive — while the cartoony, appealing visual style may attract more casual players who have not tried other mid-core titles in the past, equally it may put off those who prefer less childish graphics. Ultimately it makes it feel like the game isn’t quite sure who it’s for.

Finally, the implementation of an energy system into the game feels superfluous and just ends up being frustrating. Running out of energy does not stop the player from playing — it simply stops them from performing certain actions such as building or looting objects. There is nothing stopping the player from repeatedly wandering around the game’s dungeons to earn enough experience to level up and restore their energy, thereby defeating the play-throttling nature of the energy system. It would be significantly more friendly to players to remove this component altogether and simply use the health mechanic as the main means of monetizing play sessions. That way, players will feel like it is their fault when they have to either wait or pay, rather than running into an arbitrary, unrealistic and immersion-breaking limit on the actions they can undertake.

These issues aside, Legends: Rise of a Hero has the potential to be a very good game — it just isn’t quite there yet. It will be interesting to see how it develops over time — for now, it’s definitely one to keep a close eye on.

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