It's pretty rare to see an iOS strategy game that not only has a captivating story, sound gameplay mechanics, and challenging difficulty, but also manages to accomplish all this while not being a tower defense derivative. Companions [$4.99 / Lite] manages to achieve all this and more, and leads to a great experience for those iPad owners looking to try out a real strategy game.
Companions offers two game modes: a quick play 'Single Map' mode that has you pick from a set of maps and jump right into the fray, and a campaign mode, which is where the vast majority of content lies. The campaign mode is a fixed story that follows your adventurous group as they take on hordes of enemies while trying to save the world. I actually found the underlying campaign story compelling, as the game’s writing does a great job explaining why each of your individual teammates ends up in this fight against evil. Also, it's refreshing to see each party member actually have a personality and want to accomplish the end goal for their own personal reasons.
Companions controls almost like an RTS -- players tap on individual team members and then tap on the enemies you want to attack. In addition to this simple attack mechanism, each party member also has special skills that are activated manually and are on a cool down. There are no auto-abilities, and your characters will not attack unless they are in range of the enemies (and facing the right direction). This requires you to constantly stay on top of the action, as a lapse in attention could mean the death of one of your four companions, which ends the game. Since death can happen quite suddenly, I would suggest quick saving as much as possible (although the game does auto-save at certain events). It’s important to note that while the game can be difficult, it is certainly not cheap – good planning and management of your party almost always leads to certain victory.
One of the things that I think Companions absolutely nails is the variety of classes you can have on your team. When you start a game, the races of your four team members are always static (Minotaur, Elf, Human, and Dwarf). However, within each race are three different classes that not only bestow different physical stats, but also have different skill sets as well. While all the classes for each race follow an overall theme, each class can result in drastically different play styles. The variety in each class affects not only the way each adventurer plays, but how they interact with the group as a whole. It's a very well done system.
Companions also includes a comprehensive inventory system with (mostly) randomized drops, as well as an experience/leveling structure. This all leads to a higher likelihood of you wanting to start a new game to see how different classes interact with each other. The only thing I really wish the game incorporated was some kind of currency or item shop, as you’re going to be finding a lot of equipment, and it just seems a shame that you’re going to leave the vast majority of it on the ground since there’s nothing you can do with it.
Gamers that have never played a deep strategy game or those that may be hesitant to try a title that is actually challenging need not worry -- Companions features a somewhat comprehensive tutorial that does a good job explaining the general controls as well as providing a broad overview of each of the races and potential classes. While I thought the tutorial was well-done and should be mandatory for anyone just starting out, I did find it a little odd that the tutorial culminated with a survival-esque battle against monsters in which the player can never win. I imagine that it could possibly demotivate those newcomers looking to learn the mechanics. Then again, folks like that probably shouldn't be playing a game like this.
As evidenced above, it's pretty obvious that in order to survive in Companions decent micromanagement skills are almost necessary. That's why it's somewhat disappointing that the controls aren't quite as responsive as I would like. I found myself on multiple occasions trying to tap a particular character and not having it register. Also, while I am thankful for the group formation and party-wide controls, I wish I could have the option to only select part of my group, rather than the current "one or all" scheme. Admittedly, the 'tactical pause' (an in-game pause that allows you to stop the action while you plan things out, but only for a limited amount of time) does a good job of alleviating most of the control issues, making these concerns not as big an issue as they may be in other titles. You can check out this developer video for an explanation of how the tactical pause works.
Despite these minor complaints, I found Companions to be an enjoyable experience, and one that does the adventure strategy genre proud. Furthermore, the developer has been quite active in our forums, addressing concerns and implementing bug fixes and suggestions on a regular basis. If you’re looking for a good strategy adventure with some real depth, look no further and take the plunge into Companions.