Cedar Hills Games' Emissary of War [Free] has a lot to live up to. As we've already covered in our preview and our interview with CEO and former BioWare employee Tobyn Manthorpe, the game has a pedigree that's going to be hard to live up.

The core of Emissary of War lies in a simplified isometric hack-and-slash. Control is handled by tapping the screen where you want to go and your character, Ghent, moves there. Simple enough, right? But iOS games never seem to get this modest system right, no matter how hard they try. Thankfully, EoW nails it and it feels natural -- no pathfinding issues to speak of and Ghent moves exactly where you tell him.

Considering where it comes from, the story in Emissary of War is probably what most people are interested in. To that end, there is a reasonable chance you're going to feel a little cheated. Not because it isn't good, but because it's short, as is the game as a whole, but if you walk in expecting a short story that operates more as a prologue, you'll find less to be disappointed in. It's short enough, in fact, there is a Game Center achievement for beating it in under forty minutes.

The game kicks off with the two main characters, the protagonist, a barbarian named Ghent and his assistant, Hassock. The two are wondering around making allies for an upcoming war. Your primary control is of Ghent, with Hassock coming in as potion and spell relief. You queue up his actions as you need them and while it simplifies things a bit, it works well, although you'll be spamming the potion button more often than anything else.

You'll spend your time making your way through a variety of environments to talk with different factions about teaming up in the upcoming war. There aren't any dialogue trees or anything, this is a strictly linear experience, but the lighthearted nature of your hero and his partner makes things feel different than most of these games. Along your journey you'll be picking up coins and runes that can be used to upgrade your characters, but most of the upgrades are fairly shallow, you upgrade health, power and a few different weapons and that's all.

In that way, Emissary of War has a lot in common with Pocket RPG. It's stripped down for mobile play and operates in small, bite-sized bits. The levels fork off occasionally to reveal extra runes, but you'll never stray too far in the wrong direction. You can play the first chapter in around twenty minutes, then unlock the second with an in-app purchase of $2.99 to play the second chapter, which is about the same length. It's content with offering up a snapshot of a world and teasing you with the idea of more.

So, the game is short, that has been established, but it is solid. The visuals compliment the action well and the control scheme is the best I've seen in a touch-and-slasher. There is full voice acting for every character as well, but it's on par with a '70s B-movie in quality. I can't help but think the game would have benefited more from gaining an extra chapter or two and cutting the voice work. It's nice in theory, but it's really not necessary in a mobile game.

Emissary of War's biggest triumph is its style and its lighthearted nature. Sure, Ghent looks and talks a little silly, but he's supposed to. Where there are plenty of garden-variety hack-and-slash games in the App Store right now, EoW has a soul behind it so you connect and sympathize with the characters, it's just too bad there isn't more of it.

The story doesn't end with chapter two, so it will be interesting to see what Cedar Hills Games does with it moving forward because at the moment, it feels more like a proof-of-concept than a full-blown game. The serialized story idea is tough to wrap your head around in a RPG and figuring out a way to balance gameplay with variety and story is going to be a serious challenge moving forward. If they can pull it off, Emissary of War could be something truly special.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Briker Ed

    I liked and I really, really wish it was longer and had more depth. The overal atmosphere is delightfully light hearted, like an 80's fantasy/adventure film. Hope they update it over the time with more chapters. I dunno, it really was disappointing when it was over before it began and the skills/weapons system got me puzzled till the very end (I kept thinking that, eventually, more skills and weapons would open to unlock). 
    These guys need to make a hack&slash dungeon crawler. Keep the style, just throw in more silly characters, items, randomly generated dungeons and an unbelievably ridiculous story to follow it all and I couldn't keep my paws off. Co-op? Drool.... Can already see myself getting addicted to it like I am to Buddy Rush :P (what?! It's addictive!!!)

  • Anonymous

    This game is good, it's just too expensive for a game that lasts less than an hour.

    • http://twitter.com/nrathaus Noam Rathaus

      I also agree, the game is too short

      I am not basing it on how long it takes to finish, but rather the feel of it

      The upgrade system appeared to be very simple when I started playing, and then I found out why, there was no where to upgrade to... by the time you reach the end of chapter 2 you have upgrade some things, while others neglected with hope to upgrade them later on

      I hope the authors are planing to expand the game without asking for more money, otherwise this will feel like a real rip-off

  • Gibberous Crumb

    Have to admit, I found the whole thing quite boring. I think spamming the potion button just got too repetitive for my liking and it almost felt like a chore in fighting enemies. The control system was good and does help in combat in so much as the screen isn't obscured by fingers and thumbs. As the review says, there is the potential for a lot more here so maybe it will grow into something more but at the moment there isn't enough for me.

  • Birdycloddggds

    Every touch arcade review ends with "potential updates will make it better!"  Who cares? The game should be good now and if it's not, just state that it isn't worth it.

    • Chris456

      To be fair, this is an episodic game, so updates should be more chapters.

  • Anonymous

    Infinite health, infinite potions from the wingman, a 'shop' where ever you go kills it for me. Too streamlined as well. Give me Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights for the iPad any day.

  • Anonymous

    I've absolutely nothing against episodic gaming.  This could be a terrific way for small independent publishers to afford to be able to continue developing content.

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Emissary of War Reviewed by Thorin Klosowski on . Rating: 3