There's a reason MMORPG players use the term "trash" to describe the stuff that leads up to raid bosses: it's missing all the great rewards, and it's almost always lame. It's junk, in other words, junk that pads the time between the good parts. Red Zebra Games clearly knows the score, because Raid Leader [99¢] skips right past the trash to bring us nothing but the good stuff—intense, white-knuckled battles.

As we pointed out in our preview, the big picture will look familiar to Battleheart [$2.99] fans. But it's the little details that get this recovering World of Warcraft addict's heart a-fluttering. There was a time when damage number spam, health bars and massively telegraphed attacks were my bread and butter, and boy do they come out in force here.

Before I get your hopes up, though, let me be clear. This isn't the next Battleheart, and it's not raiding in World of Warcraft. It's far, far simpler than either. If you're looking for a deeply strategic RTS-RPG, this might be a bit casual for your tastes, but it's a potent combo for those of us nursing fond memories of raiding.

Raid Leader lacks Battleheart's big list of classes, levels and loot. Instead it has bosses, and the three things any proper team needs to defeat them: a tank, a DPS class, and a healer (in the forms of the Knight, Hunter and Priest). Each of them has a bevy of skills to unlock and choose from, and choose you must, because each character can only bring two skills into battle. You might want to deal damage, snare and buff with one character, but you have to pare that down to the skills you really need. That's half the game's strategy right there.

The other half is the battles themselves. There are fifteen levels in total, with 2 arenas, 8 original bosses and a powered-up heroic version of all but the last. These have minions, lasers, death zones and many other familiar tricks, requiring priority targeting, clever positioning and quick reflexes. Lest you think I'm being irresponsible with my WoW comparisons, by the way, one of those bosses is nearly a one-to-one clone of Karsh Steelbender from the most recent expansion. Not that I mind. It just feels a little too much like coming home, if you know what I mean.

Your survival depends on two things: how well you've chosen and upgraded your skills, and how well you can pay attention and perform. It also helps to have a basic understanding of MMORPG-style battles. You'll have an easier time if you already know that the tank should keep the enemies' backs to his team, or when to toss a heal-over-time and switch targets. Admittedly, though, knowing too many tricks takes a little fun out of figuring out the right strategies for each fight, especially when kiting works so effectively.

Because of this, the game sometimes fails to straddle the line between too easy and too hard. Executing a strategy is often fairly simple, because the bosses never have more than three or four plainly timed and well-telegraphed abilities. You'll never have serious trouble figuring out how to handle an encounter when anything tricky is explained on screen.

You'll still run into plenty of difficulty, though. Two things will conspire to stop you no matter how well you can plan. The first is the somewhat-awkward touch controls. Like in Battleheart, you drag one hero to another to heal or attack, and drag your heroes around the screen to move them. Because those two actions are so similar, you may occasionally find the game mixing up your intent. Worse, though, is the way the controls sometimes lead to deaths-by-Notification-Center. Those probably can't be helped, but that doesn't keep them from being frustrating.

The second big roadblock is the enrage timer most bosses sport. This isn't a problem, it's a classic MMORPG mechanic. Three or four minutes into a fight, the boss becomes immensely more powerful. This isn't designed to kill you instantly, but it does keep you from flinging yourself at a boss for ages if you're not powerful enough to defeat it. In Raid Leader, you're not going to run down the clock because you haven't leveled enough or hit the right gear level. Instead, it's your skills that can fall behind.

The three classes each get eight or nine skills to play with. These include a healthy mix of class-appropriate heals, attacks, buffs, debuffs and so on. You can pay out the coins you earn from defeating bosses to upgrade them up to four times each. If you're a better player than I am you might be able to get by with nothing more than the coins you earn from each boss. I rather doubt it, though. It gets seriously tough to pump out enough damage to beat the enrage even when you're doing well. If you hit a wall and decide you need more coins, you have two options: grind or pay.

It's kind of a lame choice. Grinding is actually fun in Raid Leader, but it's hard to turn down the comparatively massive number of coins you can get by putting down an extra dollar or two. If you do, you can earn a decent rate in two arenas fighting waves of minions, or you can replay completed boss fights. You can earn Game Center achievements and leaderboard rank for beating bosses quickly, so this isn't a bad way to go.

I just wish there was more of everything. I want a reason to pull out more skills and level them higher. I'd dread putting hours into WoW at this point, but the few brief hours I put into Raid Leader left me craving a lot more. That's not a bad thing, assuming there's more to come. While we're talking updates, Red Zebra, could you work out the spelling errors and put some clothes on the poor Hunter? She's literally fighting in a bikini. Not even a chainmail bikini, just a few flimsy scraps of nothing.

Raid Leader isn't perfect, and it's not perfectly original. That said, it sure is fun. Any recovering raider will find plenty of great nods and familiar concepts, and anyone who's wondered why folks make such a fuss about raiding will get a low-impact introduction. Drop by our discussion thread to let us know what you think, and point out how much you want more levels while you're there. For me. Because even though I can quit any time, I really don't want to quite yet.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

    What do you mean when you say "I'd dread putting hours into WoW at this point". You speak fondly of raiding in that game constantly and even recognize material from the current expansion.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

      Oh, I adored raiding for the first few years. But I had a great group of people to play with back then. And I did play on and off until shortly after Cataclysm came out. But that was when I had serious time on my hands. Now most of my gaming time goes to playing iOS games, and I'd hate to waste the other gaming hours I have on something that never, ever ends.

      That and the typical MMORPG regret thing - I do sort of wish I'd put those thousands of hours into something productive.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

        Is that the matra of entertainment regret in general? A moment enjoyed is never a moment wasted imo. Granted you have a job now where playing iOS games most of the time is probably mandatory, but your audience isn't really gonna relate to that.

        I don't know many (actually, any) that spends the majority of their gaming time on only handheld devices (unless they only play stuff like Angry Birds, Bejeweled, and Tetris).

      • https://twitter.com/#!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

        Yep, no one's ever experienced MMO fatigue before. It's probably just me.

  • http://profiles.google.com/notelteirs Hans Notelteirs

    Is anyone else having problems with the game not saving after you quit the app?

    I tried this a couple of times and every time I need to start from the beginning. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carlos-Fagundes/100003181065618 Carlos Fagundes

      Me too brother original game in jaibroken iphone 3gs ios 5.0.1... not sve here too!! :(

      • http://twitter.com/redzebragames redzebragames

        a fix has been submitted to Apple. Important to note that his bug is related to certain Jailbroken devices.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jacobvestergaard Jacob Vestergaard

        I actually had a save bug with my no-jailbroken iPad/iPhone... Thought that it was because I played on my iPad and installed+opened on my iphone before the ipad could save the game (sync error).

    • https://twitter.com/#!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

      Sorry guys. I'm hearing reports of this all over now - I played prerelease, and didn't encounter this bug (just triple checked, all my progress, coins, skills and clear times are intact). Hopefully it'll get fixed up quickly.

      • http://twitter.com/CM_Games Josh Presseisen

        you played the final release, it just so happens that this save bug happens on certain devices, some of which are jailbroken iOS 5.0.1. We don't test for jailbroken devices. Anyway we are going to submit a temporary fix.

    • Hans-Henrik Jensen

      Saves just fine on my iphone 4s (jailbroken too).. I know the developers are working feverishly on a fix as well

  • Anonymous

    So.... instead of what I initially thought of it as expanding more upon Battleheart's mechanics, it actually somewhat dumbs it down a bit? Hmm... still gonna buy it.

  • Valentine Minitsky

    Just one of the fast emerging BattleHeart clones. And as any other clone it doesn't have BH variety in terms of classes, skills and loot. If you are making a clone at least make it better than the game you are cloning!

    • Noah

      I don't remember BH having that many different classes. The only fun part about that game was the boss fights.

      Ohhh... that's it! Battle Heart: Bosses

      Come on. Make it.

  • Anonymous

    THIS GAME DOES NOT SAVE YOUR PROGRESS.  Buyer beware.  Once they fix that, I'll probably spend a crapton of time in this game.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

      I raided early, and stopped raiding early. DBM wasn't *as big* a thing so there was still a decent amount of learning involved, especially for those of us who weren't giving the instructions. Granted for me most encounters were usually "heal the off tank, stay out of the things that look painful."

      Also, none of the fights in Raid Leader are as complex as true raid fights (with touch screen controls that would be ridiculous). You could totally do it with visual indicators that weren't as obvious as "pull the guy into the furnace" and make things a bit more interesting for players.

      • Anonymous

        That's fair.  Admittedly I've only played a couple of bosses due to it not saving progress (and not wanting to have to redo the easy ones).

        I'm a raid leader in current WoW content, and they even have a "Dungeon Journal" which tells you the ins and outs of every encounter.  Some of them are still quite challenging, which was where my comment came from.  In my opinion the challenge in this game in particular should be in finding the right two skills for each character to successfully handle the mechanics.

        Why did you stop raiding, if I may ask?

      • https://twitter.com/#!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

        Yeah, that's reasonable. I'd like a bit of both. Re: WoW, at least the Dungeon Journal and quest tracker and stuff mean you can spend more time in game and less on external sites - I just miss that initial "let's hit this brand new content and figure out the many ways it can kill us" thing with new content.

        My guild hit a wall. Not with difficulty or anything, just with raiding. We got to the point where we'd finally take down a boss we'd been hitting our heads against for a while, and instead of cheers on vent it'd just be loot, thank god, let's all quit for the night. Basically the core team of us (who also happened to be the guild leader + all the officers, of course) ended up quitting the game for quite a while after that. When I eventually came back, I had no interest in raiding without those awesome people.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

        "We got to the point where we'd finally take down a boss we'd been hitting our heads against for a while"

        Sounds like your guild DID have a difficulty wall.

      • http://profiles.google.com/sokolov22 Derek Chin

        Generally speaking, walls of this type in MMOs are progression based.  You either need more levels (or AA points or whatever) or better gear.  It can be argued that this is a type of difficulty, but it's pretty clear, to me anyway, what Nissa meant.

      • https://twitter.com/#!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

        Really? I get that you're trying to start an argument with me or something, but this is just silly. How is this remotely relevant to anything?

    • http://twitter.com/redzebragames redzebragames

      An update has been submitted to fix this bug that we are seeing on some jailbroken (not all!) devices. 

      • Anonymous

        Thanks so much for getting on this so fast.  I can't wait to start playing :)

  • kKNd

    Don't know where I've heard or read about it but I've always thought this game has a multiplayer mode. Turned out it does not. :/

  • http://profiles.google.com/sokolov22 Derek Chin

    I have to say that this is pretty boring to me.  It's for people who couldn't get past the first few levels of Battleheart, basically.

Raid Leader Reviewed by Nissa Campbell on . Rating: 4