I mean, I'm sure the hero of Alpha Dog Games' Wraithborne [$2.99] has a thoroughly melodramatic backstory -- having been born of a wratih and all -- but the story (and its voice-acted narration) is camp of the highest order. Hodor's warhammer is an appropriate symbol: blunt.
Hodor's hammer is well served by the Unreal Engine, though, which excels at rendering the chunky, heavy violence you'll find in Wraithborne. The enemy and character design isn't much to write home about, but Wraithborne succeeds in making each strike feel physical better than most 3D action games on iOS. Boulders, cystals, and wooden beams shatter nicely, and Hodor's attack animations are just slow and ponderous enough to make combat engaging without making it slow and unresponsive. Clean lines and clear environments roundout Wraithborne's visuals.
The mechanics at play in Wraithborne is standard for action games: light and heavy attacks, a shield, some special spells activated by a rune-tracing mechanic that stopped being interesting halfway through Phantom Hourglass. The controls aren't good per se, but they impart their own weird internal rhythm once you get used to them.
Hodor can equip three spells at a time -- each with their own mana cost and cooldown -- but his mana pool also governs his shield and can be used to power up his basic attacks. At its best, Wraithborne encourages quick decision making: you could cast a healing spell, or just spam your shields to stay alive; you could summon a powerful but inaccurate fireball, or use that mana to power up a dash attack. These trade-offs are the tried and true tropes of action gaming, but they're evergreen because they work.
Furthermore, Wraithborne suggests some amount of depth: Hodor can be seen unleashing projectiles in our TA Plays video, but I could never quite pull those off; there are still a few runes I haven't quite figured out, though perhaps a few upgrades will prove illuminating. The finer points of Wraithborne's mechanics could use more explanation.
The same can be said about Wraithborne's map. The entire game is played in one contiguous, looping area. This is actually pretty neat, as it cuts down on load times, and finding where and how each section dovetails with the others can be its own reward for exploration. More baffling is how Wraithborne handles, say, player death, or the completion of an objective: the game just dumps Hodor in an ostensibly random part of the map.
This isn't really a bad thing -- the world of Wraithborne is pretty small (too small, in fact, for it's over-the-top lore to really take hold), every area is easy to get to, and you can farm goblins and jewels for spell upgrades along the way -- but it is a weird thing.
One explanation might be to pad Wraithborne's length. It's a relatively short game, even by iOS standards -- I completed it in two sittings, deaths and all. Calm your outrage: this injustice is largely mitigated by a robust arena-battle, Horde-like endgame. The game's combat and spell system come to life as you fight wave after wave of goblin, werewolf, and succubus in an attempt to beat your friends' high scores (mine hovers around 34,000). You'll be rewarded with more jewels to upgrade your spells, and optional bosses will also drop the rare spells you didn't find during the campaign. Wraithborne is short, but it also doesn't have the gumption to charge you another $1.99 for new levels: there are no in-app purchases at all.
Wraithborne is Alpha Dogs' freshman effort, and it's not a bad one: it's well-realized within its own confines and makes good use of its visuals and level design. It's probably a bit short and shallow, but touch-controlled action gaming is really difficult, and Wraithborne stakes its claim valiantly.
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