In my recent review of Hoplite [$2.99], I mentioned how the game benefited from a focused design. It's vitally important when the team is small to avoid biting off more than you can chew, because you might end up with a game full of content of wildly varying quality that doesn't measure up as an overall experience. This is unfortunately the case with the Trese Brothers' latest, the fantasy strategy RPG Heroes of Steel [Free]. The aspects of the game that are the most fun would have benefited from the extra resources that were spent on things that don't work well at all. Specifically, the turn-based battles are very solid, but almost everything between them is a slog. If you have the patience to deal with or embrace the slower bits, the game is without a doubt a good value for its content, with the free prologue spanning about five hours alone and the promise of more to come via IAP chapters, the first of which is available for just a dollar. With a lot of competition in the turn-based strategy genre on iOS, though, it's hard to recommend spending your time on this one.

There's a huge back story to the game, and it's clear a lot of careful attention went into building the world. Even the loading screens offer little bits of lore, and even though the writing is kind of stiff, I still got into the tale that the game spins. Your introduction to the world unfortunately comes somewhere around its hindquarters, as you join the story in a dungeon where four adventurers have been locked up. In the beginning, it's unclear exactly why each of them is there, but over the course of the game, you learn more about what led to that situation. The four unlikely companions break out and attempt to make an escape together. The prologue chapter essentially covers this escape, through the dungeons and connecting caverns. Simply getting out does not guarantee freedom, however, and there are bigger things at work that even the available add-on chapter really just scratches the surface of at the moment with its single act.

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Initially, unless you buy the extra sorcerer character available via IAP, you have no choice as to the members of your group. The developer plans to add other characters, presumably also as IAP, but, I suspect due to the character interactions, you can't change your party once you've started, so if you want to use them, you'll have to start a new game. In terms of the starter characters, you've got your usual bases covered here. There's a strong and resilient warrior, a slightly squishy thief with many useful traversal skills, a very squishy wizard who can wreak havoc from afar, and a cleric with an assortment of healing skills and buffs. They are all well-defined in terms of character, with frequent conversations between them revealing their back stories and motivations.

You can explore areas by moving around individually or as a group, tapping on the location you want to move to. Certain skills can be used that offer useful benefits like uncovering traps, picking locks, or healing. Battles are fairly frequent, and once you've entered one, your moves are limited by each character's action points. The battles play out like many other turn-based strategy RPGs, with one side moving all of their characters, followed by the other, until either all the enemies are defeated or one of your heroes falls. Each character has a wide assortment of skills they can use in battle, with most of the good ones consuming spirit points that can be replenished with potions or by camping at designated spots. After you've cleared all the enemies, you're once again able to freely explore.

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At least so far, the game is something of a road trip adventure. You'll walk around fairly linear areas, characters will talk to each other a bit, a few treasure chests will be found, you'll have a battle which will clear a path to the next linear area, rinse and repeat. Toss in some camps where you can distribute the points earned from your level-ups and have a few more conversations, and you've pretty much got Heroes of Steel in a nutshell. The biggest problem the game has is that the stuff in between battles really drag out. Your characters move almost unbearably slowly when they walk, and look incredibly strange doing it, to boot. The areas themselves aren't very enjoyable to explore, with lots of similar-looking elements and too many empty nooks and crannies. There are some good weapons and items you can find if you look around, along with some extra battles, but most of the time you'll find little of use for your troubles.

In contrast, the battles are quite enjoyable. Each character has a good selection of useful abilities, and depending on how you allocate your points on level up, each of your party members can wear a couple of different hats if need be. The enemy AI isn't terribly hard on the default difficulty, but even there, it will use some genuine tactics when making its moves. Thanks to the small size of your party and the presence of only one natural damage sponge in the group, you really have to be aware of the positioning of friend and foe alike. Skillful use of the terrain is a must to create bottlenecks and guard your weaker party members. There's also a sort of fog of war, which adds another layer of strategy to the proceedings.

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You need to take care of everyone carefully, because if any of your characters are killed, you lose the battle. Should that happen, you have your choice of redoing the final turn or going back to just before the battle, so you don't stand to lose too much of your time. The battles are very meat and potatoes type stuff for this genre, and you've almost certainly seen everything here before in another game. It's executed competently, though, so I think genre fans are going to be more than happy with this part of the game, at least. I found myself wishing the game was just a series of battles with the story spliced in between. Most of your time playing will be spent in battles as it is, but the non-battle portions are very dull and drag down the overall enjoyment of the game. All the extra time spent wandering around also contributes to the repetitiveness of the surroundings.

You're almost always underground in this game, and while there are attempts to make things look a bit different now and then, it never gets far away from the dark dungeons you started in. The enemy types are perhaps spread a bit too thin as well, with the Ratkin creatures in particular showing up far too often. The visual experience on the whole is a mixed bag. In addition to the aforementioned lack of variety, the artwork used in the game doesn't shine all that well. I like the designs themselves, with the characters looking fairly distinctive and not overly busy, the way some fantasy games tend to go, but the character art in the game looks a bit rough. It stands out set against the clean-looking work done on the backgrounds and monsters. The sprites of the human characters look really odd, too. The game uses an overhead camera, and I think there was an attempt here to give a bird's-eye-view of the characters, but the way they look and move is stiff and strange.

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The UI has issues, too. A few of your many abilities are placed on the right-hand of the screen for easy access, and you can change them around, but using an ability that's not in the shortcuts is inconvenient. I feel like the icon sizes could suffer being shrunk a little bit, even on the iPhone's screen, in exchange for squeezing one or two more on there. The controls for movement for some reason differ when you're moving as a group or moving individually, with individual movements using a double-click and group movement using a single click, with a second click canceling the command. That's a really strange inconsistency. I get the purpose of the double-click in battle, so that you don't burn AP by moving someone inadvertently, but it's weird that it carries over outside of battle for individual units only.

If you're a strategy or RPG fan, you've got nothing to lose by giving Heroes of Steel a try, and it's certainly got some fans in our forum, but I wish I could recommend this for a better reason than it having a lengthy free component. It's on the cusp of something really good with the battles, but the lack of variety hurts that end of things the same way it hits the whole game. Meanwhile, the non-combat aspects of the game are kind of dreadful, thanks to the slow speed, weak dungeon design, and stale environments. Things could get better, as this developer is well-known for making major post-release updates to their games, and Heroes of Steel has already had numerous issues addressed in the last few weeks. As for what's here now, I appreciate that the developers seem to have a big story in mind, and I do hope they get to tell it, but in its existing form, the juice of Heroes of Steel isn't quite worth the squeeze.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Amenbrother

    Well I think its a pretty good game, give it a shot as its free to try!

  • ste86uk

    I give it a go as it was free and sounded like something I'd like but give up pretty quickly as it felt too slow and boring for me.

  • greatnoob

    Free? Why not THree?

  • Artfoundry

    This is a great game. Not recommending it simply because it needs to be cleaned up a bit and you don't like the exploration (that's what it is - just because you want lots of goodies and eye candy here and there to keep your mind enthralled doesn't mean that's what the devs should do - this is a more traditional RPG than the lootfests that are in abundance today) does the game (and the review) a disservice. Yes it's not perfect - the points about the UI, dialog, and movement are valid - but the game as a whole is well done and entertaining.

    Outside of some repetitious dialog that could have been trimmed, at no time have I felt the game was slow or dragging. But then I feel today's mmorpgs/RPGs are often too much about the eye candy and fighting.

  • worldcitizen1919

    I liked the game but I deleted it because as the review said the bits in between the action are unbearable slow and boring.

    Movement is at a sans pace and needs urgent fixing before this game dies a quick death if it hasn't already.

    How the devs expect impatient youth or adults to travel square by square at a snails pace is beyond me. What were they thinking?

    • manneger

      Movement speed is being patched very soon if i understood the devs correctly in the forums here.

      I really like the game, eagerly awaiting episode 1 act 2 to be released.

  • Fangbone

    I tried it and thought there was just way too much reading (and I like to read). This is a game for Pete's sake. People want to play it not feel like they have to read a novel just to get to the good stuff.

  • Xandrak

    I liked the prologue enough to pick up the first IAP expansion, but I haven't been drawn in enough to complete it. There are valid points against the game in the article, with the actual exploration being the biggest issue (it takes a long time to get around and there is no map feature so it's frustrating to come back after some time off and try to remember where you're going and why you're going there). However, I like it on the whole and also recommend people try it out.

    • Andrew Trese

      @toucharcade-1ba182cd1edf4f5b15f17fd6a8b8e60f:disqus - happy to report that an update with the movement speed increased by 30% was submitted to Apple last Friday! We'll keep updating to improve!

  • Andrew Trese

    Thanks Shaun for the review! This is Andrew, one of the two Treses. We are excited to be lined up to respond to a lot of feedback with upcoming updates. A major move speed increase is already available on Android and is in review for Apple. Thanks again for playing!

  • agaetis181

    I haven't been on TA for very long but When I saw that Hoplite (a 'luck' based arcade rpg) got a solid 5 stars

    • rpgmind

      When you saw it, what happened? I'd like to know the conclusion to your tale. Get a little closure.

      • REkzkaRZ

        When he saw the Hoplite review, he hit return & couldn't type anymore...?

  • gmattergames

    Ahhh the old 2d top down rpg. The perspective is ideal for a small team, but

  • gmattergames

    This perspective is rarely done well. Exception: Rodeo Games.

  • anabolicMike

    I kickstarter pledged this. Yeah, it's boring. Sorry trese brothers. It's badly boring. Couldn't get into it at all :/

    Now space traders, that's a different story all together. That's a slick game that makes me feel like I really flying a spaceship. Get space trader. You'll love it. The other one. Not so much

    • kalton

      I too kickstarter pledged this. I love both space traders and cyber knights. Templar assault I wasn't as in love with, but still enjoyed the game and played it quite a bit. I figured this would be a vast improvement on that. Wasn't really feeling it however. Didn't much care for age of pirates either for that matter.

      I bought all of these games mainly based on the strength of space traders and how complex it was. Yet it seems like the newer titles while graphically superior, are too simplified.

      My biggest complaint about heroes of steel can be traced to the very opening scene of the game. The enemies walk into the room one at a time, moving so incredibly slow. I played it last month so my memory may be foggy on this, but it seemed like it took a full minute just for them to enter the room. It was a horrible first impression. Had it been a game made by anyone else, i would have backed out then and deleted it.

      • ItalianMom

        That must have been your phone not equipped for the game, because it takes no significant amount of time.

  • Kedens

    I am direly awaiting apples approval of the update but the Brothers Trese have made a game that I enjoy greatly. Sure it doesn't have the polish of Warhammer Quest and WarHammer Quest isn't meant to spell out the story for you I get something out of this on that level. Sure we don't adjust the scale based on dev team size but these guys are top notch and are always improving their games. My opinion of the game differs greatly from the reviewer, but to each their own. I want more Trese work on iOS. My most missed dev from my android days.

  • Scot Damn

    This is a fair review. Some good points are brought up. That said, it's still a great game and should be played by fans of TBS/RPG's. I've really enjoyed it.

  • ItalianMom

    The game reviewers who do a quick playthrough simply to turn a short amount of time into a huge TLDR ego strut are beyond amusing. There truly is no rhyme or reason to most of the nonsense they vomit, because one game will be bashed for an issue while another will be ignored as if it doesn't exist.

    This game is more difficult and involved than the typical play just to review crowd is equipped to deal with playing. I will bet this reviewer didn't bother finishing even one episode completely. I can almost guarantee he was not capable of finding any of the secret doors and hidden treasure chests! That would have taken too much skill, time, and actual investment to truly playing.

Heroes of Steel RPG Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 3