My PAX Prime 2015 was particularly nutty thanks to my only being there for Saturday and Sunday, and trying to squeeze in as many meetings as I could without dying running around the byzantine labyrinth that is the Washington State Convention Center. But thanks to a scheduling quirk, I had a couple of meetings back-to-back to check out a couple of hack 'n slash action-RPGs in Blade: Sword of Elysion and Chronoblade, and it really brought to light just how much the free-to-play formula is causing these games to become not bad, but just way too similar.

Blade Sword of Elysion Combat

Blade: Sword of Elysion isn't a bad game at all, in fact it's pretty darn solid. The combat has a timing-based counter system that gives advanced play a good feel to it. It has the standard array of cooldown moves, and even auto-battling, if you decide you just want to make the grinding as effortless as possible. And there's the randomized loot, levels with 3-star systems, and admittedly a fun PvP mode where you go into one-on-one duels with other players.

Blade Sword of Elysion PVP

The problem is not that these games aren't fun or travesties to video game, it's that these games are so difficult to tell apart sometimes. Like, I got to see Chronoblade, another hack 'n slash game, right after Blade. The obvious difference is one of camera perspective, as Chronoblade uses a side-scrolling perspective more similar to old-school beat 'em ups and the like. But all the details I kept hearing sounded very similar to every other game on the market, and so many familiar details came across. Plus, it has a similar pedigree where Stieg Hedlund, designer on Diablo and Diablo II is involved. Granted, this is a familiar trick: Blade has someone who used to work on Dynasty Warriors on their game, and DomiNations [Free] has a Civilization 2 pedigree. While emphasizing the talent of these gaming veterans certainly speaks to the idea that quality of the experience is key, so much of these games are practically identical.

And that's the problem here: these hack 'n slash games are quickly becoming homogenized in the same way that match-3 games became back in 2010. I joked constantly on my stream of the games about Star Wars Uprising being so similar to Spirit Lords [Free], but that's just par for the course. And I really can't tell you that unless you really love the genres, that the differences between one game to another is more subtle than anything else. It's the match-3 problem: any one game is totally fine on its own. But the problem is that there's hundreds of these games, and the difference is in tiny-but-important details. And I don't want to condemn either game, they're both totally fine. But the crazy thing is that free-to-play is so chaotic right now that maybe Chronoblade or Blade: Redemption is the next big billion dollar game based on one little thing that one game does better than another. Or either game could wind up lost in the crowd of an infinite number of other, similar games.

Is there a solution? It might be some crazy risk-taking. Maybe Galak-Z: Variant Mobile needs to be free-to-play and doing some risky things for the business model. But then again, maybe there's a reason why there's a formula for these games: because plenty of smart people know what does and does not work for these games to retain and monetize players, and there's mountains of research to support designing these games a certain way. But great games are made when they break formula, not when they adhere to them. And I fear that all these games? They're going to only be as good as the too-refined formula allows them to be.

  • WaveLightGames

    You hit the nail on the head when you talked about the formula at the end of the article. That's the real danger ... money is made only by formulaic games and thus we end up losing a lot of potential creativity in the games that come out. No deviation from the optimized "formula" is allowed and thus big-budget games all end up looking alike.

    • curtisrshideler

      Yeah, I only find these hack and slashoot games on my device if they're tied to an IP that I love. And I only spend money on them if they are premium or really well made. Unfortunately, many of them just bore me. But, they must be somebody's jam because they keep coming!

  • diegohostettler

    It's quite simple. As soon as a arpg in s f2p avoid it. F2p and aRPGs just don't work

    • boydstr

      Totally agree I rather pay for a game than a F2P no surprises when play a paid game like cool down timers weapons that need to paid for upgrading for the way to hard AI at a certain point etc.I played Zombiewood on android and loved the game later when I download it again on my new iPhone it was completely Fuckt Up on the android version I had a 40lvl character (without spending) but on the iOS version they made the game a lot harder and I couldn't reach lvl.20 without spending real money so make up your mind and made it a paid version or give players the choise between paid or FTP

  • Carabak

    Fed up with these games- it's all one game with a different GUI. I'm holding out a couple of years until you can run proper PC and console emulators on a tablet- a huge library of amazing games .

    • Carabak

      (That's buying the games and consoles second hand to rip 'em - really - not interested in pirating stuff),

  • Based Xatu

    Chronoblade is actually a great game.

    • Carabak

      It does look pretty cool. But if it's freemium I'll avoid it. The other one looks much more like a generic FTP arpg.

  • siryami220

    A lot of these games have a VIP system (you know the kind) now, and the amount of money that you have to sink into most of these games to get the maximum VIP level is absurd. Honestly, the trends that have turned me off to most mobile gaming include:

    -Gacha styled draws to obtain otherwise unobtainable equipment, monsters, cards (I make rare exceptions such as Hearthstone), etc.

    -VIP systems which give more benefits but cost mind-boggling amounts of money as you move up.

    -IAPs that cost more than a brand new console game.

    I don't believe mobile gaming is all bad, BUT these short-term trends and overall short-term thinking on the end of the gaming companies kills the credibility of mobile gaming. Honestly, I almost couldn't care any less if a game was "free-to-play" anymore.