Hero Academy Review: It’s Swords With Friends!
Looking for an asynchronous iOS game to play with your friends, but can’t stand drawing and instead crave the taste of battle? Look no further than Robot Entertainent’s Hero Academy, a turn-based multiplayer combat game that gets most everything right.
In Hero Academy, you take control of an army — currently the Council (humans), the Dark Elves, or the Dwarves, though more armies are coming soon — and face off on a game board against an opponent. Each board has one or two crystals on it that you control, and the same for your opponent. The goal of the game is to either destroy your opponent’s crystals or eliminate their entire army. You get five moves per turn, and you gain resources (more units, special items) from a pre-determined “deck” dealt out 6 items at a time.
It’s a satisfyingly simple premise that, thanks to the random draw of resources, the different layouts of the boards, and the strengths and weaknesses of the factions, leads to a complex and thoughtful game play. The decks are balanced in their composition (one “special” unit, two power scrolls, three special weapons, etc.), and there’s no leveling or grinding XP or overpowered IAP purchases to drive the game. It’s all about luck of the draw (especially in the first handful of rounds) and pure strategy to pull off a win.
Because of its asynchronous nature, it’s a hard game to plan ahead for. You very quickly have to get in the habit of assessing each turn as it comes up, try out a few plays to see which one works, and then act. The game is well designed, though, such that the process of taking a turn is both quick and enjoyable, with a convenient reset button so that you’re never committed to an action until you submit your turn. Clever players might be able to think ahead several turns (there’s a league, for example), but most players will be content with taking each turn as it comes.
The whole game is also presented in a graphically interesting way. The look is cartoony, but not absurdly so, and colors are crisp but not too bright. Each unit sports a large head, and each upgrade visually changes the appearance of each unit in a unique way. Animations and special effects are also well done.
Where the game is currently weakest is in army balance and variety. Each army is balanced in terms of numbers of units and items, but sometimes individual units or unit/item combos can be very overpowering – the Council Archer, for example, if she gets her hands on an upgraded bow. Also, before the latest update, the Dark Elves lagged heavily behind the Council in terms of playability; and frankly, with there only being two armies available, that meant a lot of Council-on-council action. A recent major update added a third army, the Dwarves, and readjusted some Dark Elf and Council units; now, the two are more evenly matched, but the Dwarves struggles against the Dark Elves more often than it should. Hopefully, more armies and more re-balancing are in the game’s future.
Another thing to note is that, while the basic game is free to play, Hero Academy is supported by a fair number of IAPs. For example, the app comes only with the Council army; Dark Elves and Dwarves both are gained as IAP, and any future army releases will also be separate purchases. The other purchases are for things like uniform colors, avatar pics, and in-game taunts. Buying the other armies is a no-brainer if you enjoy the game; the rest of the IAPs are hit-or-miss … and also expensive! For example, each faction has a $2.99 purchase for one — yes, ONE — avatar pic. That single avatar is a full dollar more expensive than the playable army it represents!
There’s no excuse for any fantasy combat fan to sample a few games of Hero Academy. You’ll only get access to the Council, but I guarantee that, before long, you’ll feel the enticement of the Dark Elves or the Dwarves. It’s just a blast of a game, and so long as Robot Entertainment keeps updating the game and making the necessary balance tweaks to keep things competitive, it’s a game that will remain fun for some time to come.
Our score: 4.5 out of 5