Heroes of Dragon Age is the latest in EA’s long line of attempts to pinch pennies from freemium customers. Geared towards card and model collectors, players accumulate 3D figurines of famous Dragon Age characters, arrange them in a party, then battle against the story mode’s AI or sic their champions on rival players. Sadly, intolerable grinds eradicate the “gotta collect ‘em all” bug before it takes over.
Heroes of Dragon Age, at its outset, treats players like idiots, too. The developers load up the game’s front end with unskippable tutorials instead of letting fans configure their teams, browse the campaign map, or do anything remotely of interest. Do I really need to be taught how to buy new heroes or tap the screen to initiate fights? Once those fifteen minutes pass, then, Heroes of Dragon Age briefly builds steam.
Players assemble squads from many iconic faces, including Varric, Morrigan, Alistair, and Duncan, as well as darkspawn and common creatures. Once you select four champions, you place them on a grid. Heroes in the front receive a health bonus; heroes in the back increase their double damage chances. You can also equip one large monster, like a dragon, golem, or spider. Attention to unit positions typically pays in victory. I toiled for hours deciding whether to place weaker pawns in the vanguard if only to buy those in the rear more time to deal critical hits.
Some fans may get a kick out of seeing the Architect and Flemeth fighting side by side.
You cannot account for every possibility, however, since battles proceed without player input. Both teams assault each other automatically, with initiative (attack speed) determining who goes when. That sounds dreadfully boring, but flashes of excitement do shine through when leering at the iPad’s screen, praying the stun effect on your fighters wears off in time to land the match-winning hit. Still, players may only wage war if they have stamina to spare. While developer Capital Games separates single-player and multiplayer stamina meters, they must recharge once depleted (each meter segment replenishes after a modest twenty minutes tops).
To ensure the wait is for naught, runes strengthen your team. Although some raise health, power, stun resistance, and more, heroes behave irrationally during duels. Instead of killing off opponents knocking on death’s door, they often strike new targets, letting weakened ones survive another turn. Thankfully, runes also boost the likelihood that champions attack the strongest enemy, the fastest enemy, the enemy with the lowest HP, and so on. These enchantments operate on a timer, of course. Divided by rarity, rarer runes last longer.
The game sorts heroes by rarity, too. What individuals eventually make up your party falls to the character packs. As you polish off the 50 campaign missions, you accrue gold, gems, and experience. Gold unlocks recruit and warrior packs, promising a hero of the common or uncommon variety. Capital Games does not bind characters to a specific bundle, either. You could summon a rare, epic, or legendary fighter from a recruit pack, though the probability remains almost nonexistent.
Sebastian and Duncan appear to be the most common of the epic heroes.
The problem is, progression relies too heavily on what random characters you’re dealt. Epic character stats trump rare ones, obviously, but I received a rare hero twice out of the hundred warrior packs I bought. Other than those isolated incidents, useless uncommons line my collection. Heroes of Dragon Age is a dice roll minigame masquerading as a love letter to BioWare’s series, and the luck of the draw creates inexcusable grinds.
For example, after hours of using a giant spider as my support creature, I drew a wyvern and hungrily powered through the next six story missions. I soon reached another roadblock, where I have been stuck for days ‒ my opponents simply hit too hard, too fast. While players can sacrifice unused heroes to speed up the party’s leveling process, you must replay quests to a nauseating extent.
Revisiting missions provides gems, which open champion packs guaranteeing rare heroes, though you must slog your way through tougher creatures first. The other option is to pursue achievements, whose upper tiers hand out gems for sacrificing heroes or unlocking the next set of campaign quests. Regardless, the game contains a finite number of jewels, edging you towards in-app purchases. And players that have disposable incomes have an advantage in the mindless multiplayer battles, where legendary units decimate their weaker counterparts.
If you mean "epic quests" by "click on this icon and watch a thirty-second automated battle," then sure, let's go with "epic."
More egregious, Heroes of Dragon Age withholds information players really want to know. A sacrificed hero’s level transfers to the new hero, even though the consumer’s health and damage may be less than the consumee. Feeding my level 23 wyvern with 300 attack and 1,200 health to a dragon resulted in a level 23 dragon with 200 attack and 600 health. Would I have offered up my fell beast had I known how miserable the outcome would be? Hell no.
The game also ranks the difficulty of each skirmish according to your heroes’ levels, to prevent you from wasting stamina. But what do the words "Easy," "Medium," or "Hard" tell me about the enemy's vitality? How much damage do they inflict? Do they have greater initiatives? What are the chances my champions will be stunned or slowed? Heroes of Dragon Age reveals how much health both sides started with after the battle, and who the MVPs were. What good do those details do when I’m staring at the defeat screen?
The good sign of any fair F2P model is a steady stream of progression that can be expedited by real money. With all the automated fights and waiting for one’s energy to recharge, Heroes of Dragon Age has the mindlessness of a town builder, and not the good kind. I am willing to wait a couple minutes to see more of your game, Capital Games ‒ particularly when it doesn’t cost me a thing. When faced with insufferable grinds or fruitless gambles, however, not everyone is willing to pay.