App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
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Gacha games have a lot of problems, but they mostly bother me when they employ pay-to-win schemes, monopolize your time, and/or are too horny. AFK Arena avoids all of those pitfalls, and it also adds an interesting wrinkle. By borrowing heavily from idle game mechanics (which in a lot of ways are the inverse of gacha experiences) AFK Arena is an interesting and somewhat more friendly take on a traditionally more exploitative genre.
AFK Arena is all about collecting different fantasy heroes, building a party with them, and sending them into battles. The way you collect these units is through traditional gacha mechanics that you might find in Fire Emblem Heroes, but the fights themselves are not particularly active affairs. You simply hit a button to let the battle begin, and tap to activate powers when they're ready (or simply let them auto activate if you wish).
It makes for a game that feels kind of like Idle Champions, but with all of the daily quests, social hooks, and resource grind of social rpgs like Knights Chronicle. Outside of battles, there's always a new thing to be working toward or unlocking, which is primarily how AFK Arena tries to keep your attention.
Time is on your side
Up to this point, AFK Arena may just sound like a less engaging gacha game. In a lot of ways, this is true, but just leaving it at that would be underselling it. The secret to AFK Arena's success lies in how much it respects your time in comparison to other games of this ilk. The most obvious way it does this is built into the game's name and pitch, which highlights the fact that AFK Arena grinds out currency for you whether you're playing it or not.
There are limits to how much AFK Arena truly lets you sit back and rake in rewards, but there's still no denying how easy it is to keep up with as compared to other gacha games. Many traditional gacha games rely on timed events and lengthy daily quest requirements to keep players engaged with them for hours a day. AFK Arena bucks that trend and instead asks players to invest about 30 minutes a day if they want to stay on top of the game's grind.
Idle, not inviting
The less intense nature of AFK Arena makes it an intriguing game for fans of gacha games who perhaps have been burned by more intense titles in the past (like me). That said, there's virtually nothing about AFK Arena that would make it appeal to folks who are either unfamiliar or generally uninterested in gacha games.
It uses all the same tricks of something like Dragalia Lost with the only meaningful difference being the time and attention you have to invest in it. For me, this makes it a perfect little game to fire up while watching TV or waiting for the bus. It has some pretty art and flashy animations, and I can feel like I've accomplished something when checking in on it, even if it's just for a few seconds to collect my idle rewards.
The bottom line
AFK Arena is a fun, casual experience that finds a way to combine the mechanics of gacha and idle games into a cohesive package. Make no mistake though, it's still very much a very monetized free-to-play game. This isn't something that will appeal to folks that aren't already familiar with or interested in the strange lineage of “games as distractions.” For those looking for a low-intensity diversion though, AFK Arena is worth a look.