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Developer: Gamevil
Price: Free
Version Reviewed: 1.0.3
Device Reviewed On: iPod touch 4

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★½☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★☆☆
Playtime: Rating: ★★½☆☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

Gamevil’s Arel Wars is a frustratingly overwhelming strategy game that doesn’t do the player any favors with its free to play mechanics.. At its heart, it combines the 2D lane-based real-time strategy of a game like Swords and Soldiers with the limited unit rollout of Plants vs. Zombies. The goal is to summon units to send at the enemy, trying to destroy their base without the player’s base being destroyed. There are hero units that can be sent out to deal more damage and to utilize their skills to help defeat the enemies.

Arel Wars lacks not for content; there are three different player campaigns with their own stories to take on, and dozens of levels in each. The Gamevil art style is here – detailed and well-animated pixel art abounds. There’s even an online multiplayer mode for taking on online opponents’ armies asynchronously. It’s not a turn-based mode, but it does allow for chances to earn extra gold and experience, and to see new armies and troop rollouts.

The game isn’t shy about throwing elements at the player; in fact, it gets rather daunting trying to figure out what is what, as there is just information overload. Even before jumping into the first mission, the game throws skills menus, items menus, allies menus, teasing items locked away from public view, and more. It doesn’t do much to actually explain them – I never quite figured out that units were upgradable until the game made mention of it offhandedly on a tips screen. Suddenly, the game’s increasing difficulty made more sense! Even in-game, the game has more meters, bars, icons, and indicators than is plausible to keep up with.

Of course, as it is the trend du jour among games lately, Arel Wars is free to play. It doesn’t take very long to get to the point where buying gold or cash with, well, real-world cash, is pretty much a necessity. That point is when the costs to upgrade units reach the triple digits in gold, and there is a substantial risk that the upgrade with gold won’t actually work. Of course, spending Cash will grant a guaranteed upgrade. So yes, this game is free to play, but not free to have fun with. Also, the game commits a surprisingly common sin among free to play games: it’s not universal. Isn’t it just giving away free money to not support the iPad in some form?

Arel Wars‘ strategy gameplay gets easier to comprehend over time, but it’s still just too much information thrown at the player to be much fun, and the paywall that the game hits about 20 levels in is just more frustrating than anything. Strategy fans and Gamevil fans may enjoy this, but that’s about it.

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