Version Reviewed: 1.1
App Reviewed on: iPad 2
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
Tales of Honor: The Secret Fleet was another instance where I went into a game completely ignorant of its pedigree, having no familiarity at all with David Weber's long-running Honor Harrington sci-fi novel series. Fans would do much better than I at critiquing the story’s quality and integration into the universe’s larger narrative anyway, though what I saw was nothing worth writing home about. Still, at least I’m in a position of being able to review it with no extra baggage attached.
What Tales of Honor resembles more than anything is a prettier, but more straightforward (and ultimately less satisfying) version of FTL. I don’t mean to imply that the fundamentals of the gameplay are flawed or lacking, but the addictive punch that makes that other game so compelling is quite absent here. Flashier graphics alone can’t make up the deficit.
Similar to FTL, players need to manage ship upgrades while jumping from system to system and engaging enemies in battles decided by equal parts luck, swift fingers, and laser-focused time/resource management. But beyond these fundamentals, comparisons evaporate. While FTL lacked a story-like narrative (per se), its Roguelike backbone allowed non-combat choices to create an emergent storyline of sorts, despite being nothing I'd ever find myself remembering or retelling. Meanwhile, combat downtime in Tales of Honor is just flat and uninteresting, without even the illusion of a degree of agency to divert the tedium. Jump to a new system, sit through a boring exchange of dialog between strangely low-res/fuzzy character portraits, fight a ship, purchase some supplies - lather, rinse, repeat. I wasn’t expecting a 4x-style strategy experience here, but even something small to break the monotony would go a long way. Then again I suppose it’s free, so there’s that much.
So what about the combat forming the meat of the experience? Each ship has multiple layers of defenses, as well as several varieties of warheads; some damage only the hull, while others knock out shields, weapons, or defense systems. Every system is linked to a recharge timer, which means combat should be a tense affair full of calculated risks. Should I take some hull damage now and instead save my defenses for those multiple system-wrecking purple missiles that leave me near-helpless? But in reality, it’s quite possible to just lazily brute force through the majority of encounters with little-to-no planning. Unfortunately, this results in a rude awakening when the game spikes the difficulty rather dramatically at points, leading to instances where I almost needed to relearn how combat functioned. But a few hard-fought, tense battles aren’t worth the dozens of frustrating failed attempts and the grind it took to get there.
Fans may come for the story tie-in, but the rest of us will probably find Tales of Honor: The Secret Fleet a bit too repetitive to be very enjoyable in the long term. The mechanics are sound and the visuals are decent, if a bit static, but in the end it never quite flips from “adequate” to “good.”