Calling Aralon: Sword and Shadow a big game doesn’t quite do it justice. It’s big in the sense that you can fit other iPhone RPGs inside it. It’s big in the sense that it will absorb your free time the way a major console title can. In other words, your desert island iPhone game has arrived. And in case you were wondering, Aralon is great.
Modeled on open-world Western RPGs like Oblivion, Aralon casts you in the role of a character whose father, a former member of the king’s guard, has died while trying to save the king from his mysterious adviser. Exactly what is going on in the royal house is something you’ll have to investigate as you make your way through the game, following in the footsteps of your father and eventually doing what he died trying to accomplish.
More detailed than real life.
The first thing you do when you start Aralon is create your character. You can be male or female; human, elf, or troll; and warrior, rogue, ranger, or mage. Your gender and race doesn’t seem to have any effect on the actual gameplay, but your class certainly does. Each class has its own skill tree that you can pump points into as you progress and level up. Rangers can acquire various ranged attacks, for instance, while mages learn spells.
Your class also determines which weapons you can use. As you might expect, Warriors can’t use staffs, but they’re great with battle axes. And if you’re an equipment junkie, don’t worry: There are loads of weapons and armor in this game. At any given time, you can have up to 10 items equipped to your person, each one adding to your attack or defense stats. These items also have slots for rune stones that can further boost your abilities. Thankfully, the inventory system in Aralon is intuitive enough that RPG fans will have it mastered in no time.
The controls are intuitive, too. Whatever person, creature, or item you’re focused on has a yellow ring around it. To focus on something else, just tap it. Additionally, you have a d-pad on the left, a customizable action bar in the middle, and context-sensitive buttons on the right. Approach an NPC, and a speech button appears. Walk up to an enemy, and buttons to attack and block pop up. The action bar can hold just about anything you want, from magic spells and special attacks to individual weapons and items that summon steeds.
Sun rise, sun set.
That’s right, to cover more distance quickly you can ride horses in Aralon. You can ride other creatures, too, but we’ll let you find out which ones on your own. A big part of what makes Aralon such a blast to play is seeing what new thing the game has in store for you next. Unlike many RPGs on the App Store whose quests range from picking X number of berries to slaying X number of bees, Aralon sends you on a wide array of unique quests. One minute you’re crafting a healing salve for a dragon, and the next you’re sprinkling magic dust on a corpse in an electrified crypt. And even if you’ve seen the ‘king influenced by an evil adviser’ story everywhere from Lord of the Rings to Aladdin, the many stops on the way to solving it in Aralon are quite distinct.
One reason the disparate story elements hold together so well is because the game world that encompasses them feels so alive. The sun rises and sets. Tiny lizards skitter by your feet in the desert. You can fish in the rivers, light campfires to cook on, and pick herbs from the ground. Each day, the world in Aralon lives and breathes. And for a game with such large environments, it’s surprising how much detail they’ve managed to pack in.
Of course, a game this big isn’t released without some issues. Graphical pop-in is constant when you can see into the distance, like when you’re in a big city or wandering around outside. As you walk, mountains will seem to sprout out of the ground, and trees, enemies, and NPCs will pop up out of nowhere. We also noticed some flickering textures and graphical holes from time to time. And, as we noted in our preview, the sun definitely sets in front of the distant mountains.
Sitting on the dock of the bay.
Also, there’s a log that keeps track of the quests you’ve accepted, but it doesn’t differentiate between main quests and side quests. If you haven’t played in a few days, it can be tough to regain your bearings. And the descriptions in the quest log for what your next objective is in any given quest aren’t always clear. It would help if you could make one quest ‘active,’ like you can in Oblivion and Fallout New Vegas. Then your map could show you where you need to go next to complete your active quest.
Lastly, we encountered some non-graphical bugs and points where the game froze. Some of these bugs prevented us from completing side quests, but none were game-breaking. We’ve contacted the developer, who has been working hard to fix these and has submitted at least one update that should squash the big bugs we ran into. For optimal results, however, you may want to wait a week or two for the updates to come through before playing the game.
Regardless, Aralon: Sword and Shadow is an incredible game. It’s not perfect, but any game this ambitious is bound to have a few flaws here and there. The important thing to know is that the overall gameplay experience is superb. The fighting is fun, the story is great, the gameplay is varied, and the options for customization are deep and rewarding. Aralon: Sword and Shadow is the great big, ambitious, beautiful, excellent iPhone RPG we’ve been waiting for.