Playing Gameloft’s Dungeon Hunter 4 is like eating a cake that’s been frosted with a thin layer of mud. Even though there’s a tasty cake underneath all that wet dirt, you’re not going to be able to enjoy it while your teeth are grinding on grit. In the same vein, Dungeon Hunter 4 looks great and plays well, but it’s impossible to shake the feeling that you’re getting royally ripped off courtesy of the game’s aggressive pitches for in-app purchases.
The free-to-play game model is divisive and occasionally troublesome, but it’s not going to go away. Nor should it: It’s a great model for people with limited income, or for folks who are fine with enduring a few ads if it means hours of playtime. That said, we can all agree that there’s a time and place for the free-to-play model, and a fully fleshed-out action RPG like Dungeon Hunter 4 is not that place.
It’s a shame, because there’s a good game behind the constant prodding to buy, buy, buy. Whereas Dungeon Hunter 3 restricted its action to multiplayer arenas, Dungeon Hunter 4 makes a return to exploration and narrative. You play as one of four classes, each with its own strengths, weaknesses, and equipment. As soon as you choose your hero, you’re thrust into the midst of a demon invasion and you quickly discover that it’s your job to put a stop to all that noise.
Dungeon Hunter 4’s closest relative is Blizzard’s Diablo series. You control your character with two thumbsticks: One moves you, while the other directs your attacks. There are also multiple skills at your disposal. Each one is lined up next to the left thumbstick, which is admittedly troublesome. You need to glance down at your button setup to ensure that you’re unleashing the proper attack, which can be costly if you’re in the heat of a fight. Count on accidentally hitting your special attacks, too. Dungeon Hunter 4 can be a bit difficult to play on a small screen. Opt for the iPad version if you can.
Dungeon Hunter 4 boasts a deep battle system. You can upgrade skill trees, craft new items, upgrade old items, and pick up whatever good stuff your enemies drop. Dungeon Hunter 4 may not offer a new experience, but it’s fun enough—until you start second-guessing every event and attack.
When a game like Dungeon Hunter 4 is constantly trying to shove in-app purchases in your face—particularly when you level up after a long grind, or when you die—it’s impossible not to wonder if every misstep you make is your own fault, or the game’s. Are the demon bosses difficult to take down because your level isn’t high enough, or are you supposed to surrender and buy this “Heirloom Ring” that the game keeps pitching? Is it really fair to be booted back to the start of a mission when you (inevitably) die, or is the game just trying to strong-arm you into coughing up hard currency (gems) for a revival? Is it actually possible to make significant progress with the three free potions you’re allotted in a 24 hour period, or is the game purposefully stacking the odds against you so that you’ll hand over gems for more potions? You shouldn’t have to ask yourself these questions while playing an adventure-combat game.
Dungeon Hunter 4 isn’t unplayable by any means, but the ceaseless grabbing for in-app purchases is aggravating, and even a bit stressful. If you dive in forewarned, you may still be able to enjoy yourself. You have little to lose; it’s a free download, after all. Gameloft sacrificed much of the game’s potential to make it so.