There’s a good reason why new Infinity Blade games always take center stage at Apple’s hardware unveilings. With each new installment, the series pushes the limits of what can be achieved visually on mobile devices. Infinity Blade III offers the incredible visuals that players are expecting, but it also feels like it’s reviving the same old mechanics, with only slight improvements.
It makes sense that this third Infinity Blade game should feel a bit familiar. The overarching theme of the Infinity Blade series is a cycle of death and rebirth, with a hero who becomes gradually more experienced despite consistent (and expected) failure. In the first game, this rebirth mechanic allowed players to revisit a solitary castle over and over again, gaining strength through generations of heroes, slowly building up your skills until you could defeat the God King.
This mechanic originated as a clever way to encourage replayability, without forcing the developers to build a sprawling game world. But in Infinity Blade III, this repetition can become tiresome, especially because the game includes an expanded storyline and progression of environments. Forcing players to repeatedly spend time in smaller zones doesn’t advance the story– it just puts everything on pause until the player is strong enough to defeat an end-level boss.
Another reason these combat zones can feel unexciting is because the gameplay mechanics haven’t changed since the last game. You’ll still approach each enemy individually, use swipes and taps on the touchscreen to dodge, defend, and attack, and then count up your experience points after the match is over. Between fights, you can enjoy gorgeously-rendered backgrounds and hunt for hidden resources, but the core combat is exactly the same.
In the past few years, games like Horn and Avengers Initiative have improved on Infinity Blade’s swipe combat by adding additional movement, breakable environments, and special abilities. Infinity Blade III seems content to just add frightful new monsters and pretty backgrounds, instead of improving on the original gameplay.
Infinity Blade III does make several improvements outside of the core fighting, though. In addition to Siris, you can now play as a second character, Isa. Isa has her own unique armor and gear, but you’ll have to level her up separately from Siris. It can feel like a bit of a downgrade when you are forced to switch from a high-level character back to the other, with fewer abilities and weaker gear.
Isa also feels like a missed opportunity for new kinds of gameplay. Her missions show her creeping around in the shadows and firing crossbow bolts at enemies. At first, we were hopeful this indicated a new stealth mode. After all, why should these characters duel their enemies like noble knights, instead of just picking them off quietly? But Isa’s crossbow is just for show– you still have to walk up to each enemy and engage them in a one-on-one fight, with no visible damage from the crossbow.
In addition to the extra playable character, in Infinity Blade III you can brew potions, and eventually, utilize a blacksmith to improve your weapons and armor. Each of these actions requires collecting a lot of resources (herbs are now scattered throughout the levels, in addition to gold), and they each have their own countdown timers. You can bypass the timers by spending in-game premium currency, which is acquired by achieving specific goals, like taking down an enemy without receiving damage. You can also hurry along the process by dying in the game, waiting patiently, or spending real-world money.
The potions and blacksmith add a new degree of depth, as does a merchant ship which offers special discounts on high-end gear. You may still find yourself unable to purchase expensive, brand-new armor, and like in the previous games, once you’ve maxed out a particular piece of gear, you’ll miss out on experience points until you equip something new. This forces the player to constantly change gear, which means that even if you become attached to a particular item, your use for it is only temporary.
Infinity Blade III has a storyline that’s more involved than the previous games, partly because the two main characters will split up and explore different zones while they try to gather their strength for a final attack on the main villain. Even with new supporting characters and a variety of environments, from castles to desert ruins, the combat starts to feel repetitive before long. Even the available side-missions, like individual challenges and Clash Mobs, stretch the original concept fairly thin.
In many ways, Infinity Blade III is grandiose and gorgeous, and the gear that you can unlock is exquisitely detailed. However, the taps and swipes that propel the actual gameplay are starting to feel like the least engaging part of the experience. If you loved the first two games, you will definitely want to see the new environments and characters that inhabit this strange, anachronistic world. Just be prepared to go through the same motions– literally– again and again.
Originally published September 18, 2013.