Lots of great game series fizzle out after a few too many sequels, but some just go off the rails entirely due to a mistake in judgement on the part of the developers. Just look at EA’s recent SimCity launch on PC for a great example of how to disappoint your game’s fan base. Last year, Gameloft plunged a little too quickly into freemium monetization with Dungeon Hunter 3, a game that took a big step away from what made the series great: epic exploration and storytelling. Dungeon Hunter 4, available in April, brings back the plot-driven exploration, but also keeps the freemium model.
Gameloft is betting that what fans didn’t like about Dungeon Hunter 3 wasn’t that it was free-to-download, but that the storyline and plot were missing. This to us seems like a pretty decent bet. Although hardcore gamers tend to dislike freemium gaming’s optional payments (like for health potions) and annoying countdown timers (for armor and weapon upgrades), free games often have far more total downloads, and can generate a lot more revenue from certain players.
These are players who are too impatient to wait for upgrades, or are desperate not to lose a tough boss fight. Like in recent freemium action games from Gameloft such as Six-Guns, you’ll slowly earn premium currency just by leveling up, or you can pay for a bundle of gems to power-level through parts of the game. You can even pay gems to unlock more character slots– only two are available for free, but there are four character types (warrior, blademaster, battle mage, and scout), and some players will want to try them all.
For anyone who still enjoyed Dungeon Hunter 3′s arena battles, those have returned in Dungeon Hunter 4, but they are not as big of a focus. You’ll still be able to pick fights in PVP arenas, or fight cooperatively online against enemy attacks. But most of the 29 environments, which actually include dungeons again, will be in service of the game’s storyline.
The storyline doesn’t stand out as being very memorable, from our brief time with an early version of the game. The kingdom of Valenthia is being ravaged by demons, and you’re the unlikely hero who has to fight them off. You can choose a male or female version of each of the four character types, and the battle mage and scout actually use ranged attacks, which turns the game into a kind of twin-stick shooter. If you choose the warrior or blademaster, you’ll have to use a regular action button to swing your sword.
We think that Dungeon Hunter 4 will give some fans what they want, while still disappointing others. If you’re looking for a lengthy RPG storyline, deep character customization, and cutting-edge graphics, you’ll probably be thrilled to get it all for free. However, if you resent paying or waiting for potions, gear upgrades, or character slots, you probably won’t be happy. Gameloft is fully committed to freemium gaming on iOS, so our take is that instead of dismissing it without giving it a try, reviewers and gamers should tell Gameloft exactly which freemium features they consider unacceptable.