An app by any other name…
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That is an old and tired expression I don’t very much care for. It’s certainly true for some forms of entertainment, such as when a drag queen models herself after an actress or singer. Perhaps, had I grown up in an earlier era of society, I would agree with the sentiment or at the very least not roll my eyes when I hear somebody utter those words.
But I live in the era of YouTube and the App Store. Imitation isn’t a sincere form of flattery there, but rather an astute business model where companies and individuals copy and paste original ideas before adding in a few of their own elements and passing it off as something new. It’s how Threes becomes 2048, Mars Argo becomes Poppy, and Pokémon GO becomes Garfield GO.
It’s equal parts funny and sad how so many apps look like the exact same goddamn game. Right now, in Google Play, two titles — Origins of an Empire and The Great Ottomans — are up for preregistration and, gun to my head, I couldn’t fucking tell you the difference between them. Get a few beers in me and I couldn’t pick them out from Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire, Clash of Kings, Game of Thrones: Conquest, or any of the other log-in-and-win strategy games raking in the dough. A month from now, after it’s long been deleted from my tablet, I’ll probably be saying the same thing about Might & Magic: Elemental Guardians.
Everything about this game has the look of something I should want to play. With art direction equal parts World of Warcraft and Skylanders, it’s big, bright, and beautiful on my iPad. Sure, the elevator music masquerading as a score does it no favors, but these are very much lands I want to explore, filled with creatures I want to interact with. It’s only when I start to play that I fall back down to Earth. “Oh yeah,” I tell myself “it’s one of those mobile games.”
Elemental Guardians, available today in the App Store and Google Play, is another gacha monster-raising RPG. Set in a magical world, I play a student at — sigh — Akadimia who must survive challenges and Harry Potter references to become…something. I don’t know and this game, like so many other mobile RPGs, doesn’t really seem to give a damn whether or not I care about the world I’m going to be investing time and energy into exploring.
There’s easily less than five minutes of set-up before I’m thrust into the gameplay loop of spending energy to complete quests as I build, level-up, evolve, and ultimately sacrifice for the greater good my mob of monsters. It’s busy work, a series of menus and modes all wrapped in an eye-catching world. This is a game I’ve played a dozen times before and will play a dozen times after because there isn’t a single aspect of it other developers haven’t already created.
That’s not to say it’s bad. It’s bog standard for the genre, though perhaps near the head of its class thanks to the aforementioned pleasing art direction. But just like most every other mobile F2P RPG, there is no feeling of accomplishment. There’s nothing satisfying about spending in-game coins and items 15 minutes into the game to level up my squad. The meaning of the word “achievement” is stretched pretty damn thin when I’m lavishly rewarded for completing the Herculean task of — let me check my notes — renaming my character.
There are no fantastical feats being performed here. This type of participation trophy mentality may be good for some, and this is not a knock at the people whose only reliable access to gaming are of the F2P variety, but I wasn’t raised on games that coddled players. My upbringing involved respawning birds that knock you back, disappearing lakes, and princesses that kill you if you forget to sheath your sword. Trophies and achievements didn’t exist outside of a poorly translated “Congradulation” message that popped up after you beat the final boss.
Though it really doesn’t do anything wrong compared to its contemporaries, Might & Magic: Elemental Guardians is another title that makes mobile gaming such a hard sell to classic console and PC players. I can pitch Arena of Valor, or Fire Emblem Heroes, or Hearthstone, because a minimum skill requirement is actually required to succeed there. Based on the several hours I spent with this game, I can’t say the same thing here. I know all this doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this multi-billion dollar industry, but for the fact this is a multi-billion dollar industry, we should never stop asking for better.