Long a fan of Gameloft's Diablo-inspired Dungeon Hunter, I was intrigued when I heard their latest version would be both free-to-play and not a role-playing game. Well, not really one.
Instead, Dungeon Hunter III is a hack-and-slash, loot-unlocking game which, while it does level up your character, doesn't allow you any control of your stats. Instead you augment your character by purchasing new gear with loot, or real cash. The game also removes any thoughts of a plot, instead dropping you into a series of themed maps where you have to either survive a set number of enemies to succeed, or carry out basic tasks. The tasks I've seen so far include capturing locations, killing certain monsters and destroying specific items.
It's fun, albeit mindless, play. I spent a chunk of last night and this morning leveling up my "Trickster" to 16, which gave me access to a fair number of new weapons and bits of armor. Each item you can equip can also be upgraded up to three times for an in-game price and a bit of patience. If you want your upgrade to be instant, you need to spend gems. And gems are, of course, the chief way Gameloft makes money off this free-to-download game. While players use the gold coins they collect on maps to buy most things in the game, everything you purchase also requires from a few to a lot of gems. Another interesting twist to the game's pricing model, is that it locks away a bulk of the reward you receive for completing a map in a chest. You need a key to unlock the chest and you only get so many keys per a day. You can, of course, purchase keys, extra gold and new helper faeries with gems.
I was able to play a fair amount of time without spending a penny, though I did eventually give in and use the $10 Gameloft gave me to unlock a massive stash of gold and a sizable lot of gems.
If you're OK with the way this game seeks to make money, the play is fairly rewarding. Players shift their thumbs around on the bottom left corner of the screen to move and use the bottom right to attack. Because the Trickster is primarily an archer, playing her turned the game into a sort of twin-stick shooter. Characters also have magic-using super attacks which are activated by tapping an on-screen button. You activate your faerie's rechargeable attack with another button press. Characters also have two weapon sets that you can switch between on the fly with the tap of another virtual button.
The game is broken up four worlds, each with 20 levels to play through. The levels seem to be stretched across four or so different maps in each world, so you find yourself revisiting each map several times, though your goals and the monsters you face seem to change every time. On top of the overall challenge of surviving the level or completing the task at hand within a time limit, every map also has three bonus goals. These goals, like breaking 10 pots in a level, are tracked so that you can complete them over multiple play-throughs of the same map. Often, that's required. Once you complete all three of these secondary challenges, you get bonus experience and gold. Another neat way to earn extra gold and experience is to complete the game's daily challenges, sent out from Gameloft.
There's a lot of meat to this game, even if at its core it's a hack-and-slash dungeon crawler. The graphics are impressive, there's a lot going on in all of the maps, from swarms of bees, to spike traps to spinning bladed poles. Finally, it's free. You get enough time with the game before you have to drop any money to decide if this is the sort of iPhone gaming you might like. I'd highly recommend picking the game up now, if only to get a taste of what all of the Dungeon Hunter has been about.
Dungeon Hunter III [iTunes]