Arcane Legends recently enjoyed a soft launch in Canada and Australia, bringing a fresh, colorful fantasy MMORPG to Android. The developer, Spacetime Studios, has a lot of experience in freemium mobile massively multiplayer online games, having kicked off the trend with Pocket Legends way back when, and since released other themed games such as Star Legends and Dark Legends. I've dabbled in those previously, but let me say right off the bat that Arcane Legends blows the others out of the water.
Players choose one of three classes (warrior, sorcerer, or rogue), and pick from a handful of different faces and hairstyles. You also get a pet which acts as back-up in combat and also runs around to pick up loot for you once combat has died down. There's a whole bunch of collectible pets to find throughout gameplay, each with their own special abilities and leveling scheme.
A virtual joystick and remappable ability buttons provide standard real-time action - no auto-attack here, though you can charge up all of your abilities by holding down the button for a little bit before releasing. This scheme works out really nicely and adds an extra dimension to the usual button-mashing. The camera angle is static, but that works perfectly well for the gameplay, and I actually think that a dual-stick layout would do more harm than good.
After launching into the world, players undertake a linear series of quests which take place in instanced regions, shared by you and a handful of other players within the same level range as you. It's easy (and expected) to party up with those players, since monsters in an area grow in strength with the number of players around. Arcane Legends can plug into Facebook for log-in credentials, and though it has all of the standard social networking functions built in, such as adding friends, starting guilds, and chatting in public or private channels with other players.
Even though there are only a dozen areas or so, there's an "elite" mode that can be activated that adds significantly greater challenge. for those that reach the level cap. Navigating the world is extremely easy. Every quest has a shortcut that spawns you right into the appropriate area, or you can manually pick regions to warp to thanks to a summoning circle network. On a more local basis, you can pull up a minimap overlay to gather your bearings, and small dots along the edge of the screen provide an idea of which direction party members are in. Quests can be turned in through mailboxes at the beginning and ends of each level, which saves from hiking back to questgivers in different areas.
As players progress and level up, they get to pick which stats to increase (strength, dexterity, intelligence), and which special abilities to level up. There are eight abilities to chose from, each with five different hierarchical upgrades to earn, plus there's a wide variety of loot to find. Gear can be applied to weapon, helm, body, ring, and amulet slots, though they're all limited by class. It's easy to see how one piece of gear will differ with what's currently equipped simply by highlighting it. All gear is faithfully recreated on the character's avatar. There's also an extensive, categorized achievements, complete with title rewards.
In-app purchases are employed through the premium platinum currency. There are a couple of items Arcane Legends push that use it, but the big ones are elixirs. They provide short-term boosts to a variety of stats, though there's also exclusive equipment to be acquired and a handful of pets locked to platinum purchases. You can also buy chests which have rare loot in them, though they're scattered throughout regular gameplay. Arcane Legends also tempts players to keep coming back with daily rewards, which increase in value depending on how many consecutive days you check in. My only real worry on this front is that in player versus player, IAPs could lead to a pay-to-win scenario.
The graphics in Arcane Legends are excellent, and are leagues better than anything I've seen from Spacetime to date. Animations are smooth, colors bright, and overall art direction is distinct (even if you can spot the influences from previous Legends titles). The writing for dialogue is cute and goofy, often paired up with some babbling voice acting. The audio fidelity isn't quite as high as I would like, though it's a sensible sacrifice to keep the game's size down to under 50 MB, cache included. Sometimes I find the look and feel a little too cute, but when you're playing a hulking warrior destroying every marginally threatening creature before you, it's easy to forget the doe-eyed puppy that's picking up gold for you.
The bottom line
The only other mobile MMO Arcane Legends stands up against is Gameloft's Order & Chaos, and even then, the two have a large gulf separating them - some people are willing to pay a subscription fee, and others aren't. Of course, you'll have to deal with being prodded to make in-app purchases to progress, and at later levels, they may feel necessary, but so far in my experience, I feel none the poorer for going at it as is. The fact that you naturally pick up platinum through gameplay means it's easy to save up for the premium stuff that you really want.
As for gameplay, it's really good, solid, fun hack-and-slash action, along with all of the class RPG progression elements without getting too complicated. All of the right social elements are in place to make Arcane Legends a great game in the long-term, provided Spacetime Studios continues adding content like new classes, new areas, seasonal events, and the like.
Arcane Legends are still undergoing a few tweaks before expanding their limited launch, but even in its current state, the worst I've experience is the occasional lag in the middle of combat; by and large, performance has been smooth on the Nexus 7.