China's Three Kingdoms era only lasted 60 years (CE 220-280), but it was one of the bloodiest in the country's history. Following the fall of the Han Dynasty, three states warred against each other for control of the region. The time period is much romanticized both in traditional fiction and video games such as Dynasty Warriors and Romance of the Three Kingdoms, both from Koei Tecmo.
Another publisher, ELEX, recently launched a new mobile game called Haunted Empire: Ghosts of the Three Kingdoms. Haunted Empire puts a supernatural spin on the Three Kingdoms era, imagining that fallen warriors have returned as ghosts to meddle in the affairs of the living. Instead of hacking and slashing away at hordes of enemies, this one lets players collect heroes, build a team, and compete against other teams of humans and ghosts. Read on for our impression of this free to play game.
Saving the kingdom
Players start out with a trio of heroes, one of whom stays with you throughout the game. The others can be replaced as you find new characters. You'll assign each one a formation on a grid of nine squares, with those in front taking more damage than the ones in back, etc. You'll want to equip them with weapon and armor to increase their stats, and then level up both the fighters and their equipment with the money and souls you earn throughout the course of the game.
The bulk of Haunted Empire is spent in its campaign or Dungeons mode. Here you'll take on fifty story-based battles per each of the game's two chapters, gaining items, experience, and random drops like characters along the way. Once you clear all fifty levels in a chapter, you'll unlock a harder difficulty for that chapter. With three difficulties per chapter, that's 300 total levels to plow through.
The actual combat in Haunted Empire is fun to watch, but less so to play. Battles are entirely automated – the two sides just hack away at each other and perform special moves until one team defeats the other. Winning comes down to stats and battle formation, essentially. I had hoped for a more strategic combat system, but Haunted Empire focuses on team/deck building instead.
Improving your team and amassing riches
At various points throughout the campaign, you'll find yourself outmatched by the next level's set of opponents. Luckily, the game offers a wide array of side activities to help improve your team. You can engage in PvP battles (still automated like campaign battles), take on several types of challenge fights, join a clan (called Legions here), or chat with other players. There are lots of ways to improve equipment and heroes as well, usually involving specific items received from winning battles and completing quests.
Haunted Empire is free to play, with both a soft currency (copper) and a premium one (gold). It also has an energy mechanic to keep players coming back throughout the day. Interestingly, you can buy a month-long VIP subscription to receive a set amount of gold every day, which proves a better deal than just buying gold outright.
If you enjoy the Three Kingdoms period, Chinese mythology, or simply collecting and leveling up characters, give Haunted Empire a try. Somebody's gotta stop those ghosts.