Arena Battle Games — to relax you!

On this episode of the Escape Pod, I discuss Raid: Shadow Legends and AFK Arena, both of which present a compelling and calming arena battle experience. Get lost in the game economy and a rainbow of currencies to help you level up the legendary heroes!

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OMG these games are so annoying! This is the third time I am starting on this piece. First I just wanted to talk about Raid, because it is more of a marketing effort than a game, but it’s glossy and has some charm. Then I started talking about tappers, which doesn’t really work with Raid, but is appropriate for this other game AFK: Arena. Despite that somewhat cheeky title, this is a lovely and simple game that I find enjoyable and relaxing. So, now, on the third try, I’m going to talk about both, and particularly in contrast with the some of the other online games I’m playing, where there are vast virtual worlds to explore.

OK — what do we have here? First Raid: Shadow Legends. (This is not to be confused with a first-person shooter that I played for a little while on AppleTV, which is called Shadowgun Legends. Raid is not a first person shooter and it doesn’t involve any kind of large scale virtual world. Instead, Raid is a turn-based arena fighter, where you build a team of characters. The game is comprised of hundreds of characters with varying traits. The ‘action’ of the game occurs in these arena battles, against an AI, or against other players, depending on what type of progression you are trying to achieve. There is GREAT artwork for the appearance of the characters. The arenas are nothing to write home about, but the animated action you see during the bouts is pretty terrific.

The main WORK of the game, however, takes place outside the arena, in a town square type scene where you can manage your resources before and after your battles. The action is really in the resource management. Battles can be carried out on your behalf by the AI if you want to just watch your characters thrash about with varying degrees of success. Attack decisions vary by the skill the character employed and the opposing character against whom the skill is deployed.

As with pretty much every free-to-play game I have tried, Raid is enjoyable at the beginning because you can take advantage of the relatively easy rank-up process and amass a decent amount of resources out of the gate. This isn’t just good because it’s satisfying. It also teaches you how to use the myriad different types of in-game currency. In other words, you can’t properly manage resources without knowing how they work, what they’re for and which are the most important/valuable. Later on, the necessary resources for upgrading characters and gear becomes much harder to come by, unless you start paying. But if you don’t mind slow progress, the game is pretty fun for a freebie.

IN-GAME ECONOMY
Before I get to AFK Arena, which has a similar philosophy and economy, I want to touch on this issue of in-game currencies. This is a common feature with these free-to-play games and, for me, it was incredibly daunting. It seemed like i would have to learn an entirely new language just to have a chance to thrive in the the game’s economy.

Let’s go back to my Real Racing 3 experience. This is a racing game that goes all the way back to 2013. You can amass a ton of the regular currency, but that doesn’t always get you what you want in the game. Most of the really fancy cars can only be purchased with a ton of the premium currency, which is harder to come by. In the past couple years Real Racing has added a third type of currency, but that’s it for now.

The different types of resources in Raid are almost too numerous to count. There is primary currency, used for upgrades and some purchases at the market. There are rubies, which are the premium currency that the game wants you to buy with actual USD. There is a special coin for taking part in PvP matches, there is also energy that is required to enter campaign matches vs the AI. There are time-limited tournaments which each have their own currency that is then redeemed for other currencies, resources and artifacts. Artifacts are their own type of currency in that they work as gear or equipment for the characters and enhance their ability, but also work together as various sets that, when properly matched based on the character’s abilities and affinities, can add an additional boost in the battle arena.

There are so many other resources that act as special currencies having specific enhancement functions. The ‘tavern’ is where you can rank up, which means that special brews are available to speed up the process. The brews come in a variety of flavors to match the character’s affinities. There are also tomes that are extremely hard to come by and offer the quickest way to level up. And by the way, this is not an exhaustive list and there are parts of this game I haven’t even unlocked yet.

The characters themselves are also a form of currency because the lesser characters are routinely exchange or ‘sacrificed’ to level up the stronger characters. This is a good place to talk about the characters, which is my favorite part of the game. Raid is splashy and attractive and the character design is top notch. I think it uses the Unreal engine, even though it is not really an action game. Also, there are a ton of characters. There are over 475 that I know about and more that remain hidden. Each character can be viewed 365 degrees and the small versions that do battle in the arena are a delight to watch. The quest for more powerful, rare and unique characters is what drives me to keep playing.

AFK ARENA

This is a good point to take a look at a related but also very different game, AFK Arena is serious, despite it’s casual sounding name. As someone who didn’t know this until recently, AFK is gamer-speak for ‘away from keyboard.’ I only learned this recently from watching hours and hours of YouTube gaming videos with my 8-year-old son. I still don’t know if OP is ‘on point’ or ‘over powered’ but usually both seem to work. Anyway, sorry for the aside.

As the name would suggest, AFK ARENA has things that happen in the game when you are not playing it. This is a well-established model. Tapping games allow you to gain resources just by tapping the screen. Many (probably most) of these games eventually level up to the point where the tapping is automated, meaning you can earn resources while NOT playing. Ahhh, the sweet smell of passive income.

The inclusion of passive or idle income in AFK Arena is the biggest difference with Raid. In almost every other aspect they are very similar. AFK has a seemingly endless selection of characters, each with their own strength, attributes and affinity. Whereas the Raid characters have a pleasing animation, the AFK characters are beautifully rendered, but still very two dimensional, and very static. When they fight, the movement is Monty Python-esque, but you can still watch hit points and ultimate talents and everything else we expect to see in an area game.

To make up for the much lighter graphics load, AFK Arena gives each character and detailed backstory that locates them in the mythology of the game. I find this to be incredibly endearing since the more developed characters stay with you for a while. Also, the stories and even fighting depictions include some humor. It’s all very delightful.

Like Raid, AFK offers a long progression in campaign mode that gives your heroes the experience to keep enriching your team and leveling up. Instead of head-to-head contests, the PvP aspect is played out on leaderboards. I don’t even know if that classifies as PvP, but it does give the dedicated player a chance to special rewards by beating his fellow players.

There is also a team aspect for both games, but I haven’t sufficiently progressed in either one to really understand how they work. I am part of some cooperative network of players in AFK, but it’s more me following prompts and allocating resources rather than actually knowing what’s going on. IN raid, I haven’t even touched this part the game yet.

RELAX AND ENJOY

I look at both of these games as super casual. They both present an engaging resource-management scenario wrapped in some Dungeons and Dragons type style. The battles themselves are not even necessary (I automate half my battles in Raid and all my battles in AFK), although they are both enjoyable to watch. The real success is the interface of rewards, currencies, incentives and progression requirements that are designed to keep you play and get you paying. And even if you don’t pay, those interfaces still offer a satisfying experience. Progression slows down dramatically as you consider whether it’s worth it to pay for this kind of entertainment.

I was surprised that I got hooked on these games and ended up taking a genuine interest. My video game awakening is quite recent, despite my advanced age, and the idea of a big virtual world to explore (like in Fortnite and PUBG) has been a big part of that. These games, on the contrary go nowhere. But there is still exploration. The artistic and economic designs are so varying and detailed in how they work and fit together that playing both of these has still helped me escape the everyday.

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