Last March, Freyr released Star Warfare: Black Dawn. It was a cool first-person shooter with a lot of style and RPG elements, very much in the same vein as Borderlands (PC/console). It was quite popular with players and critics alike, with some reviews calling it the best FPS on iOS. Freyr voluntarily pulled it from the App Store about two weeks later to avoid any potential dispute with the people behind Borderlands. Freyr claims its goals were always to create an original FPS game with RPG elements like Diablo, rather than make a clone and take advantage of another game. Well, the guys and girls at Freyr have been hard at work since then and this week they have finally released the updated version of the game, now renamed Bounty Hunter: Black Dawn.
Note: I am going to write this review as if you never played the original Star Warfare because it was only available for such a brief time. For those of you who did play the original, I will touch on the specific changes toward the end of the review.
When you start the game, you’ll choose the name, gender, and class of your new character. There are currently four classes, with at least one more currently in development. The class you choose determines the types of skills you will learn and has a big impact on gameplay. There are 10 character slots for you to use though, so you can try every class you want to. To give a very brief summary: Soldiers are good at dealing damage up close, Snipers are good at dealing damage from far away, Engineers can summon turrets to aid in combat, and Prayers can summon healing stations to heal teammates.
Your character will start their adventure in front of a crotchety old man on the planet Muspel. He will give you a brief introduction to the world and game mechanics through a short tutorial. Unlike the world of Borderlands, Muspel is not open for exploration. You will use a portal to teleport between safe zones and dangerous zones. The maps are complex and have lots of environmental details, with some of the later maps getting quite large. In safe zones, you can talk to NPCs, pick up and turn in missions, buy and sell gear, enter co-op or PVP, or play the lottery games for a chance at good loot. Dangerous zones are where you will encounter enemies and complete most missions. When you kill an enemy, it will give you experience and drop random loot. The loot could be ammo for any of the seven gun types, health, gold, or equipment.
Like Borderlands, the gear in Bounty Hunter: Black Dawn is randomly generated. Guns will have their type, damage output, accuracy, fire rate, zoom amount, bonus elemental damage, and more generated when they are created. The same goes for armor, grenade, and stat-boosting microchip stats as well. You can quickly determine how good something is by how much its resale value is in gold and also by its background color. Five different background colors indicate the rarity and power of equipment. The randomly generated equipment makes loot and shopping even more fun because you are constantly finding cool new weapons that have all sorts of special abilities (including radiation damage, high critical hit chances, and regenerating ammo).
Each class has 1 innate skill and can learn 10 other skills from a class-specific pool of 21. The skills are divided between active and passive and each can be leveled up 5 times. Whenever your character levels up, they will earn 1 more skill point to invest. The skill system provides a lot of control of your character’s customization and you can truly tailor your character to your play style. If you’re ever unhappy with your current skill set, you can spend a small amount of the premium currency, mythril, to reset your skill assignments and pick a new set using your existing skill points.
The innate class skills are really cool and many of each class’ 21 skills are dedicated to improving the innate skill. Soldiers can briefly enter an AVATAR mode that dramatically boosts their damage output, Snipers can deploy gravity traps that slow down enemies, Engineers can summon turrets, and Prayers can summon the healing stations. Improving these abilities can make them incredibly powerful, such as Soldiers making the AVATAR mode have 100% accuracy with no recoil or Engineers making the turret mobile and able to fire missiles. Each class truly has unique offerings and you can even build two characters of the same class with completely different abilities.
The game features a 4-player co-op mode as well as 1v1 and 4v4 PVP. In co-op mode, you can play through the story with other players online. Cooperating with other players is a lot of fun and makes epic fights with powerful enemies and bosses much easier to survive. The PVP tasks players with killing members of the other team and capturing key points. Your character moves seamlessly between the different modes, carrying all their loot, gold, skills, and equipment wherever they go.
Controls are definitely a concern for any touchscreen FPS. The controls aren’t great here, but they’re definitely usable and I adapted to them completely within an hour or so. The fire button is very large so I pressed it accidentally many times until I got used to it. Tapping where there isn’t UI on the far left side of the screen will center a virtual joystick for movement. Tapping anywhere else there isn’t UI will center a virtual joystick for looking around. There are virtual buttons for accessing the menu, exiting to the safe zone, looking down your gun’s sights, firing your gun, performing a melee attack, throwing a grenade, and reloading your gun. Pressing and holding on the reload button expands a clever menu that lets you drag-and-release in different directions to equip your other weapons on the fly. The most important actions are easy to find in the heat of combat. The only ability I really missed was jumping, which would have helped me escape when I was surrounded by a pack of wolf-like creatures.
Bounty Hunter: Black Dawn has been translated to English pretty poorly. Some mistakes are understandable (“sensitive” instead of “sensitivity” in the settings menu) while others seem pretty lazy because any half-decent spell checker could catch them (“assautl” instead of “assault” or “icreases” instead of “increases”). The English is good enough that the abilities, story, and instructions are all easy to follow. The story and humor suffer from the translation though — the story line is overly simplistic and feels very thin while the jokes tend to fall flat. It’s not a problem because the game remains playable and fun, just don’t go in expecting a good story.
There are in-app purchases to get more gold and mythril. Gold is the main currency and you will get tons of it from normal play. Enemies drop it as loot and any gear you don’t want can be sold back to the shop for gold. On the other hand, mythril is quite rare. You can get some daily for free by logging on to the co-op server (you just have to look for a match, you don’t have to join one). However, the downside to the mythril is that it does make this game very much pay-to-win, as players can spend mythril to buy the best weaponry from the store, play the lottery game with the best loot, and buy new skill points without the need to level up. The in-app purchases are very unnecessary and did not get in my way at all. The game will only ask you to purchase mythril or gold if you try to spend more than you have, there are no annoying involuntary pop-ups.
The combination of FPS and RPG works really well and the elements of each are interwoven flawlessly. Descriptions of the game as similar to Borderlands or as Diablo if it were an FPS are both very accurate. The thrill of leveling up, learning new skills, and finding great loot are all present and lots of fun. The enormous amount of customization you can have with the way you invest your skill points and the randomly generated gear you choose to equip makes your character absolutely unique. Each character also has one extra outfit that can be purchased with mythril, with an accessories system that will allow further customization of your character’s appearance coming soon.