Chair’s sequel might not deliver the freedom of movement teased in Epic Citadel, Epic’s iOS Unreal Engine 3 tech demo, but it does at least relax its grip on your path through its world. While the first game saw you repeat the same few routes over and over as a lineage of progressively more mighty heroes, going toe to toe with a line of henchmen until you’d raised a fighter powerful enough to defeat the God King himself, Infinity Blade II quadruples the boss count and provides a wealth of branching paths to get to them.
It’s one of many incremental improvements that follow the sequel rulebook religiously, upping an array of numbers to be crowed in all-important App Store bullet points. Thus you’ll use a broader selection of weapons, armor and shields to face a wider range of imaginatively designed Titans – the numerous foes who stand in your way – in a game that initially threatens to offer little incentive to dump your level-59 character from Infinity Blade and start all over again.
While things feel overly familiar at first, though, it soon becomes clear that Chair has polished its looping structure with sensitivity and intelligence. Those branching routes, for instance, ebb and flow as you play through the bloodlines. A staircase that was initially passable might collapse, for instance, while two previously locked gates yield new paths. Likewise, an innocuous sapling that is at first dismissed as simple Unreal Engine posturing eventually strangles the tower that once loomed above it, enabling you to climb out of the depths of the castle.
But it’s the core combat that benefits most from Chair’s refinement. The standard light-weapon-and-shield loadout from the first game is joined by two new melee styles: using a double-handed heavy weapon or dual-wielding. The former provides devastating damage at the cost of your speed, plus a QTE-style special attack where you swipe in the direction of icons that flash up onscreen. The latter means lightning-fast movement and gives you the ability to string huge combos together (achieved with well-timed swipes), but requires mastery of parrying, dodging and ducking in the absence of a shield or heavy weapon to block with.
All three styles benefit from more responsive touchscreen control that make parrying much easier than it was in Infinity Blade and also encourage more experimentation – dodging is no longer your reluctantly chosen best option. While choosing to master a single fighting style won’t hold you back, the ability to switch between weapons on the fly means you can tailor your strategy to the diverse cast of aggressors. Heavy weapons work best against the hulking, slow-moving behemoths you’ll encounter, while fast, acrobatic duelists require you to be light on your feet.
In addition, gems can be found (or bought) throughout the game that augment your weapons, armor, shields and magical rings when they’re placed in correspondingly shaped slots. Buffs span from simple increases in the amount of money you’ll find in the gold bags that are once again strewn around the environs to battle effects that will do additional damage to enemies or see you recover health after, say, a perfect parry. It’s a system that, together with the multiple fighting styles, allows for deep customization and will ensure that every player has a different experience.
One final layer to combat is bonus XP, earned by fulfilling certain conditions in battle. Initially, these are simple – parry three times, or don’t block, for example – and provide a way to eke out every last drop of experience from encounters. Further down the line, bonus XP conditions, such as the one that tasks you with causing 30 scratch wounds, mischievously force you to prolong fraught battles or deliberately ignore a window of opportunity in order to secure your prize, adding a welcome risk/reward element.
Unsurprisingly, Infinity Blade II’s visuals are a delight, luxuriating in beautiful particle and lighting effects and managing to look, through some mysterious alchemy, an order of magnitude ahead of those of the series’ first outing. As an advert for Unreal Engine’s potency in mobile form, it’s persuasive, although our 4S became alarmingly hot during extended sessions.
That issue aside, there are some other areas for concern, too. Sadly, the first game’s fictional ‘Pangean’ language has been replaced by out-of-place English-speaking voice actors with American accents who, while perfectly competent, chip away at the otherworldly atmosphere. Worse still, a plot contrivance that entirely undermines the avenging ancestry conceit of the first game cheapens the fiction.
While the package is remarkably slick throughout, there are also some inexplicable lapses. The ‘final blow’ sequences and transitions between areas are beautifully animated, but grate after dozens of viewings. Thank goodness, then, for the ability to fast-forward through them – bar the handful that forgo such kindness.
At launch, the game was also marred by bugs, increasing in severity with the age of your iOS device. These were addressed with an update, though problems with iCloud saving caused players’ characters to reset. A second update, which Chair promises has fixed this issue, includes inexpensive but powerful bonus items as an apology. It may still be worth waiting to see if this really is the end of Infinity Blade II’s turbulent arrival.
When it works, however, Infinity Blade II represents iOS gaming at its finest. For all Chair’s improvements, the first game’s nagging sense of hollow repetition will still set in eventually; it just takes longer to arrive this time. But until that point arrives, Infinity Blade II remains a defining, and essential, iOS experience.
Infinity Blade II is exclusively available on iOS AppleStore (https://itunes.apple.com/ph/app/infinity-blade-ii/id447689011), unfortunately its not available on Android.