Dungeons & Dragons: Arena of War is not just another iOS release that will vanish into obscurity after a couple of weeks. Thanks to its D&D branding, this app will be played by diehard and nostalgic RPG experts as well as mobile gamers. The key is to finding a balance in satisfying the loyalists as well as connecting with a new fan base. I approached this free to play title with anticipation, hoping for a solid sword and sorcery experience.

Although there is a storyline centering on an apocalyptic event called The Sundering, the game's narrative isn't all too complicated. It's a good versus evil dynamic, and all you need to focus on is to kill your enemies, collect loot, and level up. These are simple D&D mechanics that many gamers have come to know and love. No matter what ruler you're fighting for or whatever campaign you join, war isn't totally complete without grabbing a bountiful booty and increasing your fighting skills. Before you wield your weapon, however, you must choose your class. Since I'm in a Legolas state of mind, I went Orlando Bloom mode and chose a ranger.

After choosing your character, a collection of showdowns await as you fight various monsters and warriors to the death. At the end of the bloody exchange, random treasures as well as experience points are earned. Fighting does have a turn based mechanic, and to take out your adversaries you will drag your finger and aim it at your target. Once your finger is released, your attack is employed. Coupled with its top down visual style, Dungeons & Dragons: Arena of War's fighting elements are a tad uninspired. I'm more a touch and swipe for special combo skills kind of guy, but others may cotton to D&D's pull and release aesthetic.

Everything that leads up to the battle, however, is the true draw behind this D&D iteration. Daily log-ins to the game leads to more extra gifts and unlocked characters. After a week of playing the app, a Ninja will be unlocked and added to your universe. Collecting treasure chests, as well random potions and scrolls are a huge reason I started playing Dungeons & Dragons in the first place, and thankfully this title doesn't hold back on the freebies.

Hoarding items does have its purpose. Once you collect certain spell cards and scrolls, you can mix them up into a dungeon gumbo pot and increase the level of a certain skill that will be employed during your fights. Even though my arrows have felled dozens of enemies, enhancing my chaos bolt abilities can only do me good.

As much as I'd prefer to go online and play D&D by myself, pitting oneself against several skilled opponents will probably end in certain death. Since there's only so many potions one can have to get out of a jam, having someone join your campaign is also an important aspect of moving forward. D&D fanatics understand that sometimes a little help from your friends (and in my case a total stranger) can totally save your hide. After getting killed several times on this level, a new member joined my partner and helped me corner these pesky foes.

Dungeons & Dragons: Arena of War can get repetitive after a few fights, and its freemium model kicks in once you use up your quest energy. But these are minor annoyances in an otherwise solid title. Your energy bar is automatically refilled over time, and the battles get much more pleasurable after you fuse a few skills and open up a couple of chests.

It's really the trimmings, the extra details which surrounds this app that hold my attention. I look forward to seeing what free item I'll obtain the next day, and if I can apply that gift to enhance a skill then all the better. Maybe I'll even join a party and make a few online friends during my dungeon crawls. Adventure awaits no matter which battles you choose to fight.


App Store Link: Dungeons & Dragons: Arena of War for iPhone & iPad | By Mobage, Inc. | Price: Free | Version: 1.0 | 46.7 MB | Rating 12+

7.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating