Review: Punch Entertainment kills it with Reign of Swords: Episode 2

iphone-pics-026Reign of Swords: Episode 2 won’t reinvent a genre, but it will leave you wondering why more games aren’t made with the same artful precision as this is. Brought to you by Punch Entertainment, Reign of Swords 2 is a rock-solid turn-based strategy (TBS) game for the iPhone, and will provide you with hours upon hours of stimulation (no, not that kind) and entertainment. The game is masterfully designed, and you can really tell the game’s makers knew what they were doing. I guess they had to after producing the wildly successful original Reign of Swords, right? Well, they sure showed their stuff on this one – and made it bigger, badder, and better than it’s predecessor.

Honestly, Reign of Swords didn’t wow me at first. The premise is what you would expect from a traditional TBS game such as Advanced Wars: you have an army, and you move each unit forward and then your opponent does the same. When your unit gets close enough to the enemy’s, you attack it; it attacks back on the next turn, and so on until you’re left with a battlefield of blood and the few battered infantrymen of the victorious army. You’ve got some units that are stronger, others that are faster; some that can shoot from a distance, and some have magical powers.

Yet as I continued playing the game, it was abundantly clear why Reign of Swords was such a powerful mobile franchise. Punch Entertainment mastered the mix. In a turn-based strategy game, developers often make the game either too easy or too hard. If you make one character (or one special ability) too powerful, then the player just has to figure out which one and he can beat any level. If you position the enemy in an overly advantageous spot, then the player gets frustrated because the level is impossible to beat. If the landscapes are too treacherous then you don’t enjoy navigating them. There are so many ways to screw up. Just one extra olive or an extra splash of grenadine, and the game doesn’t taste quite right. Fortunately, Punch Entertainment mixed this drink to perfection, and delivered a killer cocktail of characters, setting and gameplay.

iphone-pics-025In the story mode, you are the leader of an army and your goal is to destroy your arch-nemesis, Lord Landower. You walk through a series of missions–15 in all. Each mission presents you with a different quandary: one mission you may be tasked with protecting a castle from an onslaught of enemies, while the next may require you to traverse a hazardous path through the desert as you escort some villagers to their homes. I found almost every mission extremely challenging. It took two, maybe three times to beat most levels, while one or two were even more difficult. Regardless, it was damn fun to do it so I didn’t mind replaying a level a few times.

Variety, variety, variety. This game was all about switching things up so that even the most attention-deficient user never got bored. With 36 different units, you always saw a different combination of friends and foes: you could play the same mission with two entirely different armies if you wanted. And then there were environmental features like castles, which protected the defender from an incoming rush of enemy units, or teleport portals, which allowed you to dart from one side of the map to the other in an effort to flank your opponent. All of these feature came together in an extremely dynamic game that will surely encapsulate any TBS fan.

iphone-pics-020One of the most widely touted features of Reign of Swords 2 is online play. You can play against computer or iPhone opponents in one of 9 battle scenarios. You have what is essentially an ongoing battle in which you move and then wait for your opponent to move. They can take as long as they wish to play their turn, so you aren’t supposed to play in real time. Instead, you take a turn, forget about it, and then come back awhile later and play another. To me, the waiting just killed it. I enjoy real-time online battles in which I can trash talk (to myself) my opponent and develop a competitive environment around the game. You can’t do that when you go 12 hours between moves.

Regardless, even the single player version of Reign of Swords 2 is well worth the $4.99. In fact, any TBS fan (or not) will enjoy its well-brewed gameplay and carefully constructed environments. Though it doesn’t ignite a genre, it sure will stimulate your strategic senses and inspire you to creatively master the difficult levels in a quest to defeat the elusive Lord Landower.

What we like:

  • The Cocktail. The developers stitch together all of the aspects of a turn-based strategy game beautifully.
  • The Variety. 32 different units, 3 worlds, 15 levels and 9 online battles.
  • The Strategy. Story mode is a series of daunting yet beatable levels, and I loved the creativity and forward thinking necessary to get past each mission.

What we don’t like:

  • Online play. Might be a big selling point for some, but I just can’t get into a head-to-head match that lasts 4 days.
  • Lack of originality. You shouldn’t expect it, but if you did, you didn’t get it. It’s a straightforward turn-based strategy game that is simply well-crafted. No major twists or inventions in this one.