With most any free mobile game carrying a grand vision and an RPG style, you inevitably reach the pay-play barrier. It’s a metaphorical face-off, the tense moment when a free-to-play game finally dares you to have fun without pulling out your wallet. This sad moment often happens because the popular free-to-play model removes great content from a game and sticks it into an in-game store, only to be experienced by those who fall at the pay-play standoff. Soul Guardians: Age of Midgard does a good job prolonging the dread of free-to-play gaming with animated fun, despite faults in its overall presentation.
The game gets you rolling with an impressive opening sequence featuring the classic RPG draw-ins: epic war threatening mankind, a king and the notion that he’s up to something, and scantily clad demons. It’s a beautiful opening that, after its close, plunks you into a bland, one room world. All of the drama and immersion built at the start dissolves as you find your new game world is nothing but the doorstep to a dungeon. Save a few NPC salesmen lingering about the dungeon front door, there isn’t much making this area feel like a kingdom, or even a place, rather than a menu. I would have loved to felt like the world introduced in the title sequence exists, but Soul Guardians drops the ball on context and storytelling.
Story is something that could have tied this game together beautifully. Indeed, it does exist in the game, but it just takes way too long to get going. I finally hit some small segment of dialogue as I entered dungeon number eleven, and the moment of narrative bliss left as quickly as it came. The game is missing a sense of chronicle that should have informed my motivations as a player.
Who are these bosses? Are you sure they’re even evil? What are these dungeons in the context of that overarching story you started? Because I’ve indiscriminately fought through 10 of them. I don’t know. I’m just fighting. But at least the fighting is fun.