Hoplite: The XP HNTR’s Mobile-Game Review

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There is a certain corner of my heart reserved for rogue-like mobile games, it seems. (My understanding of rogue-like being: games with randomized maps, enemy placements, and/or items, that reset the map and your character when your character meets their demise) I’m not sure what got me started but my first game of the sort was Pixel Dungeon. I loved how endless it felt. I liked finding new tricks and strategies to deal with it’s never-ending, ever-shifting challenges.

But at some point, I got tired of it. It seemed endless; it was a procedurally-generated rogue-like after all. But over time, it just lost its lustre. I guess–and I only consider this a possibility now, now that I compare it to another game– it’s not only a changing arena that keeps players interested. A new map and newly placed enemies can only go so far to keep people interested… Unless changes in those aspects are enough to fundamentally change the way the players play the game.

Of course, when playing a game, we expect an amount of continuity between levels and play-throughs. Generally speaking, a game can’t be a block-based puzzler in one level and be a first-person shooter in the next, otherwise, we wouldn’t call it the same game. But for any game to hold its audience captive for longer than the first round of fun it offers, it must remix itself in fresh ways that still operate under the same consistent pretenses and systems. And I know if no other mobile-rogue-like that does this better than the challenging, easy-to-play, hard-to-master: Hoplite.

Though to be honest, I haven’t played many other rogue-likes… …Serves a testament to how addictive Hoplite is! Ha!

Anyway, Hoplite is a turn-based strategy game on a hexagonal grid. The environs are procedurally generated, comprising of lava blocks, impassable; rock/earth blocks, the ground on which you walk; and a temple and stairs to the next level, one of each for every floor, the stairs appearing at the same place every time: directly across from your also-consistent spawn point.

There are an assortment of enemies, all with different abilities and behaviours. They are randomly placed in each level but as far as I can tell, each level has parameters for how many and of what kind the enemies are that wait for you at each floor as progress deeper into the depths of… Hades? The underworld? I’m not sure. There’s lava and demons. I’m sure it’s written down in the game somewhere.

Anyway. The combat is fun, fast-paced (for a turn-based strategy game), and satisfying. You have from the start a variety of unique actions with which to do harm to your enemies and maneuver around threats. It’s all very simple, but coupled with an ever-changing battlefield, it feels like a fresh challenge every time. But where the game really shines are in the effects of each floor’s temple.

On each level of the game there is a single, one-block temple placed on the opposite half of the arena from your consistent spawn point. Reach it and interact with it and you are given a choice of usually 5 ‘blessings’. You can increase the amount of times you can get hit, restore your hit points completely, or grant yourself one of (usually) three new abilities or buffs to an existing ability. These new abilities range from the power to leap longer distances or to stagger surrounding opponents when you land to push away enemies and bombs in an arc instead of a single point or to reduce the amount of turns you have to wait before doing it again; to have more energy for leaps and even more energy for leaps, and even more.

Such abilities may seem simple, but for a game that was simple to start, and still a ton of fun to boot, such simple abilities are game changing. Something as simple as calling back your spear after throwing it, rather than having to walk over and pick it up, or pushing bombs and enemies away 2 squares instead of one, really change your strategies in meaningful ways. Rather than differences in quality, these changes were differences in quality: clear-cut, concise, and altogether more meaningful than a slightly sharper sword or slightly thicker armor.

Procedurally generated arenas and enemies, along with meaningful, game-changing ability upgrades already made the game well worth the dollar or 2 it took it open up its endless dungeon mode (wherein the game doesn’t end after its first 16 meaty levels. You just keep going deeper and deeper, each level more difficult than the last). But surprisingly, what has unerringly captivated me of late are a part of the game that doesn’t change: the game’s vast and varied challenges and achievements.

Now, now. Don’t chalk this up to completionist spirit. I don’t give a damn for trophies or achievements in the games I play. I may consider them on the off-chance that I run out of things to do in a game that I still enjoy. But in Hoplite, things are different. See, in Hoplite… Completing challenges unlock new abilities to choose from in the game’s temples. New and exciting abilities, the likes of which just beg me to unlock them and take them for a test run through Hades’ many arenas and inhabitants. Achievements unlock new possibilities and styles of gameplay. They essentially make an already-big game bigger.

Not only do these achievements grant you meaningful rewards to your efforts, which some games struggle to do (Ahem, COD) these challenges also poke and prod you towards strategies that you might never have tried or thought viable until you found out executing such a strategy successfully would grant you the ability to shoot fireballs from your face. You always feel clever playing this game because there are always so many situations to play and strategies to try.

At it’s core, Hoplite is literally an endless game. But the second half of the definition of ‘rogue-like’ according to the games I’ve played, is that the game is randomly generated within parameters. And even if these parameters are fair and guarantee that it’s possible to at least survive in the game, like I hear the parameters for Pixel Dungeon are, I believe that what’s kept me playing Hoplite for so long and so often are the consistent elements of the game, the achievements and the abilities that they grant me, not the randomness.

And I guess that’s what I crave in what I do these days: exciting, ever-changing obstacles, but a consistent, controllable set of skills with which to take them on.

Now that I think of it, my love for Hoplite reminds me of my love for a different game, which I also haven’t dropped since I started: Tetris. In particular, I’m in love with its “Clear 40 lines as fast as you can” mode. The pieces are all random, within certain parameters, and my reflexes and habits are what I’m challenged to optimized. Reflexes and habits are nearly endless. Every year, it seems that Tetris players are getting faster and faster. People argue about everything from biomechanics and control schemes to what decision-making habits are most optimal in piece placement and sequences of keys clicked, all for the sake of speed.

I don’t think Hoplite’s challenges and abilities run as deep as the nuances that make Tetris as timeless as it is, but I think it’s got the same kind of thing going in inside it. A good mix of the random and the predictable; seemingly endless possibilities, limited only to our own imaginations and abilities. And a highscore board.

I guess it would only be professional to let you guys know where I played this and where I got it. Google Play Store on an Android phone. Go play it if you can! I’m sure you’ll get hooked right away.

Here’s Magma Fortress’ site. I hope they don’t mind me pointing you guys their direction. They seem to be doing cool stuff all the time, so check them ooout: http://www.magmafortress.com/

And now, I’m out. Thanks for the read, brethren. What about y’all out in the audience? Any mobile rogue-likes that stand out to you lately? What makes you want to play a game for forever?

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