Aerial Kingdom review: a pretty mobile RTS, but not worth the waiting
C. Custer | On October 17, 2013 at 2:00 pm
Chengdu-based mobile developer Enveesoft has just launched a new mobile game — perhaps its most ambitious yet — titled Aerial Kingdom (天空之城). At the moment it’s only available on iOS and there is no English version that I could find, but I still took the Chinese version for a spin to see whether the Aerial Kingdom was worth ruling.
Gameplay: RTS without the S
Aerial Kingdom is a tough game to fit into a genre. In a lot of ways, it’s like an RTS game: you build up your home base by upgrading various buildings and collect resources you can then use to build troops and battle other armies. But those battles, which take place on a flat battlefield in an alternate dimension, are like a very dumbed-down RPG: the only things that matter are your troops’ stats and how many of them you have. There’s no strategy to winning or losing battles; if you lose it’s just because you needed more — or better — soldiers.
Unfortunately, getting those soldiers can be an exercise in boredom. Upgrades and soldiers take a while to build, and while that’s true in most RTS games, there isn’t enough to do in Aerial Kingdom while you’re waiting, so often you find yourself sitting around, watching the 2 minute clock count down so you can get your new soldiers and proceed into battle. It’s the sort of wait that could be justified if the battle mechanics were really fun, but they just aren’t. You already know whether you’re going to win or lose before you even start, and watching the fight play out isn’t particularly entertaining. In the end, the payoff just isn’t worth the wait.
The game also seems to load somewhat slowly; you’ll see a spinning “loading” icon quite a bit, although rarely for more than a few seconds at a time. Still, it’s more waiting in a game that really didn’t need it.
With all that said, Aerial Kingdom does have its moments. Upgrading your base is fun and zooming around your celestial city collecting gold, building soldiers, and upgrading buildings will keep your attention for a while. The game does have quite a bit of depth to it; ultimately heroes get added into the mix, there’s a base defense activity as well, and a few other things to do, so don’t get the wrong idea: you can have a fun play session or two with Aerial Kingdom for sure. After a while, though, it’s going to drain on you. You can spice things up a little by playing with friends, but ultimately that won’t change the fact that the game revolves around battles, and the battles just aren’t very fun.
Graphics and Sound: Not too shabby
For a mobile game, Aerial Kingdom looks pretty good. Your home base (a sky city of sorts) is rendered in colorful 3D, and there are airships and a dragon flying around constantly, giving it the look of a living, breathing settlement in the clouds. Players have full control over the camera position, and you’ll have fun zooming in and out and flying around looking at your city from every angle, at least for a while.
The only visual element that really doesn’t work is the battlefield. Battles take place on an ugly two-dimensional plane, and it’s generally pretty tough to know what’s going on. You’ll see some explosions, some spell effects, and some damage numbers flash on the screen, and then get a notification of victory or defeat.
Aerial Kingdom has excellent sound effects, and its soundtrack fits the world very well, but it also gets old fast. The theme that plays while you’re looking at your home base (which is most of the time you’re playing the game) is about a 40 second loop, so if you play the game for half an hour you’ll have heard the same melody fifty times in a row. The music does change in a few circumstances (there’s a different song for battles, for example), but it gets old fast. Within a few minutes of playing the game I had turned the volume down quite low and was even covering and uncovering my phone’s speakers rhythmically in an attempt to spice up the music a little bit.
Aerial Kingdom presents you with a very cohesive world, and while the story doesn’t always make sense, Enveesoft has clearly put some effort into making this feel like a real place. In the early game you’re guided through the basic mechanics by the busy lass you see above, and the other characters and heroes you run into look and sound similar. Everything from the music (annoying though it can be) to the character design feels connected, and it’s this kind of attention to detail that will help keep you playing long after you might have abandoned a less cohesive-feeling game.
Aerial Kingdom is worth a shot for any fans of fantasy, RTS games, or good-looking 3D mobile games in general, but only because it’s free. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to get bored after an hour or two with the game, but since it’s free, that’s not a huge problem. And who knows, you may find it more appealing in the long-term than I did.