MMObility: Excalibur provides old-school arcade action

Excalibur screenshot
Excalibur, a new mobile MMO by R2Games, promises to provide fun side-scrolling action that is sure to remind you of older arcade classics like Golden Axe. I can't help but giggle when I think of the actual playerbase for many mobile titles and how the average age is not sufficient enough for any of them to have ever stepped foot in an actual arcade, but nostalgia always makes for good PR.

The game is set in the King Arthur world of knights and magic and even promises intense co-op action and many hours of gameplay. I did play it for many hours and enjoyed most of my time, but the game's issues pop up almost immediately.

Excalibur screenshot
I'll start off by giving the game respect for doing what it sets out to do: You will find many hours of side-scrolling action in the game. You'll control your character using an on-screen d-pad and will fire off abilities by pressing massive buttons on the right side. I've played many, many games that use a similar control scheme, but some utilize it better than others. There's a sweet spot of sensitivity that makes playing an action-based game on the slick screen of a tablet or smartphone a real joy, but if things are not tuned perfectly, then controlling the action can become a chore.

I played a Mage, one of three (soon to be four) classes that players can pick from. She fired off massive fire spells and lightning bolts as if she were born to do it. She felt mostly powerful, even in a tight spot, and killing tons of baddies was usually not an issue. It did become an issue when an enemy was directly behind me and the massive d-pad didn't respond to my commands quickly enough. There's also the issue of "lanes" of combat, a similar issue I found in the mostly enjoyable Dungeon Fighter Online. While you can steer your character to almost any point on the screen, you do not control where your fireballs or other abilities land. You can fire only in a straight line. Sure, some abilities do some splash or AoE damage, but for the most part, you will find yourself becoming a little frustrated when you are seemingly a hair's width away from destroying an enemy. At times the abilities seem to seek out enemies, but I'd rather have some way of controlling where my abilities aim. I don't want an easier game, but I would like more control.

Excalibur screenshot
I had access to a tiny Fae character that provided me a little support while fighting. I fed her, "evolved" her, and took her with me everywhere I went. Like many things in this game, all of the wonderful tiny bits of gear or armor or small upgrades do not really matter that much. My old rule always applies: do not worry about upgrading all the time until you have trouble defeating your enemies. In games like Excalibur, many players worry so much about the tiny numbers that might increase damage output or healing ability that collecting those tiny upgrades becomes a game in itself and an excuse for grinding.

I gained quite a bit of loot as I played through Excalibur but barely noticed any difference when I used it. I realize that loot might be a selling point to someone who loves loot. Perhaps the lack of reliance on gear makes the game more about the action. Isn't that the point?

Of course, I know that eventually I will have my butt handed to me by some massive boss mob, but for the time I played, I found that dodging my enemies and looking out for the more clever baddies that disappear and pop up behind me is more important than anything.

There are some great moments in the Excalibur -- namely, the stages that throw you into a much more chaotic dungeon instead of the usual adventures that have you moving perpetually to the right. There are "events" to take part in as well, although every one I joined tended to favor higher levels. I tried to join random PvP matches and was thrown into a fight with a player who was much higher level than I was. The game seriously needs some tweaking in the match-making department. I hosted a 2v2 match twice but both times had to quit because no one else showed up. Again, good ideas... that are not implemented that well.

Excalibur is most fun when you are beating the snot out of tons of baddies. The side-scrolling open meeting areas remind of of Golden Age's towns, and the boss battles do evoke older classics. That's all good stuff. There's a fourth class -- the Ranger -- on the way too. Unfortunately, the combat is just about all that is offered in this game. It could use better social options and more emphasis on smoothing out multiplayer adventures. But heck, it's free, and you'll even get a nice chunk of in-game gold when you sign up. Not a bad deal!

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
This article was originally published on Massively.