The Infinity Blade series has become a landmark for iOS gaming. Not only do these games sport incredible visuals, they also offer engaging gameplay that feels at home on a touch screen rather than hindered by it. Infinity Blade 3 is no exception to this, it looks great, it plays great and it is a decent end to an impressive trilogy. However, this final instalment has trouble matching up to its predecessor – and though it retains a solid core not everything around it is so impressive. This is still a great fun game, and well worth your time, but a definite step back for the series.
Though there are some key differences, the act of playing Infinity Blade 3 is awfully similar to playing 2. The core gameplay involves a series of increasingly difficult one on one battles, that take place from a Punch-Out like perspective – and require you to swipe and tap the screen in order to defeat your foe. How this works exactly depends on what weapon type you have equipped, heavy weapons mean you can’t dodge attacks (but allow you to block multiple angles), dual weapons allow you to dodge (left and right – and jump upwards) and light weapons allow you to dodge left or right and block. The other main mechanic is countering, which involves swiping your finger across the screen at the same angle as your enemies attack. The idea here is that your finger controls your weapon; you attack enemies by swiping them, thus a swipe right on their weapon counts as a parry.
A string of successful dodges, blocks or counters stuns the enemy, giving you free rein to go to town with your finger. Before this point your weapon is usually blocked, or does minimal damage – meaning that the game isn’t just random swiping. To succeed in Infinity Blade you need to time your moves, and only attack when ready. Also swiping with purpose even when enemies are stunned is rewarded, as effectively linking attacks together does far more damage than random gesturing. On top of this Infinity Blade 3 includes weapon specific combos (a first for the series), attacks that require you to swipe in predefined ways in order to deliver large amounts of damage.
The addition of specific combos works to some extent, but isn’t overly compelling. Each weapon has its own combo (though these combos are only unlocked when you get to a certain point in your skill tree), and this does insure each has a slightly different feel. However the end result of this is that gameplay becomes more predictable than usual, though the gameplay loop in every fight is basically the same (avoid being hit with various manoeuvres, then hit the enemy a lot) there was some cathartic glee and respite in the moments when you could just go to town on an enemy. Though you could combo attacks together before, doing so didn’t require huge precision. It was still purposeful – you knew you had to keep alternating one way or the other – but you could really go crazy with it in a way that was really enjoyable.
Having one combo per weapon means that you now do the same thing every time your enemy opens up; you try to do that combo. This makes the combat more methodical, more purposeful, but also more repetitive. Of course variety does come to every fight by way of enemy behaviour, and how you have to adapt your strategy to how they attack you – but this constant combo adds a constant to every fight. This is now the most effective way to deliver swift damage, and though it’s fun to pull off (and it’s something you won’t always nail), it does start to wear out its welcome. Of course you can still go back to attacking normally, but a more in-depth combo system would have been a better fit here. A number of varied moves rather than one per weapon would have added more thought and planning to encounters, rather than having you battle in a fluid and varied way until you can attack, then doing the same thing each time.
Of course the repetition of weapon specific combos does encourage you to keep changing gear, and this is somewhere where Infinity Blade 3 excels. Loot is doled out rather often, and there are enough items in the store at varying prices (in-game money not real money), to keep you constantly upgrading your character. It’s an enjoyable and addictive process, earning money through fights (and chests, if you can call that earning) in order to buy yourself better gear. This is complimented by the amount of gear you need to equip, and by upgrade systems and gems systems which allow you to enhance your items further.
On top of this the experience system really encourages players to take full advantage of the wares on offer. Each item has an experience threshold, and once that is filled it is considered mastered. Mastering a weapon allows you to sell it, but it also means you don’t get an experience bonus from it. This is because you gain more experience when you are filling up the experience bars of items, meaning that the quickest way to level up your character is to be flexible with your gear. This works really nicely, and keeps things from getting stale, but it does have a downside. There comes a point where either the next level of gear is very expensive (and not coming to you for a while) or where you just have the best gear – or quite simply equipment that suits your playstyle already. These latter two points mean you have to play in ways you might not want to, in order to level up quickly, and this isn’t hugely enticing. Without these experience gains, levelling is a slow process; with it, it is super fast. This means that there comes a point where things just slow to a crawl – but handily this will be several hours into the game.
Overall, the progression in Infinity Blade 3 is rather excellent. It plateaus after a certain point in a rather unsatisfying way, but up until that point it will keep you hooked even when the gameplay is relatively mastered. Much like the previous games you can level up and assign skill points, however now you have proper skill trees that make the process a lot more enjoyable. The prospect of unlocking the next thing keeps you coming back, and a varied set of unlocks spread throughout each category gives you real incentive to adopt a more balanced build – and to experience more sides of the game. The skill trees themselves aren’t the best out there, but there’s enough really good stuff in there to make them compelling. One slight downside though, is that this system locks away a lot of features from you.
Closing off features makes sense in regard to the games new additions, as it adds a nice sense of progression from the previous game, and gives the player room to learn at a steady rate. However certain features from Infinity Blade 2 are locked by default, this means you have to assign points certain ways to in order to have the experience you are used to (and it makes the game feel like a step back straight away rather than one forward). It’s a shame that you have to unlock what was previously a default – and worked perfectly well that way – but there are enough other interesting unlocks to make the addition of skill trees an excellent one.
Another new addition is that of another playable character. Infinity Blade 2’s Siris returns (fully playable), but he is accompanied by female protagonist Isa. Having a playable female protagonist in what has been a male only series is a great move, but in reality having two characters makes little difference to the game. There is a lot of promise for this mechanic, recently GTA V showed how well you can utilise multiple protagonists, but in Infinity Blade 3 this mechanic isn’t really used at all. In fact the inclusion makes things a bit silly in places, and the only real difference it makes is that you have to equip and level up two characters. This has the great benefiting of elongating the excellent progression, and staving off the eventual plateau a bit further, but that’s about it.
You can’t even choose to play as a character though, the game is split into acts and acts are split into two levels – one where you play as Isa and one where you play as Siris. There are some slight exceptions to this rule, the prelude for example is only Siris, and the final act has both as playable (you don’t choose though, it just contains both characters at predefined points). This is a missed opportunity, but not as much as it would seem as there is really no difference between each character. Playing as Isa is exactly the same as playing as Siris, and though they have separate skill trees some of the more interesting unlocks share across both. The only real difference is that they have separate gear (meaning separate stores and inventories), though the gear is all of the same type.
Playing as Isa is a nice inclusion, but it’s ultimately handled rather clumsily. They try to frame her as a different feeling and playing character, without changing the actual gameplay. Needless to say this comes across as really forced, and quite laughable. Between fights moving as Isa is the same as Siris, you click on the next point or enemy, but instead of just walking she moves stealthily. When initiating a battle she jumps out on the enemy with a crossbow, fires some bolts and then fights them normally. This has no impact on the fight and feels completely stupid. Why would you bother moving around stealthily if you are just going to attract the attention of your enemies with a harmless (but blatant) crossbow, and then just walk and fight them normally?
The other major change from the previous games is the overall structure of the adventure. Previous titles had you replaying the same area in order to get strong enough to beat one powerful enemy. This got the tiniest bit repetitive in the first, but the second was so well put together (full of branching paths and opportunities to vary each playthrough) that it cleverly avoided this. Infinity Blade 3 ditches this structure in favour of regular levels, each with a boss at the end. The end result is like playing through multiple Infinity Blade 1s – because if the boss kills you, you start again in a new rebirth (a constant of the series). Things get a bit harder, but your progression carries over, meaning you can grind your way past bosses if you really lack the skills (and importantly the game is still designed with this in mind). This is how the game gets its legs, and it still works in this structure, but it’s not as appealing as Infinity Blade 2. It is now completely linear, and though each level takes you to a new location, going on a straight path through each isn’t as exciting as the much more intricate and explorable world of the previous game. In this sense Infinity Blade 3 is a real step down from 2, and feels less fully featured.
There’s a lot to like about Infinity Blade 3, but in almost every way it is just overtly similar to – or worse than – its predecessor. The late game never gets as exciting as the final stages of 2, and the simplified structure is a genuine disappointment. The story is also not a high point, unless you are fully invested in the Universe. I gained little from it, but I’ve always found the story rather inaccessible, and haven’t read the books (they seem to be required texts in order for this game to pay off). Independently of plot details though, the characters aren’t that interesting and there isn’t much of a thematic or emotional hook. If you love the lore, you will probably get a lot out of it; if you aren’t overtly familiar with it then the story holds little for you.
Infinity Blade 3 is a really fun game with astounding visuals, and a good amount of content. It’s very replayable, due to its new game plus option and continuing progression (though weirdly bosses don’t scale even though every other enemy does, meaning you will get stuck on minions but annihilate their overlords). If you have a pining for more Infinity Blade, this new instalment is a great excuse to jump back in for some more finger slashing action – just don’t expect it to improve upon its predecessor. The formula still works, and was worth doing again, but it’s been done better before.