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Review: Sorcerer Kings

One Missed Call from Gandalf

Did I just get a text message?

Sometimes, even the loftiest of intentions can fall flat during execution if you don’t temper your ambitions with pragmatism. It kills me to write a review like this because I can’t help but admire the vision of the developer. After all, what self-respecting Pocket Tactics reader could possibly find fault with a studio that describes itself as “dedicated to the development of strategy games, made in the the spirit of classic board and miniature games, and exploiting the unique environment of multi-touch devices”? Unfortunately, praise for its creator’s mission statement is the kindest thing I have to say about iPad fantasy wargame Sorcerer Kings. There might be a half-decent game buried in here somewhere, but numerous glaring problems will prevent all but the most determined masochists from finding it.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Sorcerer Kings is that it has a distinctly beta-quality, “game creation system” feel from start to finish.  You’ll begin with a flawed and non-interactive tutorial comprised of static images that look like they were created in Skitch in about five minutes. You’ll then move on to pre-game unit selection, where you’ll build your team. The game allows you to select from three different classes of units against what appears to be an arbitrary total points allowance. However, no distinction is made between types of units until after you’ve added them to your team. It’s a painfully cumbersome interface, and it sets the tone ominously for the actual gameplay.

The control scheme can be downright infuriating at times. First and foremost, there’s no undo function. Because of the obtuse user interface, it’s quite easy to do something you didn’t intend to do. I had to start over many times because of an errant tap. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the controls don’t feel even remotely native to the touch screen interface, despite the aforementioned mission statement of the developer. Something as simple as rotating a unit relies on context menus and precision tapping, marred by guesswork. Where are the swipe gestures? There’s no clear indication of when turns end. No explanation in the tutorial of what terrain does or doesn’t do, yet your opponents always seem to gravitate toward wooded areas. According to the credits screen, play-testing was performed solely by the developer and two other people with the same last name. I think that speaks for itself.

What is this i don't even

It’s a good thing we don’t teach people how to drive with tutorials like this.

Aesthetic issues are plentiful in Sorcerer Kings. On a fourth-generation iPad, the unique and pleasingly minimalist artwork by Roberto Cruz is wasted on visual elements that are often no bigger than your pinky fingernail. I’d love to enjoy the individual art assets without resorting to using a magnifying glass. I hate to dwell on visuals in a genre that usually doesn’t need to lean on them as a crutch, but the entire presentation is a mess. Unreasonably small in-game fonts sit on distracting, low-contrast backgrounds. Units might as well be postage stamps floating around the foldout map of Britannia that was included with some mid-period Ultimas. Jarringly, unit commands and in-game alerts pop up in the standard iOS window decoration, but the endgame summary window has a semi-customized look to it. Did I mention there’s no sound? None. Zero. Not even a click when you tap to confirm you’ve selected a unit.

It’s a shame that the same care and attention that went into the art assets didn’t seem to spread to Sorcerer Kings’ user interface. This must have been a great-looking game on the drawing board – but it unfortunately needs to go back there.

SCORE

1 out of 5

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