Companions – Hands-on preview

April 28, 2011

Companions is a top-down RPG/Dungeon Crawler for the iPad, featuring a party of up to 4 player controlled characters. The game is playable as a campaign with a full-fledged storyline or as a single-map experience, packed with achievements and leaderboards.

I’ve had a preview/press build of Companions for a while and I’ve been having a great deal of fun dungeon crawling, looting and fighting a variety of living and (un)dead enemies. I’ve also been discussing the game via email with Martin from Smuttlewerk and making various suggestions about how the already impressive interface could be improved even further.

In the version that I have, there is a single map tutorial where you are introduced to each of the four character types and the first level of the campaign story. The campaign level is a huge, sprawling dungeon complex where each party member has their own individual intro story and mini solo mission before they start meeting up with each other. Unlike some party-based RPGS, you are not playing as one character and recruiting followers, you play each member of the group with the same degree of control.

Right from the start, there are important choices to make. You have to choose one of 3 class types for each character. The screen images explain this. I recommend clicking each image to view the full size iPad screen.

The Minotaur can be a Bull (Tank), Gladiator or Berserker.

The Elf can be an Assassin, Ranger or Archer

The human Mage can choose from 3 schools of magic - Light, Matter & Void.

The Dwarf can be a Miner, Draftsman or Engineer.

Once you have chosen your party members, it’s time to venture into the dungeons… The tutorial holds your hand and gives you plenty of time to familiarise yourself with the interface and the individual skills of each party member.

This old guy knows what he's talking about. It's a good idea to listen to what he has to say.

The game can be viewed (and played) at two different levels of zoom.

Although there are 4 members of the party you only ever control one at a time. To select a character, you tap the character itself or the portrait on the left side of the screen. Most of the time, particularly in battle, it is much easier to select using the portraits. The items and skills on display are those of the currently selected character.

When entering the campaign, a difficulty level must be selected. I liked the fact that the hardest setting is called “Normal”. Although it is very challenging, I found that much more amusing than something deliberately ominous such as “Super Uber Hard” difficulty.

Real men play on ten 😉

I’ve promised Martin I won’t give anything away about the campaign story, so I’ll try to just stick to facts about the gameplay.

The story starts … (that didn’t last long, did it?) … with each character separately entering the first dungeon for their own reason. I immediately got a good sense of a real world outside the immediate game environment; the back-stories are detailed and lend a sense of impressive depth to what is to follow.

Each party member enters the dungeon alone, with predictably limited and weak starter gear.

Starting each character alone in the dungeon is a great way to introduce each class, as well as allowing each character to have their own individual story and an explanation for their motivations. You may be playing all of the characters, but it’s surprising how different each one feels when you understand who they are as well as what type of skills they have.

It's not long before you start picking up better gear.

The game requires you to think ahead, plan when to use your skills (they all have a cool-down period) and not just rush blindly into large, empty looking rooms! If you attempt to play Companions like an action-RPG slaughter-&-loot-fest you will last maybe 30 seconds. The first thing that you learn is that you need to think. Quite a lot. Here’s an example… I am playing the Elf Ranger and she is alone. I find a large room full of bones and I manage to trigger an uprising of about a dozen skeletal warriors. They kill me. I try it again, using a very clever tactic called “running away” and they eventually catch up and kill me. So I think about it. I look at my skills and realise I can summon a Dragonking pet. Not bad. I summon him, watch him fly around for a while and then I go and trigger the undead apocalypse again. This time, I plan my running away a bit better. I use a natural choke-point, my pet does his best to tank the skeletons and I shoot holes in them from a  distance, taking no damage at all. Like this:

Slow moving skeletons are no match for my "hiding in a small room" strategy!

Each character has their own inventory, skills, attributes and resistances. You can view all this information in this information panel:

Tapping on an item or skill will open a smaller window giving stats for that particular thing.

The Dwarf has a unique talent – the ability to build things. Dangerous things, mostly, such as traps, crossbow towers and swirling blade constructions that damage all adjacent enemies. Cunning placement of different traps and structures is the key to success. If a swirling blade thing damages everything next to it, put a trap next to it that holds an enemy for a few seconds… and for those few seconds they are going to take massive damage from the swirling blades. That’s just one possible example out of many.

Each structure has its own health bar. Standing behind them will lure enemies into the line of fire.

So, you have a Minotaur who is either a Tank type character or a fairly tough melee fighter, an Elf with a bow (and occasionally a pet), a Dwarf who can build a lot of very useful things and, finally, a human Mage who can cast a variety of spells, some offensive, some heals or buffs, depending on the magic school you selected.

Yes, you're here to annoy the chief bad guy and boss everyone else around. Mages ... typical.

Companions is due for release in May. I don’t have an exact date, sorry, but I’ll be first in the queue when it appears.

Thanks very much to Smuttlewerk for giving me the opportunity to try out their game. Look out for a review of the full version on Arcadelife as soon as it is available on the app store, or maybe just a bit after that, depending on how busy I am playing the game!

Some links:
Smuttlewerk (website)
Companions Game (website)

One comment

  1. […] friends! check out the great review of the press version of Companions! cheerio! __________________ http://www.companions-game.com […]

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