Infinity Blade III Review – “An Amazing Portable ARPG, but it’s Time for a Well-Deserved Break”
Infinity Blade III is undoubtedly one of the most – if not the most – highly anticipated mobile game for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad in 2013. ChAIR Entertainment and Epic Games made us wait nearly two years for it, and after two gorgeous and challenging ARPGs they’ve served us in 2010 and 2011, it’s not a surprise their latest release is already under heavy scrutiny of hundreds of reviewers and tens of thousands of fans, barely two days after it launched on the App Store. Well, I’m happy to report that Infinity Blade III will meet the expectations of most aficionados of the series, action role-playing games, gorgeous graphics, and portable games in general.
By far the most impressive aspect of Infinity Blade III are its simply stunning visuals. Environment and characters are incredibly detailed, dynamic lighting looks absolutely amazing, animations are smooth, and special effects are so flashy and awe-inspiring that even people not interested in mobile games will feel obliged to express how impressed they are with the way this ARPG looks. Seriously, this portable game could easily pass as a console title and I find it hard to understand how is my iPhone 5 running it without bursting into a fireball, and what’s even more confusing for me is the fact that Infinity Blade III will definitely look much better on the iPhone 5S due to its OpenGL ES 3.0 support. In any case, even the vanilla version of the game feels highly polished and I could count the number of occasions on which I’ve experienced short frame rate drops in about 15 hours of playing time on fingers of one hand, and I’d still have enough fingers left to hold a pencil.
Hero Siris returns as a protagonist of Infinity Blade III, and while the game’s narrative is not exactly complicated, ChAIR put too much hope in fans to read the Infinity Blade novels. Sure, even those new to the series will be able to make heads or tails of the plot, but a lot of context will be lost to them, which is a shame, considering how we finally got an Infinity Blade game with a narrative of above-average quality. Lucky for its developers, not a lot of people play action RPGs for the story. Unlike the previous two installments which took place in single locations, IBIII takes its players on an epic journey across the globe. This decision “allowed” developers to create more varied environments while still not losing the sense of immersion that was always so strong in this series. All of the missions are launched from Siris’ hideout which serves as a hub of sorts, and the only minor flaw of this system is that while making the progression of the narrative less linear, it makes the actual environments through which you’ll be adventuring slightly more linear than they were in IBII. However, it also makes this portable game more suitable for playing on the go in short takes, which is important to a pretty big number of mobile gamers. Luckily, there’s also enough substance here to keep you from getting bored even in three-hour-long playing sessions.
Beneath the shiny surface of Infinity Blade III lies entertaining and approachable “easy-to-learn-but-hard-to-master” combat that everyone who played the previous games will be familiar with. Instead of trying to make a complex UI work on touch screens, ChAIR decided to create a control scheme almost completely based around swipe gestures for the original Infinity Blade in 2010. The controls haven’t changed much, if at all over the years, but there’s really no point in fixing what isn’t broke and if you think this makes this 3D dungeon-crawler (more) casual, you’ve obviously never played any game from the trilogy. Infinity Blade III is challenging enough to require some grinding (like most ARPGs), yet the arsenal of weapons, magic, combos, and upgrades at your diposal is so huge you’ll be unlocking something new every 10 minutes, not to mention dozens of the game’s achievements and non-combat activities.
There’s even a new playable character, a female warrior Isa in IB3, though the differences between her and Siris are mostly just cosmetic. Don’t let that fool you into thinking the gameplay is tedious: both characters have three rather distinctive combat styles, based on whether they’re wielding a light, standard, or heavy weapon, in addition to being able to cast various spells. Unlike most action RPGs, switching between styles in Infinity Blade 3 midway through the storyline is actually a viable option, and the game itself does a great job of encouraging players to try out different loadouts, as each weapon has a unique combo move and collecting all of the achievements will require quite a bit of skill and equipment switching. The leveling mechanic got a small remodelling and spending skill points on character’s stats will now not only improve his purely statistical combat effectiveness, but will also unlock new skills and bonuses like longer combos at certain milestones.
Anyway, back to the core gameplay: I already said it hasn’t changed much, but in case this is your first entry in the series, expect a lot of swiping, dodging, and parrying, with some occasional button presses and quick time events, which basically come down to more swiping. Various attacks can be chained into combos, which is quite important as the enemies game throws at you will often prove to be a challenge. Speaking of combos, they can now be finished with some awesome-looking super-moves, which is a novelty in the series. The second and last minor refinement to the game’s combat is the magic system, which is now more focused on status effects and as such – more useful.
The most changed elements of Infinity Blade III are the are the non-combat ones; sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Brewing potions, combining gems, forging and upgrading weapons, purchasing rare items from some chick that randomly appears in your hideout… these and many other similar activities amount for a solid portion of playing time. The problem is, some systems are overly complicated, others feature waiting timers, and ultimately – a big portion of them seems unfinished. The waiting timers are usually not that bad and only make you wait for a few minutes, and truth be told – it’s not like the game’s premium currency is scarce, but they’re still not a sight for sore eyes in a $6.99 portable game, to say the least. Even if you’re tempted to spend a dollar after 10 hours of playing, I would really advise against throwing a single cent on IAPs because in the end – you’ll only break the game and it’s well-balanced natural progression for yourself. I mean, the amount of grinding in Infinity Blade III is not that huge in the context of the (sub-)genre, and if you really dislike even the smallest traces of grinding – why the hell would you go and buy an action RPG? Grinding is like, the basic concept of this type of games. In overall, I’m not the biggest fan of the new and refined non-combat abilities, though I agree they have their uses and a good portion of people (completionists, those easily bored) certainly won’t mind them and will even like them.
Infinity Blade III is an excellent concluding chapter of ChAIR and Epic’s portable ARPG series and a fantastic action-role playing game in and of itself. If that’s what you’re looking for, go ahead and buy it – you’ll have a great time and enough content to play for weeks, possibly even months to come. However, if you’re expecting a revolutionary formula that will turn the series and/or the genre upside down… well, it just won’t happen, which is why I think this final part of Infinity Blade trilogy is perfectly timed before the danger of market saturation. We got three Infinity Blade iOS games in less than three years, and now it’s time to take a break because even though this is definitely the most polished game in the entire series, it’s too similar to the original and no matter how beautiful it is, there’s no way a potential Infinity Blade IV 1.4 in 2014 would get a same score this mobile title is getting today. With that in mind, I can vouch that this installment is still worth 7 bucks to every hack-and-slash aficionado and fan of the franchise looking for a satisfying conclusion to it. So, go ahead and enjoy some good ol’ action-based role-playing with ChAIR’s seal on it, hopefully for the last time before the series’ well-deserved break.
Score: 9 - Infinity Blade III is an amazing ARPG and the crown of the trilogy, but it’s time for a long and well-deserved break before Infinity Blade 1.4
Release date: September 18, 2013
In-game purchases: Yes, various optional cash bundles of both game’s currencies