Angry Birds Epic has some fun gameplay that is hobbled by prohibitive IAP and an always-online requirement.
In all honesty, Angry Birds never held much appeal for me. It can't be denied, however, that developer Rovio has done a bang-up job building an empire from a single, simple concept. Its oeuvre includes such leviathans as Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons, Angry Birds Star Wars, Angry Birds Rio, Angry Birds Friends and — in a departure from the slingshot-birds-at-pigs, Bad Piggies, which sees you taking on the role of the pigs. Angry Birds Go, a Mario Kart-style racer, arrived in December 2013, finally delivering something completely different from the formula.
Angry Birds Epic is the developer's latest attempt to distance itself from old faithful. Rovio has taken the birds and the pigs and plonked them right down in a turn-based RPG, complete with character classes, different enemy types and upgradeable weapons and armour. Of course, because it's Angry Birds, the birds are the goodies and the pigs are the baddies: you and the band of birds you collect along the way are chasing the pigs across their kingdom in a series of stages to retrieve your stolen eggs.
As far as gameplay goes, it's pretty solid: simple enough for a child to pick up and play, but entertaining enough for adults to enjoy. Your birds and pigs are arrayed in an arena, birds on the left and pigs on the right. You attack pigs by drawing a line from the attacking bird onto the targeted pig. Tapping the birds adds a buff, and a "rage chili" at the bottom of the screen charges with each hit received or dealt. When it is full, you drag it onto your selected bird for a massive power attack.
Each bird has different abilities. We've unlocked three birds so far. Red is a knight, dealing heavy one-to-one melee attacks. Chuck, the yellow bird, is a wizard, dealing a lower ranged attack that hits every pig in the arena. Matilda, the white bird, is on heals, but can also deal a simple melee attack. By upgrading weapons and armour, and levelling up, you can increase your attack and defence stats. This range of abilities also keeps gameplay ticking over quite nicely as you consider the best strategy.
At the end of each round, you're awarded one, two or three stars according to your score; the more damage you take, the lower your score, so the idea is to hit hard, and take out the pigs as quickly as possible. This is because the stars determine something important: how many materials you get to upgrade your gear. You're given a chocolate wheel to spin, and, depending on how many stars you score, you get one, two or three materials — so there's certainly incentive to do well.
You can also get potions, materials, and coins from treasure chests along the way, and unlock new blueprints for gear upgrades, which you buy with silver coins, or "snoutlings". Gold coins are used to buy spins on a slot machine that can deliver legendary item blueprints, as well as potions in-battle (these can be crafted out of battle, but the materials are slow to come by). Gems ("essence of friendship") are used to buy extra spins on the wheel if you miss the materials you want, and there's probably another use for them as well.
The slowness of materials is one of the game's big problems. Gold coins and friendship gems are slow to obtain, and while silver coins are slightly better, the items in the game's store are pretty heftily priced — and so is the IAP. Gold coins can be purchased via the game's store, and used to purchase silver coins and gems, but you're not getting a lot of bang for your buck — 100 gold coins costs AU$5.49, which will get you 1250 silver coins; but when a single material costs at least 100 silver coins, and you need a fair few materials for one equipment upgrade, it racks up pretty quickly.
It's also interesting to note that, as far as we could ascertain, the game does not employ a "parental gate" as required by the developer guidelines updated last August, even though the app is listed as for ages 4+.
The other big bugbear is that the game has an always-online requirement. This meant that we could not play on a Wi-Fi only device outside of Wi-Fi range; while travelling, for example. We're sure this will prove a deterrent for parents who like to give their kids iDevices to play with on long car rides or in the supermarket.
Overall, the gameplay itself is solid, and there are plenty of goodies within the game for Angry Birds fans. A cinema lets you watch short episodes of the Angry Birds cartoon and others, and adding friends via the Game Center or Facebook lets you unlock special areas of the game. Overall, though — for us at least — the prohibitive IAP combined with the high cost and slow delivery of in-game items, as well as the always-online requirement, put the game firmly in the "not worth it" category.
Angry Birds Epic is free to download from the iTunes App Store in Australia and Canada, and will be coming soon to Google Play and the rest of the world.