Cliffhanger Productions knew exactly what they wanted to do. Instead of trying to create a new Endless Runner clone, they set out to create a mobile game that has lasting appeal, and Aerena may just have it.
Aerena- pronounced ‘Arena’- takes place in an alternative steam punk universe where mankind has discovered and harnessed a new power source called ‘Aether’- pronounced ‘Ether’-. and this new source of energy allowed man to prosper in new ways– until they begin to fight over all of this new energy.
After the dust settled from the wars over the Aether, there was only one station left that holds the precious resource. Soon a competition was created to see who will gain temporary control of the station.
The story is pretty much a throwaway that only exists to give players a reason to fight against one another. When the opening scene started to explain the story, I was intrigued, but that intrigue soon disappeared. So did any explanation as to why the factions wanted control.
This game is still in alpha at the time of this preview, so perhaps there will be more to the story after the game sees a proper release. I also hope that the full version will contain a proper tutorial.
The preview build has three out of the five menus open: Shell Generator, League and Proving Grounds. The Loadout and Shop menus were closed.
Proving Grounds serves as the game’s tutorial section, but you could have easily gotten that mode confused with a normal player-vs-bot single player mode.
The game does a poor job of explaining things. Because the match is ongoing, it gives you a text box explaining the very basics. It tells you how gain Aether, but it forgets to tell you how to attack opponents. Instead, for some odd reason, there is an icon players can click on that will show them what everything on their HUD means.
Proving Grounds throws players straight into a match and tells you to pick a team of champions, a ship and three shells. Not once did the game try to explain the difference in the ships or the champions. At first, you’ll probably just pick randomly and see their differences in the match.
At least, that’s what I did until I accidentally opened a champion’s stat menu. It turned out that I needed to click on the champion’s picture in order to see his stats and needed to choose ‘select’ in order to choose that champion.
After a few matches, I noticed there were no real differences in the ships except for how they looked. I honestly don’t know if this will be the case when the full game releases.
Trying to figure out which champion to play wasn’t hard; the game automatically gives you three champions and asks you to chose two more. Unfortunately, this means everybody is going to have the same three champions on their team– which can ruin the excitement for strategy fans because they know practically everything about their opponent’s lineup.
Shell Generator is a time limit section that awards players with random shells that can be used in a match. I’ll get to what shells are in a moment. In the preview, the generator was on a 30 minute timer and gave out simple low powered shells. There’s no telling if this will be the same in the full release. Cliffhanger Production claims that the game will have “40+ champions, shells and ships…”, but they did not clarify if that was all three features added together.
Shells are special offensive and/or defensive rewards added to your ship. Some shells can damage opponent’s champions or even directly attack ships. For example, the ‘Aether Discharge’ shell will cause a total of 3 damage to the ship of an opponent.
Not all shells are created equal. Some carry higher risks than others. One shell available in the preview, called ‘Blaze‘, will cause a total of 4 damage to all champions on the field, including friendlies. These shells are double edged swords, but, if used right, they can cause major damage to an opponent’s ship.
This is because of how the rules for winning a match are.
There is only one way to win a match: destroy your opponent’s ship.
However, there are three different ways to achieve this.
One way is to attack directly using shells– they can only be used when the player has collected enough Aether for their ship. The amount of Aether needed depends on the shell.
Players can also attack their opponent’s ship directly using their champion.
The third and most interesting way to win is by defeating opposing champions. What makes this so interesting is that for each champion lost, the losing ship takes damage and gains Aether. The ship that won only gains Aether. This helps makes every decision feel crucial and rewarding.
League is the game’s main draw. Here you play against other people online in a tournament that has multiple classes: bronze, silver, gold, platinum. These classes are earned by accumulating enough points through winning matches.
Another draw to Aether-Clash of Champions is the ability to cross-play using a smart device. At the time of this preview, the game is only available on select Android devices. However, Cliffhanger Productions has noted that an iOS version is in the works. I was able to play the game on my HTC One phone.
The app was 96 MB, and the game looks fine going from PC to a smaller mobile screen. While there were some frame rate issues, it didn’t hinder my ability to play a match online.
Unfortunately, trying to find a match is a different story. It can be difficult to find a single match. Even on a reliable Wi-Fi network, the game struggled to find and connect to a match.
Aerena- Clash of Champions is a fun and interesting strategy game, especially for a game that is still in alpha. With some more work on explaining how the game’s mechanics work, some UI tweaks and a stronger connection between mobile and PC/Mac matches, Aerena could be a mobile game that strategy lovers never knew they wanted.
Cliffhanger told Corrupted Cartridge that, upon release, the game will be free:
The final game will be free, allowing players to either use a rotating cast of champions and ships, or purchase them for permanent availability.
So if you’re interested in trying Aerena- Clash of Champions, you can get it on Steam for Mac or PC via the Early Access program for $7.99 (basic on both platforms) and $14.99 (Deluxe Edition). The Deluxe Edition has an extra access key that can be given to a friend. The game is set to release in the first quarter of 2014.
*This preview is based on an Early Access key provided by Cliffhanger Productions*