Phantomgate E3 Impression
If there was ever such a thing as gaming culture shock, it would be a good description of my experience at Netmarble’s E3 hands-on demo of Phantomgate. That isn’t meant in a disparaging way; in fact, I thought the game had interesting ideas and a slick presentation. Rather, I was surprised after my initial interest to find out that the game in question was a free-to-play title, reliant on trading in real-world money for in-game currencies, which is a genre that simply isn’t in my wheelhouse.
The game follows Astrid, the illegitimate half-human daughter of one of Odin’s fearsome valkyries. Now grown older, the young outcast decides to turn the tables and battle against the forces pursuing her. The graphics are colorful and attractive, and performing some light platforming with Astrid (after a moment to get used to the on-screen touch controls of tablets) was enjoyable. Picking up the myriad of crystals strewn generously around the level gives the gameplay a pleasant feeling of constant accomplishment.
There is, however, another gameplay mechanic, and this one comes into play when engaging in combat with the on-screen monsters. One of Phantomgate‘s main draws is its monster collecting aspect, here dubbed phantoms, which are used to assist Astrid in battle. Currently, there are over 300 phantoms planned to be included in the game, all of which must first be collected and can then be leveled. As anyone who’s ever been interested in a monster collecting game can tell you, there’s a real attraction to completing these collections, especially when there are menus full of colorful rosters of your creatures as well as any you haven’t yet unlocked.
But here’s where real-world money comes in. Players can buy large amounts of gems which, together with in-game gold, is used to gain something called essence, which, in turn, is traded in to summon new phantoms as well as upgrade them. Each phantom requires a certain amount of essence. The developers are quick to point out that essence is also awarded randomly after some battles, as well as a once-a-day reward, so the game can technically be played without any actual money investment. But the amounts of these free essences, compared to what players need to maximize their phantom collection, is quite small. In addition, some levels, like boss fights, require stamina to enter and replay, which does replenish daily or — you guessed it — can be purchased with real-world money.
I have a hard time legitimizing this type of gameplay. True enough, one could choose to wait out the clock each day to only receive the free bits and play what they can that way, but it’s highly unlikely that a title that appeals as a collection game won’t see players doing whatever they must to collect, collect, collect. What bums me out the most here is that core game, until we started talking currencies, seemed very appealing, and I would have loved to play this as an actual commercial release, if that’s what it had been. Well, to each his own, and everyone is certainly free to make up their own mind when Phantomgate releases for iOS and Android devices during Quarter 3 of 2018.