Hoplite iOS Review: Never Judge an Indie Game by its Graphics

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Every screenshot of Hoplite looks static; unchanging and uneventful. But reviews and comments kept the turn-based strategy on my radar. One comment in particular read, ‘Finally, a strategy game where every move actually counts.’ And while every turn-based strategy game’s marketing team is well aware of that phrase, the emphasized “actually” sold me. And at $1.99, I figured I’d give it a shot.

The commenter didn’t lie and Hoplite didn’t disappoint.

Gameplay

Your goal is to ‘Find the Fleece’ on the 16th floor of a dungeon, with each level increasing the amount (and variety) of enemies. To do this, you hop across the board to the stairs at the opposite end. You don’t need to kill your enemies, but chances are you’ll have to lest they kill you.

The enemies are where the game starts to become a bit more complex as they dictate your strategy and movement.

There are essentially two types of enemies, those that attack up-close (i.e. swordsmen) and those who attack from a distance (wizards, bombers and archers). Your strategy for each distance-based enemy varies immensely. The archer and wizards can attack diagonally and vertically… but the archers cannot attack if you are adjacent to them whereas the wizards can. As a result, if you’re in a pinch between the two of them, jumping beside the archer gives you some breathing room, whereas the wizard could be certain doom.

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Meanwhile, the bombers can attack every which way, but their bombs explode after an additional turn. So you can either move out of range or deflect their bombs back at a group of foes. And this is a nice segue into what tools you have at your disposal as this is where the gameplay becomes so deep, you too are descending into a labyrinth of possibilities.

Your Hoplite’s Arsenal

From the start of the game, you have three hearts, meaning you can be injured 3 times before death. You can lunge at foes to kill them if they are directly across from you (but you need your spear), and if you’re already adjacent to an opponent, you can shank them by moving to any tile next to them (‘shank’ the historically appropriate term, mind you).

You have a spear that you can throw a limited distance, but if you throw it you forego moving that turn (and you still need to retrieve it before you can use it again). You have a shield that can knock bombs or enemies back, but this needs several turns to recharge before it can be used again.

Finally, you have a ‘leap’ mechanic, that lets you hop over danger or jump to close the gap between you and an enemy (you can use this in conjunction with lunge to kill them as well). You cannot jump ad nauseum as it requires energy, and if your energy runs out, you need to wait for it to build back up again — similar to the shield bashing.

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These various tools bring a world of depth to the gameplay. No matter what, you always have at least two tricks up your sleeve with risks and rewards. Had this been the entirety of the game, I would’ve been satisfied… but leave it to Doug Cowley (creator) to take it one step further (and 16 floors deeper) with prayer towers.

Hoplite Prayer Towers

The prayer towers build don’t simply upgrade your arsenal, they reinvent the way you play. Each tower comes complete with 5 upgrades (2 that stay the same).

The 2 that stay the same are:

  • Divine Restoration: Heals you completely
  • Fortitude: Add additional health

These are fairly self-explanatory, but I feel compelled to expand on the second. If you add an additional health (so now you have 4 instead of 3), it does NOT replenish your life. So if you’ve been injured once then you’ll have 4 hearts, but one is still grayed from the damage — this important to know in the subsequent paragraphs.

hoplite-ios-review-arsenal-upgradesThe other 3 upgrades range across the board:

  • Increase maximum energy (for hopping)
  • Increase spear’s throw distance
  • Be able to lunge without spear
  • Reduce cool down time for shield bash
  • Increase knock-back distance for shield bash
  • Knock self-back with shield bash

And many more… but those are just some of the ‘first tier’ upgrades, it gets much more interesting once you get deeper into the labyrinth.

The prayer tower starts to offer upgrades that are more substantial, but come at a cost: your health. Now’s the tricky part. You can sacrifice some of your health for additionally powerful mechanics. For instance:

  • Increase ‘spear throw’ further (at the cost of 1 health)
  • Lunge even without spear (1 health)
  • Retrieve spear (1 health)
  • Leap causes enemy stun (2 health)
  • Bash causes knock-back (2 health)

And the list goes on!

Ay, there’s the rub, see there’s a difference between sacrificing health and losing health. If you’re hit in combat, you lose a health; the heart grays out until you heal (which would cost you a prayer tower in lieu of an upgrade). But, when you sacrifice your health for an upgrade, the red hearts are taken away permanently.

So for example, let’s say you have 5 maximum health, but you’re down to 3 hearts because you’ve taken 2 points of damage. Then, let’s say you want an upgrade that requires a sacrifice of 2 red health, then you’ll be going to the next level with 3 total health, but only 1 heart remaining!

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Up until learning that, I always ‘prayed’ for an additional health vs restoring my health entirely, but alas Doug Cowley anticipated such naivete — God, this game’s great!

Hoplite Challenge Tower

As much fun as Hoplite is, I feared the game’s replayability since after you return the fleece, that’s the end of it (unless you wish to continue descending for fun), but an update came out with a “Challenge Tower” that has swept those fears away!

The Challenge Tower plugs you into a heated battle with a fixed set of upgrades and you need to battle your way down three floors. This is great design as it forces you to create new strategies with the game’s mechanics. See, once you’ve played Hoplite a few times, it’s easy to always opt for the same upgrades, but the Challenge Tower randomizes your upgrades, so you have to experiment with all the variables provided — brilliant!

Conclusion

In case it wasn’t clear from my obvious enthusiasm (or if you’ve skipped to the adieu, my darling), Hoplite is iOS gaming gold. It is not a “play, beat, delete” game, it is a flagship for your iOS “Games” folder. Buy it; love it — stop reading –; hop to it!

PS. I’m more of a gamer than I thought, I saw Hoplite in the app store and didn’t think “Greek warrior” but assumed it was the “Lite” version of Hop… that or I’m another child left behind.

For more iOS reviews, visit Derek Hobson’s Article Archive

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