I have never really had much interest in idle / clicker games, but my oldest daughter likes them and suggested a couple of months back that I give Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms a try, since I am a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons. Turns out, her suggestion was a good one as I have found myself going back to this one time and again and find its use of the D&D property and loot / grind cycle to be a rewarding one.
So I will admit that when I first heard about free to play idle / clicker games for mobile (and later PC, and later-later console), I kind of rolled my eyes. My wife plays some cookie one, my son and oldest daughter played a few different ones. The idea of tapping a screen repeatedly while almost nothing changed seemed silly to me. Then one day, my oldest (while poking at some idle game on her phone) strolled into my den while I was playing an older JRPG and she noticed that I was walking around in circles, grinding out gold and experience and asked me what made my JRPG any different than her clicker game. It did not help that the combat was sort of taking care of itself while I was doing other things on my PC. That was when she suggested I give Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms a shot.
Right off of the bat, Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms made a good first impression on me because of the first character it introduced, Bruenor Battlehammer, whom I was quite familiar with due to many of the older Drizzt novels I had read back in high school and college. This would be a theme, as other recognizable characters would be sprinkled in via both the default lineup and also through events that offer unlockable characters. As someone who has been reading the books, playing the video games and running the tabletop campaigns for a couple of decades or so now, this sense of familiarity definitely tickled a little pocket of nostalgia in the back of my mind that the more generic clicker games would probably never have touched.
However, if Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms was just some familiar names and cartoonish visual representations, it would have only managed to hold my interest for a few minutes or maybe hours at best. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed the strategy and progression loop that the game provides as well. Now visually, the style is pretty simple, with 2D characters that have a very cartoon aesthetic, both simple and colorful, yet completely appropriate for the title. The music is solid enough, though it and the sound effects are highly repetitive and I would definitely like to see more music variety added to the mix as what is there has a nice heroic swell to it, but after an hour or ten, offers little in the way of variety.
So while the presentation is a bit simple and at times repetitive, the same could be initially said of the gameplay itself. For those unfamiliar with the genre, essentially you start with a single character (Bruenor by default) who stands on the left side of the screen and attacks the creatures flooding in from the right side. Each character has a base attack that does a set amount of damage and has a cooldown before the next swing. Different characters have different types of attacks, such as targeting the enemy in the back instead of the front, or hitting multiple targets at once, things like that. So you can play the game without ever doing the ‘clicking’, but that element is very assistive in that it adds a small amount of damage to the creature in the front as well as stunning them for a split second, keeping them from advancing on your troops to the left as quickly. Thankfully on the PS4, it’s just a matter of holding down the circle button. I won’t lie – I used a chip clip early on to hold the button down while I was at one point grinding out the highest level I could manage while doing some stuff on my PC for twenty minutes. Even as I slapped the chip clip on my controller, I was kind of judging myself, but at the same time? I wanted some more gold so I could upgrade my characters.
That is the primary gameplay / progression loop. The higher level you are on, the more gold enemy kills earn you. The more gold you have, the more levels you can buy your characters to upgrade them. Here is where the D&D property really lends itself to this type of game, because there is this element of number rolling and stats behind the scenes. Each character has their own stats, race, gender, alignment, etc. The primary two stats you are going to care about is the health of your tanks in the front, and the overall DPS your team does. As you gain levels, a specific character’s damage will go up, or they will gain new skills that boost them in a variety of ways, from simple damage modifiers for the entire team, to skills such as firebreath when a horde of enemies are right in front, to ultimate attacks that have a minutes-long cooldown period, to abilities that heal or boost other units in your group based on positioning, or race, or charisma or any other number of items.
Here is where Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms tends to work so well – because I found myself constantly tinkering with my lineup. Sure, there are those long ‘idle’ periods – heck, it is right in the name of the game. However, I found myself doing a lot of strategizing as well. Position matters. The next ability you choose from leveling up your characters matters. Which person you have in your lineup can also make a big difference. Characters are slotted, so while Makos the warlock is a character you can unlock about midway through your lineup, you can swap him out with other characters if you unlock them (either through purchase or events) if they suit your lineup better.
Therein lies the monetization strategy around Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms. This is a free to play game, but there are a few different types of things you can purchase. There are chests that unlock things at random (equipment for your characters, potions that temporarily boost stats, contracts, things of that nature), characters that can be bought, packages of that nature. None of these are required. They can add variety or accelerate progress, but if you have patience? There is no need to spend money. That being said, I did pick up a couple of the cheaper familiar ones just because you can use familiars to do the button pressing for you (yay, no more chip clip!), pick up gold and gems, things of that nature.
The quest structure is another aspect of the game that I find interesting. While the general quests are often little more than something like: grind through 50 levels and kill all of the things – I can appreciate the types of creatures and locales ripped straight from familiar D&D campaigns. Also, upon beating a base campaign, you unlock harder variants. The ‘harder’ aspect comes in a few flavors, from needing to beat more levels (like 75, 150, etc), and usually additional conditions (random stronger enemies get sprinkled into the waves, or maybe you are escorting chickens and instead of being able to have your usual party of nine champions, you only have access to five for this run), all of which tends to yield better rewards.
Now, the one part of this game that feels as though it runs counter to the D&D formula is that every time you complete or reset a quest, you characters are starting over. You have no gold and you start off with just a level 1 Bruenor in your lineup. However, that is not to say all sense of progression is lost. For one, I mentioned earlier that you can get equipment for your characters. There are different levels of equipment, and they carry over from quest to quest. If you pull duplicates of that equipment, you level it up. You also earn favor from a particular deity depending on the campaign you are in, and that tally increases your gold earnings (expediting future runs) and can be used to unlock powerful bonuses for your team. Additionally, there are numerous achievements built into the game and they have nominal 1 or 5% bonuses that get applied. Your items like potions and contracts also carry over from one adventure to the next, so there is still a nice sense of progression, despite the counter-intuitive nature to D&D characters constantly getting reset to level 1 upon completing a quest. One thing that helps to keep me mentally on my toes is that formations change depending on the campaign I am running. The primary campaign is a diamond-like nine, while another has a more arrow-like ten and so on. These challenge you to rethink your usual strategies as character placement is so important for bonuses.
A couple of the other aspects that I feel separates Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms from similar titles in the genre is that there is something of a thin storyline in place with the various quests. There are also numerous festivals that allow for the unlocking of other characters (I’m looking forward to my own personal Drizzt personally) as well as buffs that show up now and again on weekends that may boost damage done by particular characters, gold earned, things of that nature that can take some of the grind out of things – or at least the waiting for the grind.
There are a few technical areas where Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms could stand to improve still. For one, if you leave it run too long, you start to see what appears to be some sort of memory leak occurring. On the PC this is still listed as an Early Access title, but there is no concept of that on the PlayStation 4, so this is considered a full release. I’m sure that the team is still tweaking things here and there, and hopefully this is one of the aspects that gets improved. I suspect to some extent, it already has as a patch from last week seems to have improved the following issue. If I used to let the game idle for an hour or so, I start to see it pause for a second or two here and there. Let it run for two or three, and the pausing becomes more frequent. After six or so hours, the game would usually crash. My most current run had me applying some of the potions I had to how quickly the game ran (there is one for speeding things up). Without fail, it would crash about every four or five hours. After the last patch, I can get closer to ten or so hours before I start to see it crash, and the laggy behavior has improved, though it’s still not perfect Thankfully, there is an ‘offline’ gathering of gold and festival items when you are not actively playing that still rewards you with a sense of progress, but the process is much faster when the game itself is running. The gathering message also touches on a slight quibble on my part, as this was originally designed for PC and mobile it feels like, and windows can overlap. Hitting the circle button to dismiss a window that talks about how you have reached the point of completion in your current adventure also dismisses any open windows behind it – such as the one that tells you what you earned while offline. None of this is too terrible in and of itself, but it would be nice if holding the button only closed the foremost message and not all messages. Also, it might be nice if progress could be shared between accounts, since this is a game readily available on other platforms, but I am sure that there are technical difficulties with a shared account of that nature.
I have come away very pleasantly surprised by my time with Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms. The progression loop is solid, there is a decent amount of strategy to be had. A good deal of thought has clearly gone into this particular take on the idle / clicker genre. I find myself with this particular title running in the background a lot more often than I would have though, as there is definitely an addictive quality to figuring out what upgrade to purchase next or which quest to tackle next.