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Review: Hoplite (iOS)

Sunday, February 16th, 2014 by

hoplite magma fortress
Hoplite is a strategy/roguelike that seems simplistic at first sight, but quickly bares its fangs. Does it get too difficult too quickly, or is it worthwhile?

Hoplite puts you in control of a lone soldier as you fight your way through the levels of a random dungeon. Like the hoplites of Ancient Greece, you can jump, attack with a spear, and bash with a shield. You and your enemies alternate taking turns, and you definitely need the time to think.

hoplite boardMost roguelikes will throw you into an endless dungeon to see how far down you can venture before death claims you, and Hoplite does the same, but gives you a goal to start: retrieve the golden fleece, which has little to do with Jason and the Argonauts and more to do with surviving for 16 levels. This is no small feat — you’ll die many times trying to make it that far.

Things start out simple enough, facing just a few enemies. You’ll likely fight your way past a melee opponent and an archer, and should easily be able to avoid damage if you think it through. Stop by an altar for your choice of a random improvement — plus one max health, maybe increasing your spear-throwing distance, perhaps making your shield bash swing in an arc instead of just straight ahead, etc. — then it’s off to the next level.

hoplite altarAdd another enemy in the mix — probably one who throws a bomb every third turn — and you should still be able to get through without any damage. Another altar, another staircase downward.

So the pattern continues: Go down a level, fight a total of one more monster than the prior level had — or sometimes the same number, if you’re lucky — choose a random bonus, pound the steps. But by the time you get to depth 5 or 6, you start having to consider every move carefully. That archer can shoot up to 5 spaces if it has a clear shot, the bomb-guy can throw up to 3 spaces, and the wizard can shoot a line of fire that travels for 5 spaces, but it won’t attack if any of its allies are in the way. Suddenly you have to not only look at your next move, but the next one, and perhaps the one after that. Start to take damage at this point, and you might not make it to level 16.

To complicate matters, the altar bonuses might begin to require that you sacrifice a maximum health point in order to take them. Most of the time you won’t have to take such a skill if you don’t want to, but they are generally significantly better than the non-sacrificial variety, so you’ll begin to want them. Then you’re not only keeping in mind how to make it through each level while taking minimal damage, but also what skills you’ve already acquired and if a new super-ability is worth messing with your health bar, or if you should opt for another total health point, or refill your life meter.

hoplite enemy infoWhen you get down to level 9 or 10, it will become quite difficult to avoid taking damage. Even though the enemies’ movements can almost always be determined before you take your turn, and sometimes you can pull off tricky stuff like getting a bomber to kill another enemy for you, trying to handle nine enemies at the same time becomes quite a challenge. Suddenly you’ll have to start using the altar to refill your heart meter every two or three levels, robbing you of a precious health upgrade or a life-saving ability.

Patience becomes increasingly important. You can’t just fly through levels like you did early on, or you’ll meet a quick end.

Of course, all of this is assuming you know what you’re doing, which you won’t when you first start. Even after reading this, you won’t have a true feel for what to do until you actually play it. In your first game, you likely won’t make it past level 6. As with most roguelikes and games such as Dark Souls, it’s this external experience that truly serves you — what you learn from death that you can use to live a little bit longer next time.

hoplite boardOnce you get the fleece and teleport out of the dungeon, you’ll get an achievement. In most games, achievements don’t really matter, but in Hoplite, each one you snag will unlock an ability that might show up at a shrine. This gives pervasive rewards for playing, which is a nice touch, since you don’t have to rely solely on that external experience to make future dungeon crawls easier.

Every run after that first fleece-grab will still be titled as Quest for the Fleece, but you’ll pass up that teleporter on level 16 and hit the stairs instead, heading into true endless mode. Thankfully, the fleece will regenerate one health for you at the start of every level.

Hoplite is a little pricey at $2, but fans of roguelikes and turn-based strategy will probably find that reasonable. For everyone else, check it out when it’s on sale for $1 or less.

4 star

About the Author

Markham Asylum is a founding member of Delta Attack. His tier-1 favorite genres are role-playing, puzzle, and strategy. His tier-2 are adventure, shooter, and platformer. He strives to provide spoiler-free postings whenever possible.

Markham Asylum has written 423 posts on Delta Attack
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  • http://www.deltaattack.com/ Fade to Slack

    Just looking at that kind of honeycomb grid gives me nightmares.

    Looks like fun, but the kind that would also have a guy like me ripping my hair out within minutes.

    • http://www.deltaattack.com/ Markham Asylum

      It can be pretty frustrating at first, but you get the hang of it after giving up the ghost a half dozen times.