Welcome back everyone! For the next few weeks, we’ll be starting a three-part series on Archero, a mobile roguelite I’ve been enjoying recently. This week we’ll focus on the moment to moment gameplay, and how this contributes to a fun experience in the short term. Next time we’ll look at progression and how it contributes to the long term fun. And the final piece will be on monetization.
For those familiar with the game, or short on time, feel free to jump to the end to read the summary of how the short-term fun works. Until then, I’ll be breaking down each aspect of the short-term gameplay and discuss how it contributes to the short-term fun of the game.
As I mentioned before, Archero is a mobile roguelite. The player enters chapters consisting of stage after stage of enemies, becoming stronger along the way. But why is it fun? Let’s start by breaking down the pieces of the game and see how they contribute to its success.
Move vs Attack
The player must choose between moving and attacking. When the player is standing still, their archer automatically fires at the closest enemy to them. When they are moving, they don’t fire.
The crux of the moment to moment gameplay is based on the player moving to avoid enemies/projectiles and holding still to return fire. There is an additional layer due to obstacles. Most enemy projectiles pass over obstacles, but the player’s arrows do not. The player must be careful to move to an advantageous spot to return fire.
This core mechanic being easy to understand and easy to control is what creates the initial enjoyment of the game. While on its own it's decent, let’s continue and look at how the developers supported this feeling and created different challenges for the player built around this mechanic.
There are a variety of enemies in the game, but they can be broken down into a few different categories based on their actions.
Melee enemies – these are enemies that simply charge the player. Some of them lunge at the player, some split into smaller faster versions upon death, but they are all consistent in charging the player.
Spread ranged enemies – These are enemies which shoot slow moving projectiles in various directions around them. Some have projectiles which shoot out in four directions, others in six, or so on. A sub-category has slow moving AOE attacks.
Ranged enemies – these are enemies which attack the player at, you guessed it, range. They typically have a red line that appears for a few seconds before the attack triggers to let the player know an attack is coming. Their projectiles move quickly and in one direction.
Hidden enemies – These are enemies which either jump in the air or go underground so the player cannot attack them for some time. They will attack in a spread ranged enemy pattern upon reappearing.
Tank enemies – These are slow-moving, large enemies which are typically strategically placed to maximize the amount of space in the room they can attack the player in. The ones I’ve seen in game attack with a spread enemy pattern.
Combinations of these various enemy types further reinforce the player moving around to avoid them. Dealing with each type effectively builds further on the initial fun to create a puzzle-like feel in each encounter.
Most chapters are broken down into multiple stage groups. Each stage group contains an intro stage, four enemy stages, an angel stage, four additional enemy stages, and a boss stage. Some chapters are a special case where the player is challenged instead with enemies coming in timed waves during a single stage instead of four stages of enemies.
Intro stages typically have a wheel of fortune kind of minigame. When the player spins the wheel, they are given a guaranteed amount of gold. The amount the wheel pays out increases with more difficult chapters. This helps the player to progress faster if they are under-leveled (more on that in part two and three).
Enemy stages are stages where a wave of enemies spawn. The player spawns at the south end of the stage, and at the north end there is a locked door which opens when the stage is cleared. There are usually additional pillars or bodies of water to hinder the player’s arrows and/or movement. The layout and enemies that spawn change every time the player replays a stage. This leads me to believe that they are procedurally generated from a few sets. This helps to keep each run feeling unique and not quite as repetitive.
Angel stages are stages with only an angel in the middle. The players get an option from the angel, either an additional ability or heal some of the player’s HP. This is a nice break from the chaos of combat and further rewards skilled players or helps ones which aren’t doing so well. Alternatively, if a player has not been playing as well and has low HP, they can take the risk and accept the power up over the healing in hopes that they will do better with it. I particularly like this mechanic because players must weigh the risk vs reward in most cases.
Note: Building off the risk vs reward concept in the game, if a player clears a room without taking damage there is a chance of a devil appearing in front of the open door. The devil gives the player a choice, do they want an additional ability for lowering their max HP? I like this little risk vs reward option because it has the potential to make the game easier for players who are doing well, or causing their hubris to get the better of them and doom their run.
Boss stages are an open stage with a boss in it. The player challenges the boss typically in what feels like a traditional bullet hell manner. In later chapters they can be accompanied by minions or additional bosses.
This repeating cycle of enemy stages > Angel > enemy stages > boss allows the player to know what to expect and is perfect for mobile as each encounter is bite-sized. Each encounter is probably under a minute long and the player can rest for a bit before challenging the next room.
In chapter three, when it briefly switches to a wave system, it can get frustrating. It has five timed waves on one stage replacing the original four enemy stages. It’s frustrating because the pressure is on for so much longer and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. In normal stages there’s tension upon entering then release after everything is killed. The player can progress to the next stage once they’ve taken a breath. Because of the wave system players don’t enter the room and assess how to best clear the room in a puzzle sense. Instead it devolves into simply dodging projectiles and not paying attention to the rest of the room due to the vast number of projectiles flying at the player. This is compounded by the stage being larger which makes it impossible to see a good chunk of the stage at any given time. I imagine this is meant to be a challenge to see if the player has mastered all the enemy types in the previous chapters, but it isn’t as fun or rewarding because there is so little down time and information compared to the previous chapters. I see what they tried to achieve here, and I applaud them for trying it, but I could see a lot of players quitting due to the flow of the game being so heavily disrupted.
Each time a player challenges a chapter they can gain abilities. These abilities are gained when the player kills enough enemies, chooses to receive them from the angel, bought them from the devil, or the abilities are gifted at the very beginning of the intro stage, if they’ve unlocked the glory talent. Abilities reset upon death.
When a player receives an ability from killing enemies or starting a new run, they are given the choice of three abilities at random. I like giving the player an option of a few abilities to choose from because it allows them to have some semblance of control over builds each run. Unfortunately, this also means there is a chance all three abilities will be worthless. But then again, they can’t all be good, or the player wouldn’t have that rewarding feeling when they get an ability they like.
The Fun – Short Term
At the end of each section we talked a little bit about how each of these contribute to the short-term fun of the game. Let’s do a quick review:
Move vs Attack
-Tight controls and restricting the player to only do one action at a time makes the game easy to understand and keeps it simple enough so it doesn’t overwhelm players.
-With clear enemy types and consistent attacks, the player can understand and figure out how to deal with the enemies in each encounter. This reinforces the move vs attack mechanic and builds upon it to create a puzzle feel within each stage.
-By having a consistent flow of quick encounter > break > quick encounter, the game is perfect for mobile. The maps typically fit within a phone screen (except for chapter three) which allows the players to see all the enemies at once and reinforces a puzzle feel. Procedurally generated stages help make each run continue to be interesting. The Angel and Devil spice gameplay up further by helping less skilled players and increasing the challenge for more skilled players.
-Giving the players some control over short term progression, while making sure their options are random each time, contributes to making every run feel unique while allowing them some control. This helps to keep things interesting on repeated playthroughs.
These pieces combine to make the game interesting and enjoyable in short term repeated playthroughs. But what about the long-term gameplay? That’s for next time.
See you then,
Part two is up! Check it out HERE