AErena, An In-Depth Review

8.6 TCG RATING
Gameplay: 9/10
Sounds: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10

Well-crafted mechanics that are simple but strategic. | Champions are really fun to play with.

Small roster of playable characters currently.

Android, iOS, PC and Mac.

$13.99 for the whole game. $9.99 for premium Skins DLC pack.

January 21,2014

English, German

AErena is a 3D tactical, turn-based strategy game with a quirky steampunk theme where you’ll select your Crew of Champions, fly your Airship to the sky AErena and take part in glorious combat.

AErena got off to a bit of a shaky start as a f2p (free-to-play) game with players complaining about the so-called “pay to win” aspect. Therefore the developers listened to this and re-released the full game in a new “Master Edition” for a one-time cost, with all content (except for some premium cosmetic skins) being fully unlockable just by playing the game.

So with this new edition, now’s a good time to review the game and see whether it holds up under scrutiny. Is it worth the full price of admission? Read on to find out…

A view of a typical match, set in an “aerena” high up in the sky between two flying airships and a stadium crowd. Errr… okay?? It’s strange, but this game is dripping with theme.

Gameplay

AErena is an interesting combination between tactical turn-based combat games with a strong board-game feel, with a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) style game where players go head to head with teams of unique characters called Champions. It’s hard exactly to classify what genre this game fits into neatly because it borrows so many elements from other places (but this is a good thing rather than a bad thing).

Players bring to the AErena their Ship, a Crew of minimum 3, maximum 6 Champions, and 3 AEther Shells which are special abilities that can be activated by your Ship. This essentially constitutes your “deck” – the game calls it your Loadout. One at a time, you and your opponent deploy a Champion onto your side of the battlefield until you each have 3 in play. Then you take turns moving the Champions, attacking and triggering AEther Skills and your Ship’s AEther Shells. You have two actions per turn to spend in any way you see fit, in any order.

large-champion-view

An example of one of the playable Champions, including her stats, special abilities and alternate skin (only obtainable through the ‘Skins’ premium DLC).

Each Champion has two special abilities which can be used as a single action. These cost AEther points which they get one of at the start of their turn, as well as one when they carry out their basic attack. They can store up a maximum of 5 AEther points and all Champions have their two special abilities trigger at 2-cost and 5-cost. A big part of the strategy of the game is helping your Champions acquire the AEther they need to use their abilities. Knowing when to trigger these is very important also.

Usually they are attacks of some kind, but there are also healing, movement and control-type abilities among some of the Champions. My favorite thing about these is that they trigger a little live cut scene of the Champion carrying out the special ability. It’s fun to watch these and it adds flair to the whole process.

attack-cut-scene

The Champion Bloody Mary about to unleash one of her special attacks. I love these little cut scenes because they’re ‘live’ and it shows everything on the grid as it actually is.

Champions in the AErena take damage to their health, which can sometimes be replenished with AEther Skills or Shells. If a Champion dies, its next turn will be replaced by the requirement that you deploy another Champion to the field and this uses up both actions that turn. You don’t have a choice about whether to do this or not, so it can become a part of the strategy to kill your opponent’s Champions at the right time in order to deprive them of their actions next turn.

The overall aim of the game is to reduce your opponent’s Ship to zero health. You can do this by getting a Champion to get within attacking range of the Ship and attack it directly, but another way to reduce the Ship’s health is to kill the opponent’s Characters as this causes the Ship to take 2 damage. I really appreciate this mechanic because it means games will always be gradually moving towards a conclusion either way, with no chances of a stalemate occurring since there is no way to replenish a Ship’s health.

Combat is really fun in AErena because everything comes with its own unique little attack animation, sound effects and so on. Your characters are living and breathing pieces on the board and you get really into the one-to-one combat situations that arise. It’s not overly complicated, but there is a timer that is quite fast which pushes you to make your moves faster than a normal turn-based strategy game would, which adds a sense of urgency and pressure to each turn.

main-screen

The main screen of the game where all modes and options are available from. It’s designed neatly to work well on tablets (and phones, at a bit of a squeeze). From this screenshot you can see that the modes available are somewhat limited.

Modes and Features

AErena has only a few modes. After some training games, you’ll be able to play any of the following: Ranked, Practice, Survival and Play Friends. Ranked mode is where the competitive level of play is at: you’ll start off at a lower rank and work your way up as you earn wins. Losing doesn’t force you to go down a rank, though. Practice mode is exactly that, just an AI game to practice. Play Friends is a casual mode that lets you challenge people on your friends list and that’s about it.

The only other mode that really changes the way the game is played is Survival. This mode is challenging as you have to keep playing until you die and the opponent’s Ship can’t really be destroyed, you just have to kill their Champions over and over while trying to preserve your own Ship. There is a leader board tied to Survival mode so you can see who’s been the most successful with it. I had fun with this but it gets a bit tiring after a while.

badges

Each time you earn a badge, you’ll get 50 of the game’s currency. These add up quickly in order to help you purchase more of the Champions and Shells in the shop. You can’t use real money to do this as the game is now pay-once, play-forever.

There are two main ways of earning the in-game currency: Quests and Badges. Playing matches will also earn you currency, but you’ll find the majority of it coming from these two aspects of the game. You always have three Quests at a time and these replenish as soon as you complete them (unlike some other games which give you three a day, for example) so you can sit there as long as you like and grind away.

Badges are one-time achievements linked to carrying out particular actions in either one match or over time, as it remembers all of your actions together from each of your games. These start by giving you currency relatively quickly, but the grind slows down a lot once you’ve earned enough to buy 3 new characters. I found that it became a bit of a slog to earn larger amounts of currency once a large part of the Badges had already been cleared, which is unfortunate but I suppose ensures longer replayability of the game if it takes you longer to unlock everything.

shop-champions

All Champions can be purchased with in-game currency but it will take you a very long time to unlock everybody, so it’s good to focus on creating a well-crafted Crew first.

Deckbuilding and Strategy

The strategy in AErena is not as light as it would first appear, since the different Champions you can acquire have a number of different roles to play. Their varying health, attack strength, movement values and AEther Skills distinguish them into several camps: close-range attackers, medium-range attackers, long-range attackers, all-rounders, and some control-orientated characters. Each have their purposes, but it will generally be situational as to which ones you need and when. Therefore,when putting together your Loadout it’s worth thinking about how to create a well-balanced team.

shop-shells

AEther Shells can be used at any time for a cost of one action, and they have a wide range of effects so you’ll need to think hard about what you want and how it effects your choice of Champions.

AEther Shells are another important decision as you can only have three of them equipped at at time. There are four types of different types of Shells: Attack (mostly about dealing damage), Support (healing), Trick (teleporting, moving around, swapping locations) and AEther Control (giving, moving around and taking away AEther charges from Ships and Champions).

Some of the Champions have synergy effects, such as the Air Pirates: my favorite Champion is Tali because she gains 1 extra damage for each other Air Pirate on the field for a whopping 3 damage per basic attack which, when combined with her longer range of 3 squares, makes her a pretty hard-hitting ranged attacker. The other Air Pirates specialize in dishing out higher amount of damage also but at a closer range, which makes the three of them a good team to have out in the field as your active Champions.

loadout-editor

One of the first Crews I put together, using a combination of the starting Clanker Champions with the Air Pirates faction in order to take advantage of Tali’s extra damage from having the others on the field with her.

Final Thoughts

I’m being totally honest here: I really, really love this game. It fills the space between a heftier PC strategy game and a lighter, more mobile/tablet-orientated experience. It is customizable insofar as you can choose which Ship, Champions and AEther Shells to bring into the game with you, and the way these elements are represented in the menus does lend a very “card game”-esque feel to it all, which of course we love here at TradingCardGames. It’s like building a deck to bring into battle with you, but then your deck comes to life with all these living, breathing little characters running around and carrying out their awesome attacks.

The strategy is not going to be overly complex here, but I find it to be engaging nevertheless. It’s very situational and arises from the interactions between which characters you’ve chosen compared to those of your opponent, which makes for some interesting situations. Matches don’t last longer than they need to which makes it a short, addictive experience that’s highly replayable. Add into that the slow grind which allows you unlock lots of extra content and you should have enough to do for a long time here. The grind is fast at first but does slow down a lot once you have a full set of characters, so it depends how much you enjoy the game to see if you’ll continue to push through and unlock everything.

The overall presentation is outstanding as well; the character models, sounds and animations are all top-notch. The AErenas themselves are simple but neatly designed with some great layouts of power-up tiles that make each game different. There is a lot of content to get into without feeling overwhelmed by the number of quests, achievements, etc that games can sometimes drown you with.

My only criticism is that I desire more: more characters and more game modes. Only because I love it so much that I wish there were more Champions to play with and more ways to play the core game. Even with that said, AErena is one of the most impressive turn-based strategy games I’ve come across for the mobile/tablet market in a long time, so check it out.

For more screenshots, click here.

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Zac Phoenix
Author: Zac Phoenix View all posts by

Zac Phoenix graduated with First Class Honors in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics and has been playing strategy card games since childhood. He has a keen interest in the underlying mechanics and player interactions of trading card games, as well as tabletop game design in the digital space. He also designs card games in his spare time.

  • Aleksandar Salma

    I think this game mostly failed with its pricing model since it was constantly changing from free 2 play with micro-transactions to pay to play with content unlocked I guess the devs weren’t vary seasoned at that kind of thing, I hope they used this game as a learning experience and we will see better things from them in the future!

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