AxE: Alliance vs. Empire Review
Originally released in September 2017 in South Korea, AxE: Alliance vs. Empire is Nexon Mobile’s latest title, with a goal of shaking up the MMORPG space on mobile devices. They wanted to produce a PC-quality MMO on mobile, with a focus on PVP. For what that’s worth, it is a beautiful game, and I can see the PC-quality in the visuals/graphics. I’ve been playing this for a few weeks now, really trying to put my thoughts together. In AxE: Alliance vs. Empire, you play as one of two factions – The Alliance and the Holy Darkhaan Empire. You cannot play both factions on a server either, so you’ll have to swap to a different server if you want both experiences. That’s not really a big deal though. Each faction has three classes, a few of which blur the line between tank/healer/dps.
This is a neat concept since in most MMOs a player’s role is clearly defined by what they are playing. The Galano Alliance has the Archer, Titan, and Blademaster, where the Holy Darkhaan Empire has the Valkyrie, Warrior, and Mage. Both sides have two melee armor-bearing characters, and one ranged damage dealer. So where are the healers? It’s hard to say. The Valkyrie, for example, has a heal ability but primarily has a shield slam and a variety of powerful melee strikes. The blurring of lines for character classes makes this enjoyable though. As you grow, you can purchase new skills with skill points, and equip whichever skills you desire. So if your class has some tanky abilities and that’s not what you want? Pick the damage skills instead.
However, this is where I came to my first roadblock. Having Epic-quality weapons or higher is supposed to unlock new skills to use. I have a few issues with this, the least of which is the grind for an Epic Weapon. You can take all of those green/blue items you get and feed them into your weapon to increase its power. Once it hits 30, you can use improvement stones to increase its rarity. Once I finally got one, there doesn’t seem to be a way to “equip” this skill. I see it on the weapon’s stats, but it’s not very clear what you do from there. Does it have a chance to proc? Am I not high enough level? This is pretty unclear. This game teaches most everything else fairly well though. You have a Rune System, Weapon/Armor Improvement, Stat Points to increase your skills, and gems to slot into your gear to increase their power even further (higher ranks = more gems slotted). Before I go into actual in-game content, this does lead me to something worth discussing – the in-game shop. There are costumes you can buy – well, there are chests you can buy that give you a part of a costume for a particular type of costume. “Requiem Search”, “Invocation Searcher” and more. You can click on the little “Eye” button to see what each piece looks like thankfully.
But that’s not all, of course. You have five currencies – Gold (in-game), Blue Diamonds (Real-Money Currency), White Diamonds (In-game Version of Blue Diamonds), Valor (PVP Currency) and Opals. I do not understand why there are two versions of Diamonds. They give out a fair amount of White Diamonds, but why not just give out the Blue Diamonds instead and simplify things? It appears that Opals only come from spending money on Blue Diamonds, and they have their own separate tab in the cash shop. The Gear Tab uses Blue/White Diamonds, and also has an option for Gold (10+1 chests, Normal Gear). The Gold Chest caps out at “Rare” gear, while the Diamond Chests are Rare-Mythic. If that weren’t enough, the Opal Shop is all Mythic gear that you get to pick (or high-grade crafting/upgrading pieces). There is a limit per month on how many times you can use them, but that doesn’t change the fact that you can spend real money to have an edge in a PVP game. Or at least, it speeds up your growth.
In Mobile MMOs, growth/power rating is everything. Being able to spend real money on it can and will make you more powerful faster. Will it make you better in PVP? Well, yes and no. It’s still a mostly skill-based game, and you can’t auto-fight in PVP battles like arena. As long as the game keeps pairing you up with people in your power range, that should keep things balanced. My time in Arena did not go down like that. I kept getting paired up with players that were 10+ levels higher than me and would two shot me with the greatest of ease. Open World PVP was a little different, and I’ve received a decent amount of kills (and deaths) there.
With all of the resurrection scrolls I have, it was easy to respawn right where I was at, with full health and murder whoever killed me. You can purchase passes to complete dungeons automatically to cut some of the grind down. Now I will say that without spending any money, I have several epic pieces of gear, and even a unique. That in no way will deter me from saying that the real-money chests are there though. I really enjoyed this game when I played it at the preview event. It reminds me in ways of Lineage 2, which is a mobile MMO that I also enjoyed – but that one also had very serious pay-to-win elements. At least AxE differentiates itself with the more skill-based PVP modes, but is it pay-to-win? I have to go with “yes” as the game stands right now.
That being said, the game itself is fun. Sure, you can Auto-Battle your way through most of the open-world content, but with the possibility of the opposing faction invading the map you’re on, or simply being on a contested map, that can be dangerous. If you stop paying attention, you run the risk of being ganked and murdered by other players. This is a mostly open-world PVP MMO – there are areas where you’re safe, but this is at its core a PVP game. Thankfully, if you’re killed frequently, you will receive a PVP Bubble that makes you immune to damage from other players until you attack someone. This could backfire with Auto-Battle too. All the other side has to do is stand wherever you’re fighting, and you run a serious risk of popping that bubble with one of your huge aoe attacks. Honestly, there were large parts of the game where I just turned on Auto-Battle and let it do all of my side-quests for me.
The AI for Auto-Battle is pretty decent, but it does not dodge for you. All characters have some kind of dodge-roll ability, but the game will not do it for you. On top of that, trying to push that ability on Auto-Battle is delayed by a very large amount. I had to hit it four or five times before it would consider dodging and by then it was too late. As long as my gear was good this was a non-issue, but when PKers showed up, that was another matter entirely. You also have Semi-Auto, which auto-attacks but lets you control the abilities, and Manual, where you control all facets of your character. Most of the time I found myself Auto-Battling, but when there were serious threats abound (major world bosses, pvpers on a killing spree), I swapped immediately.
Speaking of PVP, this leads to one of the features I really do like – the tracking system. When you pull up your map of the area, you can see which of your faction is in the zone, and which of the enemy faction are, and where they are at, more importantly. Someone kill you and run off? You can click on them on the map, and as long as they’re in the zone, you will run to them to fight again. Need to help someone in your faction? You can do that too. Want to just grief people and be a scoundrel? Well, that map makes that so much faster/more efficient. It’s got its ups and downs, but conceptually, I really like this ability to see who is doing what in the zone I’m in. I know how outnumbered I am, and if I need to just go grind dungeons or something instead. You do have absolute tons of content to do though. Waves of enemies, dungeons, lots of PVP options (4v4, 75v75). There’s so much content, and so much in the way of free in-game items, but it’s hard to look at that and not think about the real-money potential. The PVE and PVP experiences were enjoyable, and I only really felt like I was overwhelmed in the early-game Arena matches I played.
“But” is a Strong Word: 2.5/5 (Fair)
I enjoyed AxE: Alliance vs. Empire, personally. The world is gorgeous, the characters are all fun to play, and there’s a wealth of content from the main story, side quests, achievements to unlock and rewards to gain. I know that in the South Korean market, pay-to-win is not something that is looked upon as a negative. There are also parts of the Western gaming community that enjoys pay-to-win because they have the money to do so. But these systems often come across as predatory, and though I have succeeded without spending money, and even thrived, not everyone is going to. Despite enjoying the gameplay, I cannot in good conscience score it higher than I did, because it very much feels like spending money is the real key to growth.
I’m already starting to plateau it seems, unless I get very lucky with my free chest rolls/White Diamonds gained via gameplay. I will say that at least it’s reasonably generous with those, and I do occasionally receive multiple free rolls of the higher-quality chests. Some people have said “Just go play Lineage 2: Revolution”, but that game also has pay-to-win features. Acknowledging one game’s shop without the other just seems petty to me. Alliance vs. Empire is a fun, charming mobile MMORPG that is marred by the monetization. It’s polished, it is loaded down with content, but at the end of the day, that cash shop stares you in the face. I have no problem with a game trying to make money to keep the lights on, but I draw the line with easy access to spending real money to gain power in a PVP game. I could be a little forgiving if it only had the “one” cash shop option – but with Blue Diamonds coming with Opals, which unlocks yet another, stronger cash shop chest, I could not.
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