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October has been a busy month for China’s mobile players. Punishing Gray Raven has opened the gates for its third CBT, Arknights launched a new event and VGAME has finally opened its doors to Android players. This is a game that I have followed closely since alpha. Unfortunately, as you can see from the title, I’m not here to praise the game. Instead, I’m here to tell everyone why VGAME is currently a mess of a game.
What is VGAME?
VGAME is an Action Role Playing (ARPG) gacha game for mobile platforms. A couple of other gacha games may claim to be ARPGs, but they don’t truly live up to the genre. To me, ARPGs are games that feature combat similar to Devil May Cry, Dark souls, or Dynasty Warriors. With that in mind, There is currently only 1 ARPG gacha game on mobile that is universally considered successful; a little game called Honkai Impact 3 by Mihoyo.
Honkai isn’t the first to attempt a gacha ARPG on mobile platforms, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that it is currently the most successful ARPG on mobile, especially in China. Honkai’s PV reaches trending every time on bilibili. It not only has the best graphics on mobile, but also the largest franchise. It has spawned an anime series, several mangas and of course, physical merchandise. As we speak, a movie and even a musical orchestra are planned.
Due to Honkai having absolutely no competition in the genre, players will still stick with it no matter how terrible the game plans its grind and events. The graphics and combat are that good.
This is where VGAME comes in: An announcement seemingly out of nowhere by an unknown company called Vaneplus. Players that have been waiting for a long time for a competitor to challenge Honkai’s place rejoiced. They wanted another ARPG to play that isn’t Honkai. Honkai for the longest time has had issues with its grind and its gacha, which has 3 separate pools! Competition is needed to force Honkai to think about changing.
The first few early testers for VGAME confirmed that it has the potential to be a Honkai-killer. As time went on, the word was spread to more players and hype started to build around the game. A lot of people are looking to migrate to VGAME as the next Honkai. They were hopeful and believed that it could become the competitive force needed to rival Honkai. And then…
VGAME was originally planned to release for Android on September 27th, 3 days after its iOS release. iOS players got to play the game early and it was ugly. Tons of negative reviews were posted. A lot of them complained that the game’s combat is weak, the characters feel unresponsive, and the dodge system is poorly implemented. The enemy AI is also terrible. But above all, the optimization and overheating issue that all iOS players faced, caused the most concern. The problem is so bad that some players reported their phones hardware overheating and rebooting to protect itself. The frame rate also dropped constantly, even on the latest iPhone. However, a lot of Android users were still hopeful about the game. A lot of us actually didn’t care much about iOS issues as we believed that it would be fixed by the time it was released on all devices. However, the bomb was dropped on day before Android release, September 26th. It was a cold night in China as players eagerly waited for their pre-downloads to become available. Instead, what they got was a big slap in the face. VGAME decided to announce that Android release will be delayed almost a month to October 23rd. The reason stated was, “We noticed that we aren’t able to fix the overheating issue in time for the 23rd release.“ The compensation was that every Android player will receive 60 pulls on launch.
A lot of players were disappointed and angered by the devs. Not only did they delay the game by a month, but they also announced it the day before the game launched on Android. Out of all the time they had and then they waited until the day before. What’s worse is that they did it at night. VGAME definitely lost a portion of their player base on Android, but nothing unsalvageable yet. There are also players who are more forgiving. They understood the decision and didn’t pressure the developers much then, but I doubt they’re around now after …
It was the 22nd of October, one day before the release of VGAME again and players were waiting as eagerly as before for a pre-download. Surely they would have said something by now if there was going to be another issue. Then there was an announcement. The developers stated, there won’t be a pre-download because they don’t want to tax the server, so the download will be opened tomorrow at 10AM GMT+8, which is also the time that the game will open its door to Android players. There was also a livestream that night at 7PM to that show off some concept art, gameplay, future plans and what not, which all seemed fine and dandy!
Then the morning of the 23rd came. Players all waited in front of their phones, eagerly waiting for that clock to turn to 10AM. Watching for the Pre-register button to turn into Download! It happened and everyone started to rush to download the game. We could hardly contain our excitement to try out this game we’d all been told was so incredible. But the moment some players finished downloading and tried launched the game, they were met with a black screen! A handful of players couldn’t even get past the intro screen to download to get to the black screen, which also outraged players. The issue was not quarantined to only low-end devices or certain types of phones, but affected everyone seemingly at random. Remember that they delayed the game so they could iron out all these issues, but it seems like they didn’t get this one fixed. But hey, it’s just a handful of players, most of them managed to resolve it by redownloading the game.
For players who managed to get past the intro, there was a requirement to download 300+mb of additional data, which is fine if you have a good connection. On my end, the game took nearly an hour to complete 300 mb and I had decent WiFi. For some, the update would randomly crash when it is nearly complete or others would experience a glitch where the assets of the game turn black and the download stops progressing and they’d have to start over by reinstalling.
The problems don’t stop here. A lot of players experience random crashes during gameplay as well as overheating issues. The crashes were universal. If the game crashes only 2 times every hour you are lucky. Some unfortunate players reported an average of 5 crashes every hour. The crashes could happen almost anywhere. Such as when you purchase something from a shop, which could cause the item to not be delivered to you. The worst part is that some people are stuck at early levels because whenever they try to progress to the next level it just crashes for them indefinitely. At the time of writing this, these issues have yet to be fixed by the developers but they have acknowledged them at least.
When it’s working
Let’s examine when the game is working properly. No bugs, no crashes, no glitches, how does the game play? Ostensibly, if the game plays spectacularly, the previous issues are just speed bumps that could be easily fixed through patches and the game would be enjoyable. But, to quote Reggie “If it’s not fun, why bother?”
I’m sorry to report, but the game is currently far below most player’s expectations. I know players tend to overhype games, but even judging VGAME as a normal ARPG, it would score average at best. The first issue with the game is that the 3D models are uninspired and shoddy. They look worse than their corresponding 2D art. Most of the characters look very low-poly and simple; there’s no outlining and nothing to make them “pop.”
While you may argue that it looks passable, maybe even good, it’s important to remember that the game it’s going up against is Honkai Impact 3. A game that despite being 3 years old, still looks like this
It’s like comparing a Lambo to a Nissan GTR. VGAME’s designs don’t even compete with the early-days of Honkai. The graphics look nowhere near as detailed, as colorful, or as vibrant.
I do want to compliment that the game’s environment and effects as being really well done, but this can also be a bad thing because it highlights how bad the 3D models are. The background should not be drawing focus away from the characters!
But it’s also true that Graphics aren’t everything. So, does combat stack up at least?! With so many failures and Honkai leading by example, it should at least be decent right? Right…….guys…? I acknowledge VGAME for its innovation in equipment and a variety of skills, but it won’t cover up the fact that the combat is not satisfying. It feels like you are hitting your enemies with pillows even though the sound of metal clashing with each other is ringing out. Skills sometimes don’t connect at all and they can be canceled far too easily by enemies or even by yourself by mistake. A particular character won’t perform a skill if you accidentally move during combat. Plus, dodging requires stamina? Like what? Is this not an ARPG? It shouldn’t take stamina to dodge and there shouldn’t be a limit. Endless dodging is generally a staple in these games. And while there is blocking in this game, some skills can be blocked and others can’t. Is this a good thing? No! Guarding in this game feels horrible and I could never time them properly because of the awful framerate dips as blocking somehow made me lag every time. The normal attacks in this game are quite weak and usually you want to perform a skill to trigger the instant kill QTE button to finish off the enemy, but skills have quite a long cooldown (10+ seconds). Overall, it definitely needs a bunch of refinement.
On a good note, the game has an Open World Lobby! You can meet players in the world, talk to the NPCs, and discover hidden secrets by exploring. This is a feature I absolutely love. I hope we can do more with it, but the main issue that I have with this Open World Lobby, is how small it is. Using the term “open world” might not be that accurate. It’s more like it’s 3 different types of rooms that have loading screens in each of them. They are extremely small and empty. There’s also not much to do outside of looking at billboards or talking to NPCs. No player to player interaction whatsoever.
Back to the negatives, I want to quickly point out that the game bombards you with microtransactions out of the gate. This is a bit of a nitpick, but it is somewhat discouraging to me at least. When you open a game and it bombards you with a bunch of different packs and monthly cards, it makes the game feel desperate and low-quality.
The sad truth
The saddest part about this disaster is that Vaneplus, the developers who made VGAME, are actually really passionate people. They aren’t just here to make a quick buck and they really want to make a great ARPG. They seem to have the dream to be an ACG (Anime, Comic, Games) franchise much like Honkai. They have already taken their next step in this goal and announced their first manga series. Maybe they were crunched for time, or lacked the talent, experience, and money required. I can tell that they are really trying to deliver a good game, but they’ve just failed in the end. Their official bilibili account is still desperately replying to almost every single criticism that players have lobbed towards the game and are taking up any type of feedback. Perhaps, reactions were just too harsh on it or we hyped it too much; who knows. For now, this is the reason why I’m not making an in-depth review on VGAME. I do believe that they will improve the game, but it may take a year or 3 for it to be the game that we had hoped it would be. If that’s the case, I’m willing to wait, but we’ll see if it manages to survive that long.
I wish all the best to the developers and I hope that VGAME can grow despite its early issues, but until then, if it’s not fun, why bother.