The most irritating tropes of freemium design are present and correct in this comic-book take on D3Publisher’s classic match-three puzzler. There’s an energy system which forces you to either wait until your character has healed, or send them into battle with a depleted HP bar. High-level heroes appear to be locked behind a paywall. After each battle, you’ll be nagged to spend to increase the size of your comic book collection, in order to have more characters available for selection.
And yet you’d be wrong to write off Dark Reign. This is the rare F2P game that’s balanced well enough to ensure you’ll rarely feel the need to put your hand in your pocket: early stages are easy enough to give newcomers a feel for the mechanics, while skilful players will earn plenty of the Isotope currency needed to level up their superhero squad. By the time the challenge increases, most will have four or five heroes to choose from, alleviating the need to spend healing points after every battle. With bonus characters joining your team at certain story stages, injured parties will have plenty of time to recover, while PvP battles and updated tournaments give you ample opportunity to boost your supplies.
The game itself, meanwhile, is as irresistible as ever, and Dark Reign introduces a few wrinkles: you might need to remove tiles before snipers can fire off deadly shots, or make a specific match in order to protect a character with low energy. Some fine art enlivens the visual presentation, while a witty, self-referential script moves the story briskly onward. It lacks the original’s elegance and surprise, but as F2P spin-offs go, this isn’t nearly as villainous as you might expect.