14 March 2018

[Note: This article was written a couple of weeks after the Mountain Pass update was released, and was created to explore how accessible the game had become with the changes to its micro-transactions. Unfortunately I don't know if the changes have been made to the game in that regard as updates halted during Summer 2016.]

In my previous Lara Croft: Relic Run article, I wrote about the Mountain Pass update which came with a new location, a new gun and a new campaign mode. I really enjoyed the new update; I like a lot of the changes they made to the gameplay and the style. I think they're solid. But I also feel that the update was masking a major unrelated change for the game, and that's the dependency of gems.
Prior to the update, gems were only needed for those top tier upgrades and you could get by pretty okay just by spending the coins that Lara collected on her runs. Ankhs were five gems and something you would use more sparingly, or you could unlock outfits with specific properties. But the game never forced you to collect the gems because the game never demanded that you spend them. It does now.

The Value of Gems


In my previous post, I mentioned that the marketing company for the game (Betty Brown) transferred gems to my account, and some other fansite owners aswell, to ensure we could check out the new update by unlocking the levels. The gems I spent went into researching the new system so I could talk about them, but... I didn't spend too lavishly. Just an ankh every so often, a new upgrade when I've needed it, and a save game though those trickier levels. (I'm glaring at you so hard, aforementioned snowmobile-minefield level. You may be automatically generated, but you're the work of the devil.)

In the five days since its release I had gone through 4,200 gems.

For comparison, if you were to purchase 4,200 gems, you could buy the Vault of Gems (4,200) pack via the in-game store. That's going to cost you £18.99. That's more than any Tomb Raider or Lara Croft game on Steam. That doesn't even get you too far in the game. In addition to that, make the wrong upgrade choices and it's going to cost you more.


No Guaranteed Victory


At first, I didn't realise I had spent so many gems until I had saved my clue progress after difficult run. At the time I believed that it would be a permanent solution, only to find the total erased after the following run. The price you pay isn't for a safety net, it's for a gamble. The only benefit of that system would be to reset the number of ankhs to pay for for the next run. But that's not the only risk you make in the game.
Making the wrong upgrade choice is so easy, and it feels like the game punishes those who do. In level 109, Lara faces the dreaded ice spiders for the first time. Your target is to kill at least one of them. Sounds easy, right? As Lara mainly relies on her twin pistols for her adventures, I upgraded those completely and took them out for a trek across Tibet's mountain tops. While I noticed a slight change when fighting the yetis, the bullets had absolutely no effect on the ice spiders. I switched to my second weapon, the Minigun, which I had upgraded a few times. On its best attempt, the spider was only wounded, losing only almost 60% of its life. To beat the level you have to kill at least one. In the end, I had to fully upgrade the Mini SMGs which only managed to kill a single creature. Upgrading the weapons does not come cheap, you could quite easily spend a thousand gems on just one, and if you pick the wrong weapons to upgrade, you simply can't beat the level unless you upgrade another.


Adrift From Its Origins


During the press event in the Spring, Square Enix spoke fondly of returning to Lara's first adventures in their new mobile game. You could tell there was genuine excitement and passion behind the demo speech. One of the most memorable comments made was “You can’t have a Tomb Raider game without a T Rex”, a nice nod back to the early titles that the team wanted to recapture in the title. Everything that was mentioned during the day focused on creating a game that fans would enjoy and would be driven by the community's feedback.

Months later, the game now feels adrift from those goals. To mask such an extensive change, which now demands for grinding or hefty micro transactions from the player, in an update celebrating ten million downloads, sounds like a bitter treatment to the game that it was before and of the community it's targeting.
If you've read my review of the update, this may sound like a weird article to write now. I was very positive towards the new location and the challenges, but I feel these are two separate issues. At no point were the changes to the value of the gems talked about as a feature of the update, and for good reason, that change would have been unwelcome.

Relic Run was a fun game which explored Lara's world in a new way we hadn't seen before. It captured inspiration from those classic titles which many fans grew up with. While the game can be enjoyable, it's not all that approachable anymore. I believe it can be that again, but the changes to soft currency needs to happen first.


Gem / Coin Tips for Mountain Pass Update


   - Level 65 can be used to collect coins. The level features no enemies, and it awards 900 coins for a relatively challenge-free run.
    - The best weapon to upgrade seems to be the rifle.
   - I'm not sure how effective the Bomber Pilot outfit is. I upgraded it fully, but I have much longer runs compared to other people on my linked Facebook account.
    - Boss Fights award you with gems.
    - The Endless runs are good for collecting gems and coins.
    - Three gems are rewarded for each spider killed.
    - Each Oni (Mountain Pass' Boss Fight) defeated in a single run, the number of gems rewarded increases.
 

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