Aerena – Clash of Champions is a multiplayer-focused, turn-based strategy game set in a steampunk universe. Players take control of armies that duke it out on a small platform in the clouds in this unique, engaging, and fair free-to-play game.
Aerena begins by introducing players to the game’s world of airships, cannons, exoskeletons, and alchemy through a story-laden tutorial and some singleplayer battles. The ultimate goal of each match is always for players to reduce the opposing player’s airship’s health to zero, though there are many things involved in accomplishing tasks. Thankfully, the tutorial is robust enough to let players learn the basics of building armies, spawning champions, using abilities, and everything else the game has to offer before giving them a starter set of three heroes and a basic airship to begin competing online.
Probably the best thing about Aerena is that almost every match feels balanced. Even when players take tactical missteps, there are mechanics built in to allow for recovery. Even as players are lose champions and airship health, they are also earning points toward unleashing powerful counterattacks that can change the tide of battle. These power-ups end up creating tension throughout the entire match, and demand player attention throughout each turn to ensure victory. After each match players are given whatever rewards they’ve earned (experience, game currency), which then unlocks new units, ships, etc to be bought in the game store.
Although Aerena is a turn-based game, it cannot be played asynchronously. Each match must be played out all at once, and players are even given a time limit on each move. For some of the more patient strategic types this may be off-putting, but the game’s stages are so tightly-packed and its interplay of systems are so deep that its almost refreshing to only have to concentrate on one, 5-10 minute game at a time.
As a free-to-play game, there are ways for players to spend money to progress through unlocks faster than those that decide not to, but the game’s balance feels fair so that armies of basic units can still put up a fight against late-game units. Free players may feel unlock progression to be a bit slow, but there are no impediments to actually playing the game – unless you have spotty reception as the game requires a constant data or wifi connection to be played, even during the tutorial or during singleplayer challenges.
Overall, Aerena is a tightly-focused and well-balanced strategy title. It’s smaller scale battlefields and live multiplayer make it a tense and demanding game that is tuned for the mobile space. On top of this, it’s free and has no particularly negative free-to-play trappings, making it pretty easy to recommend.