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Zynga’s Dawn of Titans turns epic battles into bite-sized snacks

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But the game is marred by common free-to-play frustrations

In Dawn of Titans, you can make hundreds of tiny soldiers do your bidding with a tap of your finger. They fire arrows, swing swords, and toss fiery bombs, while a giant titan fights alongside them. All you need to do is tell them where to go. In a lot of ways it’s a strategy game that’s perfect for mobile — simple controls, quick battles — but you’ll need to put up with some of the frustrating constants of free-to-play games to fully enjoy it.

Dawn of Titans was developed by NaturalMotion, a studio Zynga acquired in 2014 for more than $500 million. It’s the developer’s second release since the acquisition — following the slick-but-simple drag racer CSR Racing 2 — and the game has been in the works for some time. Dawn of Titans was built around what NautralMotion CEO Torsten Reil calls the “Starbucks line test.” The idea is that a battle should be something you can get through while waiting in line for a coffee.

Dawn of Titans

Dawn of Titans takes place in a far-flung fantasy world, one where towering beings known as titans have returned to the land after being absent for centuries. There’s a surprising amount of lore and storytelling in the game, but the crux of the experience lies in leading these titans, along with hundreds of troops, into battle. Each fight in Dawn of Titans lasts just a few minutes. You start out by selecting your titan and supporting troops, and then you give them some initial marching orders. The controls are fairly intuitive; you simply tap on a unit, and then tap where you want them to go.

Once the battle begins your soldiers and titans will attack on their own, and you can adapt your strategy by targeting new enemies and using spells to drop magic fireballs on bad guys. It requires just enough attention to keep you engaged, but not so much that you need to keep your eyes glued to the screen the entire time. Perfect, say, for looking up to grab your large caffeinated beverage with extra foam. The game offers a single-play campaign to play through, as well as a fairly robust multiplayer component where you can form alliances with other players.

The battles themselves are surprisingly satisfying, and they look especially impressive. A large part of the appeal of NaturalMotion’s games is their high-end visuals, and Dawn of Titans might be the studio’s best-looking game to date. The character designs for the titans look great, and spells crash into the world with a satisfying explosion. What’s most impressive, though, is the scale of it all, with hundreds of characters all running around on screen at the same time. Even the menus look great, and if you want you can pan the camera around any of your titans to catch every single detail.

Dawn of Titans

Unfortunately, while the impressive visuals and intuitive combat might lure you in, Dawn of Titans is also saddled with many of the more frustrating elements of free-to-play games. Outside of combat, one of the main things you’ll be doing is building up a kingdom, and this is a long, tedious process. You’ll need a barracks to train soldiers, and farms to keep them fed, and in order to progress these things will need to be constantly upgraded, costing you either time or money (or sometimes both). Getting new titans, meanwhile, involves a “gachapon”-like system where you throw spend some virtual currency and hope a cool character comes out.

These aspects are especially frustrating because at its core, Dawn of Titans is a gorgeous strategy game that feels at home on a smartphone, one that’s sufficiently distinct from chart-topping competitors like Clash of Clans or Game of War. But just like those games, enjoying Dawn of Titans requires a bit of patience for dealing with the confusing world of virtual currencies and in-app purchases.

You can check the game out for yourself on both iOS and Android.