What’s going with MMO names these days? First there was V4, and now we have A3. The full title is A3: Still Alive, which I think stands for “Ah, Ah, Ah, Still Alive.” It’s Netmarble’s newest massive multiplayer mobile online roleplaying battle royale game, or MMMORPBRG for short. It’s an interesting title, but I wish I could say the same for the game. And I’m not saying that out of spite. If this game had come out two years ago, this game would have convinced me that there are decent mobile MMOs with compelling, non-pay-to-win PvP.
But in a post-Genshin Impact world, it’s not enough. In my double whammy articles on Genshin Impact, I wrote about how it’s both creating a new normal and also simultaneously putting the industry to shame. And after spending more than 70 hours in that game, I’ve found my taste in other mobile titles has become quite a bit more discerning. Frankly, top-down isometric mobile MMO with auto questing and the battle royale genre is so 2018. Both sides of the game are good for what they are, but it’s just so difficult to find a level of enthusiasm for this game in 2020. Still, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the battle royale mode.
In the grimdark future where there is only battle royale…
In the game’s skippable lore, the battle royale mode takes place in a dark future when the dark lord has taken over the world. Survivors do what they can while they’re still alive. That’s pretty much the lore, and your character can travel between worlds for some reason too.
The 30-man battle royale is arguably its biggest strength; it addresses an age-old problem of lopsided PvP between the free-to-play and pay-to-play crowds. The games don’t run for too long either; at most they can run for 10 minutes. The arena is pretty small too, as players can find each other in as little as 30 seconds.
It honestly doesn’t really feel like a battle royale; the arena feels a tad small. It almost feels like playing old-school Diablo 2 PvP. The time-to-kill is quick, and successful hits really take a chunk out of players. Players also have access to massive AoEs capable of taking down swaths of players. It’s quick, it’s dirty, and it feels like it was ripped from late-’90s/early-2000s hack-and-slash titles. That’s not an insult, and I feel my description is far more accurate than calling it a battle royale. I honestly would probably like it more if Netmarble didn’t call it a battle royale.
With a million downloads, it doesn’t take too long to find a match in-game. The longest I waited was a minute and a half. It’s nothing crazy, but the game did just come out, so there are a lot of people giving the game a shot. When I got in, the first thing I had to do was pick a weapon. New accounts can pick from an axe, a javelin, and a bow. Power isn’t tied to any gear from the MMO portion of the game, but as players reach milestones, they unlock more weapons to use in the PvP. This sounds just fine, but knowing how mobile MMOs work, I can imagine a powerfully broken weapon locked behind an achievement only the most hardcore and wealthy players can get.
Once players pick a weapon and the lobby has enough players, the fight begins. From there, the game takes a page from Pearl Abyss’ Shadow Arena (the Black Desert battle royale spinoff) where players have to kill creatures for gear and to level up their character. As in most every battle royale, the arena will get smaller and those still alive will have to battle it out until there’s a victor. It’s quick, it’s action-packed, and it’s pretty fun. It’s a good battle royale title. So how about the MMO side of the game?
2018’s mobile MMO of the year
If you’re hard-pressed to think of any decent mobile MMOs from two years ago, it’s because there really weren’t many. I’d say the closest would’ve been Lineage 2: Revolution and Crusaders of Light if you want to push it. But if A3 had came out then, it would have really stood out. A3 features a character creator with plenty of sliders to play with, but nothing for changing the body. The game does a great job onboarding new players, and the effects are pleasing to the eye. The main quest is a pretty decent story too.
But by today’s standards, it’s a sub-par experience. Everything this game does, V4 and Black Desert Mobile do better. For example, the camera is locked to an isometric perspective and can be moved around for the standard glamour shot, but nothing else. V4, on the other hand, has a truly free camera with an action camera to spice up the auto-play. The A3 battles are pretty standard fare for a mobile MMO too. Just tap away at the big attack button, and push the smaller buttons when the cooldown finishes. Repeat ad infinitum. The gameplay just feels downright archaic now, and one of the hardest parts of the game for me was staying awake. The combat was just so boring, especially when compared to the weighty combat of Black Desert Mobile.
The areas are also forgettable. The game world is pretty large, but it’s linear, so it’s difficult to differentiate between the different locations in the biomes. There aren’t any real landmarks, and I found myself more dependent on the game’s map and autopathing to get around. There’s nothing complex about the maps; it all has to stay simple to accommodate for the autoplay. It follows a very basic formula: various roads of different sizes with monsters hanging out on the side of the road waiting to get killed. There’s no “beaten path” to speak of, and there’s very little need to explore. Just follow the road, and if you get the urge to explore, then you can walk to the side of the road and kill that ogre minding its own business.
Autoplay is available from the start, and while I personally don’t have issues with that feature, I couldn’t find an option to auto-skip the dialogue, which defeats the spirit of auto-questing. What’s more egregious is that some auto features have to be paid for. Now that’s just dumb. I draw the line there. I don’t think anything that automates the gameplay should be paid for, full stop. It’s not a dealbreaker for me, but the way this game handles auto-play could’ve been better.
The MMO part of this game isn’t so much an afterthought but a necessary step to progress in the battle royale mode. And A3 creates a unique synergy between the two modes; one can’t exist without the other. It’s a decent game; it just came out in the wrong time.
It’s difficult for me to recommend this game in 2020 given our other options on mobile right now. Personally, I recommend just playing Black Desert Mobile or V4. I’d say A3’s saving grace really is its accidently nostalgic PvP. That’s fun to play! So if you’re in the market to bash it out like it’s the the summer of 2000, then pick this game up. It’s free anyway. You’ve got nothing to lose.
- Pretty game with some nifty effects
- The take on battle royale accidently made a pretty decent recreation of Diablo 2’s PvP
- Autoplay features are not robust enough, plus there’s a paywall
- Very run-of-the-mill mobile MMO game design.