Brown Dust is a Korean gacha game for mobile which recently launched in the West. As it turns out, collecting, upgrading and using mercenaries in automated battles is fun. And really expensive, because I found out my relative which shall not be named blew through my card playing this.
So what even is a gacha game? These are mobile titles where you collect characters via gambling to later use in a minigame. Gachas are massively popular in certain parts of Asia, and some of them end up making it over to this part of the world.
This is a gacha game of the waifu collector sort and the characters mostly consist of hypersexualized anime girls aged 1 to 9001. I personally dig the style, but it is very niche and not something you want to be seen looking at. The clean look of the game is amplified by a sleek UI and good sound design.
You acquire new characters through paid pulls with a surprisingly stingy drop rate – your chances at maybe getting a competitive character is as low 0.2%. Once you get lucky, you take them into battle in order to raise their level. You then rank up that character. You then awaken that character. You then level up that character again. And then you collect that character 8 more times to raise their skills. Did I mention that characters have equipment and runes which need leveling as well?
Long story short: Maxing out a single character can cost anywhere from $100 to $10000. The amount of progression systems in this game are ridiculous, and it’s reinforced by the extreme power creep which introduces overpowered characters every other week. This is a meticulously designed skinner box – I don’t think I could ever compete with the Asians in this field even if I wanted to.
Brown Dust has a surprisingly deep battle system for an autobattler. You select up to 9 mercenaries, each with their unique skills and target tile, to determine their placement and turn order. The goal is to outplay your opponent’s formation, and depending on the game mode you can see both the formation and turn order prior to battle.
The game features over 1000 campaign stages and a hard mode to boot, so it will keep you occupied for quite a while. Earlier levels are rather easy and you can auto battle entire chapters with the same formation, but the difficulty spikes extremely hard later in the campaign. While I appreciate the paywalled challenge, actually putting in the effort on each stage wasn’t particularly enjoyable – the campaign is a grind, and I don’t think a grind should ever be overly difficult.
To summarize the story: You are a mercenary captain and travel the continents to find the truth about your dead father. You’re also in a harem with half of your squad. Some of the lore bits are competent, but the translation is shoddy at best so you’re better of skipping the dialog entirely.
The arena is the game’s main PvP mode where you set up your formation and go up against that of others blind. Unsurprisingly, it’s extremely pay to win – imagine Hearthstone without the Mana cost system. Everyone is decked out with the same legendaries in the same formation, and winning comes down to who invested more money into their legendaries which already cost a lot of money to acquire. I should probably mention that playing in arena costs money as well, and constant participation is required if you want to end up at the top.
The next mode is the novice arena. It functions like the arena, but you are limited to using lower rank characters and cannot grind the ladder endlessly, meaning ranking somewhat correlates to skill. It’s also the only place in the game where you can adjust your strategy after a defeat unlike in the normal arena, where defeats come down to having not spent enough money on the game.
There are a few other PvP modes such as guild war, raids and underground arena, which is done in real time and players take turns placing down their mercenaries. Overall, this game could very well make it to other platforms if the cost restrictions from the singleplayer mode carried over into the PvP mode as well. Then again, creating a simple playground for whales requires half the effort and pays twice as much.
Mobile games ain’t ever free. The “Entry Fee” is the price I expect you to pay via in-app purchases in order to have a reasonable amount of fun playing. This price is subjective.
Entry Fee: $500+
This game is not enjoyable as a low spender – everything costs money and the price points are extremely high. Unless you have a disposable income large enough to allow for mobile whaling of the gambling sort, I wouldn’t bother.