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SpellFall and the Problem with Pay to Win

About two months ago, I got a text from our editor, Ryan, telling me I should check out this game called Spellfall. I generally listen to Ryan’s suggestions since he’s pretty good at identifying mobile games I’ll enjoy. On top of that, I was in the market for a new game to play on my phone so off to the iOS App Store I went.

The addiction was immediate. SpellFall is a cleaner, leaner, dressed up version of a PC game I played for hours: Puzzle Quest. Essentially, it’s a jewel matching game with RPG elements. Bejeweled meets Diablo II. I started playing obsessively, choosing to game on my phone instead of hoping on to World of Warcraft when I had a chunk of time to play.

The honeymoon was lovely, especially after I broke my rule and spent some actual money on in-game currency — I wanted to support the game because I enjoyed it that much.

Unfortunately, the honeymoon was ruined by a recent patch and the game I enjoyed was turned into one I now play in utter frustration.

I’ll get to why I’m still playing later. Let me explain the game and the patch that destroyed it all.

SpellFall is “Free to Play” — if you take the time and energy, you can reach max level and play all the maps throughout the game. Any damage your character takes while playing is healed over time and the length of that time increases as your hit points accumulate and you level up. You don’t have to pay to unlock maps or levels in the game.


There is an incentive program to keep you regularly opening the game: click everyday for 20 days and you get a heroic, gold level item that levels with your character and does more damage as you continue to level. The gem matching part of SpellFall has an elemental focus, so some of the gems do either more or less damage depending on your foe. These weapons increase the damage to specific elemental foes.

On top of different types of weapons and armor, each item you use has rune sockets where you equip runes to boost stats and allow you to cast spells. This takes your basic gem matching game and makes it just strategic enough to become addictive. It’s not about the speed of Bejeweled Blitz; instead, you have to take the time to think through where and what you will play and the potential damage it can cause.

Originally, this was the reason I fell in love with SpellFall — a new form of game play that I found compelling. I was good with taking the time and playing daily to get the cool, uber strong gear, and delighted all the maps were available as long as you took the time to play. I’m ok with micro-transaction games as long as I can play the basic game without having to pay. The elemental weapons after clicking for 20 days seemed reasonable to me. If you are impatient, and don’t want to wait 20 days for one, they are available for purchase in the store for $79.99. (No, that’s not a typo. You can buy one weapon for almost $80.)

Then the new patch happened.

I’d say everything changed but that sounds so cliche… but everything changed. The one positive was now when you use your elemental weapons against a matching foe — a Burning Claideamh against a cold monster for example — you do extra damage.

I had collected two of the elemental weapons before the patch. Each comes with three open rune sockets out of five total. You would think for $79.99 ALL the sockets would be open but I digress. I was able to open all five sockets on my first two weapons. I can’t remember the exact cost for the last two sockets but I only spent $10 on gold when I did buy it and that is only 122K gold pieces. On my third weapon, I clicked the fourth socket and this is what I saw:


279K! I thought there must be some mistake… that was an outrageous amount of gold, it would take eons to earn that much gold in the game BEFORE the patch. After the patch, they cut the amount of gold earned from completed maps from almost 2000 gold pieces per map to 880, so earning potentials went waaaaay down.

Earning gold went significantly down and the cost to unlock rune sockets sky rocketed. What does that spell?

C-A-S-H G-R-A-B.

To buy the gold to unlock the fourth rune slot on the elemental weapons would cost $24.99 and that only opens the FOURTH socket of FIVE. So a weapon that costs almost $80 would need another $50 at least to be at max power. I will admit I spend a fair amount of money on Steam games and my WoW subscriptions, but I have never, ever spent $130 on a SINGLE ITEM in a game, not to mention there are five elemental weapons.

I’ve rarely been so disappointed in a game. I think my disappointment is highlighted by the fact that I was truly enjoying this game and planned to finish it so I could follow the story woven into each battle. It is no small thing in a mobile game to take the time and space to include a narrative, especially since most mobile gamers aren’t interested in a storyline but rather a quick and satisfying game experience.

spellfall-3SpellFall had transcended that experience. I was engaged with the game on multiple levels. I wanted to know what happened to my character and his companion, a spriteling guide. And that is why I continue to play even when I want to slam down my phone when I die over and over again on the same level. I am a sucker for a storyline and I must know what happens at the end.

So I begrudgingly play and I curse Backflip Studio all the while. I won’t spend another penny on the game, which may mean I’ll never know the end of the story, but I’m not willing to continue to support a studio that so obviously only respects my pocketbook.

6 thoughts on “SpellFall and the Problem with Pay to Win”

  1. I just beat the last guy on the last stage. Spoilers: it's Treyfik again. Of course, due to the outrageous lack of significant moneys given to me by conquered territories, I had no real way of powering up past level 25, which I hit some weeks ago. I was content to keep playing and re-conquering territories, getting some rune points for the third Heal which was available to me really late in the game. All of a sudden, some of the monsters turned silver. I already had a problem with the attack and defense stats since the damage I received from similarly powered enemies was a bit inconsistent. But then these overpowered silver bastards showed up. I was able to beat one of them that was near the end of the final territory, mostly by sheer luck and smack talking , but he was easily the weakest of the silver guys I've seen. Had I not been fully leveled, he would've beaten me in one hit. Again, he was the weakest I've seen.
    In summary: shit's too expensive, I can't level up anymore, I can't make my weapons more powerful, I get paid almost as bad as I do in real life, and I'll have to get incredibly lucky to reconquer territories that are now inhabited by silver assholes. As a rule, I don't pay real money for anything in these games. I liked this game because I felt there was actual progress and felt there might be an end point – you know, some sense of fulfillment and closure after wasting so much goddam time.

    So really my question is: is there any point to me taking back all the territories? As in if they are all beaten, is there an actual ending to the game? Can it be beaten, or is the only thing left a purgatory of fighting shiny dickbags? (If you can't tell, I really hate the silver guys) If there's no real ending, then I'm done and fuck this game.

    PS: I only ranted so much because I spent a lot of fucking time playing through this thing, so I felt the rant should've been of proportional length.

  2. I fell your pain. I am FINALLY toward the end of the last map and I hit a silver baddie. He hit me for 27K first hit! My total and MAX health is 50K. More than half in one hit? They do give you more turns to do damage on the silvers, but yes they are killers. Oh and beware because there are GOLD baddies now, too. They don't attack I guess but are still hard to beat? I am not sure how that works since I haven't actually seen one yet. I just read about them on the FB page.

    I agree with your frustration for the same reasons. I feel like every time I turn around they nerf something to make it impossible for me to finish. I am not sure how I will get to the last Treyfik fight since right now there are two corruptions with 85K and 117K health in my way. I daily clicked enough to finally get the new elemental armor which let me drop my transmute rune so that upped my damage a bit but still. There is no way to do so much damage to two enemies without, I think, buying the $129 corruption sword which would never, ever happen. On top of that, one of the guys I killed on the last map dropped a brown, level 1 rune. What? Really? Talk about an insult.

    Oh and there was a time, at least, that the revive for half health was costing $1.99? (Up from .99) I have never done that and never plan to but I was still pissed that they made it more expensive. I guess no one is buying the outrageously priced swords! DUH!

    I think your rant is justified. This is the worst of what free-to-play or pay-to-win has to offer.

    Thanks for commenting. It's actually nice to know I'm not alone!

  3. I've come across a few golden baddies, and you get quite a few moves to defeat them, even more than with silver, but they are tough. If you don't defeat them in the first round, they escape, and you don't take any damage, leaving you able to try the level again, which will now be regular level appropriate monsters. If you do beat them, you get x3 on XP, coins, and rune points.

    In Settings, you can disable the recapture feature, or rather you could… I haven't checked since I first disabled it shortly after I began playing, but it is still in effect so I assume the option is still there. You'd probably have to reconquer your areas anyway, but it would keep it from happening again if you managed to get 'er done .

    I've just reached level 25, and I have almost all the Lorica and Claideamh except for one of each, and I have never spent money on Spellfall. I do think though that if I did purchase them, I'd be just as pissed off that they don't come with all sockets opened. It does seem to be a shameless money grab.

    My personal issues with the game are that I still have a full area + 1 final battle left to go and I have maxxed out my levels, and the item drops kinda suck for being so far into the game. I was hoping that there would be another map to unlock, but it seems doubtful if there is a level cap. I don't know if I will be stuck at this battle, but right now , even with my most powerful Lorica and sword ( which is actually a Ceremonial Xiphos and NOT A Claideamh!) I don't come close to doing any real damage, and I am dead within 3 rounds. And why are there no items dropped that do light damage in a realm where there are pure corruption baddies instead of elemental ones? Are those solely for purchase as another money grab? Sigh. Otherwise, I do enjoy Spellfall and I will continue to play as long as my experience does not match the author's. If it ever gets to that point, I would quit the game.

  4. Thank you for your comment! I am glad to know that other people are having a similar experience. I still haven't come across a gold creature but I think that's mostly because I stopped doing recapture.

    I finished the game a few weeks ago. When you finish the map, it pretty much starts over but with higher level bad guys and the level cap is gone. At the end, I stopped using the daily click bait weapons myself – I can't remember what the weapon was I was using and I can't find my old phone to check – but it was way lower level than the elemental weapons and far more powerful. It was also a lot cheaper to unlock the runes which let me open all five. I still think having only three open when you purchase is one of the worst elements of Spellfall. I mean come on. Some of those weapons cost $129. They should be unlocked.

    And even though this article talks about my dismay with the game, I continued playing for weeks after beating it and only stopped when I got a new phone and did not install it. From what I read on the FB page for the game, my data wouldn't transfer over so I was going to have to start all over again and that wasn't happening. 🙂

  5. Thanks for responding, and as it happens, I have come across a Corrupted Lorica in my store just today! Unfortunately, I can't afford it right now, so I am kinda glad now that I can't beat the level I am on, lol. But a golden baddie dropped it , today I have been reconquering my still conquered battles, searching out gold and silver monsters and that is how I got some great drops today! Sucks that I can't afford any of them, but I am going to try HARD for that corrupt Lorica, without spending RL money of course, although I just might consider spending the $5 it would take, lol. The gold and silver ones I've beaten were still low level, because I went back to the beginning, and they were ridiculously easy to beat. Thanks again!

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