Arknights had been on my radar for a while, and it finally released last week on January 16th. I was personally drawn to the game by it's character artwork and overall aesthetics. That said, I had seen very little gameplay up until this point. I was aware that it was a Tower Defense-inspired game, but beyond that I was going in blind.
The gameplay is surprisingly complex. The game combines traditional Tower Defense mechanics with RPG mechanics. While this itself is not a novel concept, it's executed rather well. Thus far, my experience with Tower Defense games had been rather middling at best, with many games in the genre becoming boring quite fast. One clever thing that Arknights does which I personally haven't seen before is that you can retreat and redeploy your characters - called "operators" in this game - on different spots or facing different directions. In fact, most of my clears on harder maps have made use of this mechanic. Each operator also has up to 3 skills, dependent on their rarity. A good portion of these skills require manual activation. Managing my operator deployment and skill usage proved to be a fun challenge whilst attempting to clear maps.
The other core part of the gameplay comes from the character pool and the different roles that operators can take up. You have the standard "Towers" with snipers and mages for physical damage and magical damage ("Arts" as it's called in game) respectively. Beyond that, you have a number of classes that take more to the traditional RPG gameplay: You've got Vanguards, who act as the first line of defense and are often cheap to deploy, Defenders who are the "true" tanks and will form your main defense line, and Guards who can cover flanks or backup the Defenders with their offensively oriented kits. There are also ranged Supporters who either buff your teammates or debuff the enemies, and Medics to keep your units topped off. Lastly, there's the Specialists which can fill a plethora of roles, from quick single target assassinations to displacing enemies. Selecting a good roster before every map is part of the challenge.
Overall, the gameplay feels almost like solving a puzzle with the pieces you have. Each operator can be leveled and promoted to make them stronger, but oftentimes you can use a clever strategy to beat a level with underleveled units rather than bruteforcing your way through the level using units that are way stronger than the suggested powerlevel. And whenever you pull this off it's definitely a fun moment.
The game also has a couple of neat features like it's auto-battle system which is one of the best auto-battle systems I've seen thus far and the Base which can be used for a plethora of ways to gather resources and level up operators.
Unfortunately, the gameplay isn't without flaws. It could really use a faster speed when autobattling as some stages are very long. There are also a lot of mechanics, systems and currencies that can be all be very overwhelming.
Because of this game's visual similarity to Girls' Frontline and it being published by Yostar who also have Azur Lane as one of their titles, I've seen a lot of people comment on how the gacha in Arknights will likely be similar to Azur Lane and Girls' Frontline. I've played both of the latter games and I can safely say that this is not the case. At least, not if you intend to stay free to play.
The market plan of both AL and GFL rests mostly on the making money from skins or outfits. As such, you get plenty of resources to spend on character gacha. It's not all that uncommon to get like 100 rolls per month in Azur Lane for example. As such, in both of these games you usually end up getting every character eventually. That said, there's still limited characters that you can miss out and have to wait for a rerun.
This is not the case in Arknights. Orundum, the red cubes which are this game's equivalent to gacha currency, are not handed out as frequently. At most, you're getting a little more than 10 pulls every 2 weeks. While this game so far only has 1 limited character on the Chinese server which has been up for roughly 9 months, you shouldn't expect to be able to get every character as a free to play.
However, each operator you get will likely be of some use. No character is truly worthless, be it in combat or when deployed in the Base as workers,. While 3* units cap out rather early, they are very cheap to invest in and have definitely carried me through the early game. 4*, 5* and 6* operators cap out much later, but also require more investment to reach their limit. Also, they get sweet looking artwork at their final stage.
The story and characters
Lastly, I want to talk about the world that HyperGryph has created for Arknights. The story is actually rather decent for a gacha game and I appreciate how they try to tie every game mechanic and element into the world. For example, daily and weekly quests are flavoured as requests that Rhodes Island, the organisation you work for, gets from other companies and organisations. Although it does sometimes fall flat on its face. The story is currently far from finished but I am interested to see where it goes.
The characters look amazing thanks to the many great artists that have worked on them, but most of all they all feel cohesive and share a similar aesthetic. Although each one has their own distinct features, ranging from fox tails to bird wings to demon horns, any one of them feels like they can be put next to a different operator and not feel out of place. Compare this to Azur Lane where character outfits and art styles can be vastly different and even feel out of place at times.
Also did I mention the sweet final artworks that the higher rarity operators get.
They also all have a bunch of voicelines and personal files to check out. Although this is more or less the standard nowadays for gacha games, it's nonetheless a nice thing.
Overall, I'm pleasantly surprised with this game and I would definitely recommend giving this game a try, especially if you enjoy Tower Defense games or enjoy solving puzzles. The gameplay is fun and engaging, the game doesn't feel overly grindy thanks to it's auto-battle system and the characters are great. Lastly, here's some useful resources when you want to get started: