I’m a big fan of the collectible card genre and particularly like the single-player offerings that are appearing on the market so much more frequently now. I love them because I’m not forced into a cycle of constant online matches and get to enjoy a story and take the tactics at my own pace. This being said I’m always on the lookout for new games with curious or innovative mechanics that are looking to push the boundaries that have already been set by brilliant titles like Slay the Spire. In searching for something a bit new and different I spotted Ancient Enemy and it piqued my interest enough to want to see a bit more of what this game had to offer.
I am so torn with this title. I’ll obviously explain why in a bit but what Ancient Enemy does well it does exceptionally well. Nothing about this game is intrinsically wrong and if you take it as what it is it’s brilliant. The problem I have is that I feel that it could have been so much more than it is currently. If this is a finished product that the devs will never go back to it’s great but not brilliant. If, on the other hand, it’s still a work in progress that will expand and develop over time then I think there’s room for Ancient Enemy to be memorable.
To give you a very brief idea of the story, in Ancient Enemy you play a mage who has been defeated in battle. You wake up long after your adversary has won and find the land in tatters and populated by twisted creatures. You are compelled to complete the quest at which you once failed, finally put your foe in the ground, and heal the world in the process. As you have woken up bereft of your powers you will need to commune with the earth and pull yourself back to your former glory if you are to succeed.
This is a standard battle. The cards you collect empower your abilities.
Ancient Enemy takes you from battle to battle as your journey on paths that open up allowing you to take more than one route to that chapter’s boss. Between battles, you find places of power that allow you to collect items and abilities if you are able to complete the puzzles found there. As a mage who draws power from the land, you also gain this as a currency that can be spent on new spells and abilities between chapters. This is fine, but for me being given more than one path to choose is a bit pointless in this particular game. It makes sense to try and complete all of the levels in a chapter regardless of where the interconnecting paths take you. With this in mind having the ability to choose which way you go sort of falls a bit flat.
Each battle is a game of solitaire. As you pick up cards from the board you power abilities depending on the suit you collect. Yellow cards power your physical attack, blue for defense, and orange which powers your magic. Getting long runs is really important because magic powers will grant you an extra ability for a run of ten or more cards. Depending on the spell your using you’ll deal base damage and then cause poison, or stun, or debuff depending on the element that the card pertains to. You’ll also pick up wyrm cards which are wilds, skulls that deal direct damage, and cards that buff your own attack and defense. I actually like the way this is set up and the battles are fun but all of this doesn’t come without its flaws.
The painted art style is gorgeous.
It might just be that I’m good at solitaire but I found the battles rather easy. if you can get a decent run of cards you’ll wipe an enemy out in a few turns. Each battle has a star rating. Getting a perfect, (3 stars,) may ask you to beat your foe in, say, 5 turns; bronze, (2 stars,) 9 turns, and so on. I was able to complete most battles and perfect them without even really touching that limit. To create a level of difficulty each monster you face has resistance to certain types of damage. If you keep an eye on these at the start you can equip yourself to easily get around them.
This is a large part of my problem with Ancient Enemy. Nothing feels like it’s quite there. Making a monster resistant to certain types of damage is a smart idea. The issue is that for most of the game you’ll have enough of a variation of magic that this doesn’t matter. If your foe is resistant to dark and poison you’ll just use a fire spell or lightning or … you get the gist. You can only have one spell slotted at a time so there isn’t really a great deal of strategy in choice when it comes to deciding what you’re going to use.
The story plays out over 10 chapters.
Following on from this, you get a decent amount of choice with your defensive spells and items you carry. You can equip up to three consumables at a time. In the entire game, I think I used about three of the defensive spells offered and only one or two items. Not because I wasn’t paying attention to them or didn’t particularly want to use them but because I didn’t feel I needed to. Using any action usually ends your turn so you really want to be attacking each time. Everything else becomes a bit superfluous when your just concentrating on your physical damage and attack spells. I completed the game on normal and never felt like I’d taken enough damage at any point to even worry about defense. Your life refills at the end of each chapter so, for me, there wasn’t any real pressure to keep an eye on it.
The same applies to abilities you get given. You have passive and active abilities and might play about with these a bit more. Passives you’ll choose to suit your playstyle, these can remove cards, give you more chances to undo your current move if you’ve fouled up, etc. As you get these as you go you’ll decide what’s most useful to you individually. The same applies to active abilities. These can remove cards by targetting them, allow you to shuffle the board, or change the number on a card you don’t like. These were really useful but I didn’t play with all of the ones I collected because, again, I didn’t feel I needed to. Giving the player a lot of choice is excellent but this only works where changes in strategy are necessary. It’s pointless having a pool of 20-odd cards when you only ever use a handful of them.
Your spellbook is comprehensive. Sadly, I don’t feel you’ll use it to its fullest.
Coming back to the battles, the variation in the monsters you face isn’t really anything special. I think I saw about six or seven different types of enemy in the entire game. The problem here is that when you figure out how to kill one you’ve pretty much nailed how to kill anything else of that type. More variety adds difficulty and this wasn’t there for me.
Non-battle levels are important for gaining items and power.
To make the game more difficult you are given one set of life per chapter. If you die you have to do the lot over again. In nightmare mode, if you die it’s permadeath and you start from scratch. I like this idea but it never felt like a threat in normal mode and although nightmare is obviously going to be harder I can’t see it being hard enough for this to really be an issue.
It sounds like I’m complaining a lot and don’t like the game. This isn’t true. I really had fun with the time I spent with Ancient Enemy. The problem is that I didn’t get to spend long enough with this game. I completed normal difficulty in its entirety, having scored a perfect on nearly every round in three days. This obviously wasn’t three days of marathon play sessions either. I can go back now and complete the game on Nightmare but even if it takes me a bit longer, I don’t see it being long enough to warrant the price tag when there are other more replayable titles out there for a similar cost. There’s very much a feeling of when you’re done, you’re done and if you’re looking for longevity it just isn’t there.
I have to say that the art in Ancient Enemy is beautiful and I’m a big fan of the hand-painted aesthetic that’s being used. I also really like the story. This unfolds as you take your mage from a shadow of his former self to a fully powered Geomancer. I enjoyed reading the passages between levels so all good here.
Ancient Enemy would be a great game if it were longer and genuinely more difficult. If we found ourselves agonizing over our spellbook and scrutinizing every enemy for weaknesses, using all the weapons at our disposal it would be a hit. If having verging paths led us to something new or made a difference to the plot, great, but they don’t. As I said this, for me, is very much a case of nearly but not quite. The ideas are sound and the game is fun, I just don’t feel that they have been implemented fully enough to make for a really memorable title.
If you like solitaire and you’re happy, (as most of us should be,) to support a small developer definitely give Ancient Enemy a whirl. Just don’t expect an expansive adventure. If you want something that will keep you coming back for more over a long period of time and want to make the most of every penny you’ve spent I don’t think there is enough here to make it worth your while.
Look and Feel - 8/10
Challenge - 6/10
Replayability - 5/10
Value for money - 5/10
Gameplay - 7/10
Fun while it lasts
I think Ancient Enemy may be a game that has come out at the wrong time. Ten years ago I would have probably been giving this a much higher score, but when placed against infinitely replayable titles like Slay the Spire it doesn’t quite stand up. Please note I’m not comparing the two games, just that there are card titles out there that will allow you to keep coming back. This being said I love the mechanics and Ancient Enemy is a lot of fun while it lasts. This for me, sadly, is this game’s biggest downfall. Definitely give it a go and absolutely support the devs but if you’re looking for a new time sink I’d look elsewhere.
Hailing from Southport England, Alex started his gaming career in the late 80s on a Commodore 64. Since that time he's either owned or played on virtually every console released. Alex happens to...