So, I was reading the games press the other day and I noticed something that I decided was either going to be taking the spot for my current favorite game of 2021 or that it would make a manure fire smell nice; no in-between. So what did I do? I bought it obviously because I have poor impulse control and like telling you lot about these things. The game is called Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four and actually, it falls into the, “a lot better than hoped but not quite there,” part of the spectrum and I shall explain why as we go.
So the reason why I thought Cardaclysm might be a dumpster fire waiting to happen is because it’s melding three genres which on their own are difficult to do properly. Cardaclysm is a mix of TCG, (or CCG for some of you,) roguelike, and RPG elements. There are very few titles I can think of that have been able to mix the card and RPG genres and do it well.
I really want to see a few more dev companies go down this route but you need to be so careful or it just becomes an RPG with a bit of a card mechanic or a card game with a few chunks of story. We’ve all seen both and although there’s nothing inherently wrong with either, they aren’t enough to stand out as anything special. The real curiosity came with how exactly they were going to make this a roguelike or even use roguelike elements well enough to make adding this term to the game worthwhile. We need to look at all this a bit closer because it’s actually quite important to our scores.
First off, let’s have a bit of a look at Cardaclysm‘s story. You play a dark wizard that’s done something a bit silly. You thought in your infinite wisdom that you could control the four horsemen and turn their powers to your own devices. To put it politely something went wrong and you managed to release all of them instead.
Suffice it to say they aren’t very pleased with you and are now chasing you across inter-dimensional worlds. Apart from the incredibly powerful beings that really want a chat, these places are now filled with all kinds of monsters and nasties. You’ll really need to be on your toes if you’re going to come out of this little blunder alive.
Your arsenal comes in the cards in your spellbook. You’ll use these to summon powerful creatures and cast spells as you would in pretty much any CCG out there. There are a few key differences here though, Firstly you can actually see what you’ve summoned. I really like this. Card art is lovely but it’s never going to be the same as a fully rendered monster. Actively controlling your pieces also makes you look at the board differently and somehow adds a bit of urgency with regard to how you’re going to use them.
The way you summon your creatures in Cardaclysm is different and actually quite clever. This isn’t one of these games where you take it in turns gaining mana and playing creatures until your life points are gone. In Cardaclysm you have two resources that are vital to success. You have runes and orbs. Creatures have both a rune and orb cost, spells just have a rune cost. You will find both of these resources in the world and when you collect them they are yours permanently.
The reason why all this is so important is that it affects the way you play in a very critical sense. You might be facing four creatures and if you have only collected, say, 30 runes, (for instance,) you might only be able to afford to play 2. If those creatures die and you can’t afford to play any others because your resources don’t replenish mid-match it’s a game over. You don’t draw in battles either. You’ll only pick up a card if you’ve played one. You have a hand of four slots at a time, if they’re full and you can’t afford to play anything you’re stuffed.
Following on from the mechanics I’ve just mentioned your wizard is a bit … squishy. It doesn’t matter how powerful your magic is, you only have one life. If you don’t have anything defending you and you get hit, you die. This is where some of the roguelike elements come into play. Death means that you lose everything that you’ve collected in the current world you’re running and you go back to the beginning. The modifiers on the world remain, but the actual map randomizes so you won’t be facing the same critters or running the same layout a second time. As a roguelike fan, this is welcoming for me but if you like to remember where you’ve been you might get frustrated.
For each of Cardaclysm’s levels, you’ll need to kill all the monsters and find a red key that opens the exit door. It is important to be a bit methodical about how you go about this. Once the last monster is dead one of the horsemen will pop out the level entrance and start chasing you around the map. These are really powerful beings that you need to be prepared for, so getting caught isn’t smart.
You’ll need to get to the exit open and get through it before you’re caught or in most cases, you’ll be playing that level again. I actually really like this idea. You can face the boss whenever you want, just make sure you can handle that battle or you’re losing a level’s worth of cards and other collectibles. When you do kill the horseman chasing you, you open a new tier of cards, collectibles and worlds and the chase is on again with another horseman.
As far as your own inventory goes, it’s broken into two screens. One of these is your spellbook and contains your cards. You can only have so many in play at any point so you’ll need to decide what you want. You also have your card inventory here which lets you switch cards out in between battles. The other screen is your loadout. You’ll find wearable artifacts in the world as you progress and these will apply modifiers to your cards. The idea of picking things up as you go adds to the RPG feel Cardaclysm has which can only be a good thing.
There are a few different ways to get new cards in Cardaclysm, and part of this is where the game falls short for me. Killing creatures grants cards that are given to you at random so don’t expect miracles every run, you might come out with stuff you already have a bunch of. Of course, you might get lucky and find something really tasty, all of this being part of the draw to play. There’s an interesting upgrade system. Some cards level and if you combine your multiples you’ll get more powerful versions of given creatures and spells. The associated costs go up with this so you need to be careful not to fill your deck with overly expensive creatures. Lastly, you get cards from traders and as a result of completing quests. This is where I think more needs to be done, so I’ll explain this in a bit more detail in a minute.
This is where we start coming into the down-sides of Cardaclysm. Most roguelikes have some sort of hub that can be used as a safe space between levels. This is usually where you’ll find quest givers, vendors, and other interesting characters, and most hub areas build as you play. This is no different here but I feel that this one could be used better. In Cardaclysm you have the Interdimensional Pub. This space contains various characters you can interact with and your private stash where you can store your cards, it also expands as you play further into the game.
In the pub, you have the innkeeper and the huntress. These are both quest givers. The innkeeper will ask you to find an artifact for him and bring it back in exchange for a card. As you find these things as a course of playing this isn’t a very difficult proposition making him a bit redundant other than giving you extra things. The huntress will want you to kill a certain creature for similar rewards but, again, you’ll be doing this anyway so there’s nothing special here.
My other gripe is with the traders. There are two, to begin with. The artifact trader will swap one of your artifacts for a card and you have the goblin thief who lives in the pub basement who will ask for a two-card trade for a card. You will also find traders out in the world as you play who will ask for something in your inventory in exchange for one of a couple of cards on offer. All of this is well and good if you actually want what’s being offered to you but in most cases, the exchange never feels like a fair trade and you feel like you’re losing something you want to gain something you either already have or you aren’t using. I very rarely use any of these elements for this reason and this makes them a bit pointless.
There isn’t enough here to really call this game a roguelike other than the randomizing levels and monsters. The draw of roguelikes comes partly with the procedural generation but also with the punishment that death brings. Death in most roguelike games is a big deal because you’ll either go back to the beginning of the entire game or lose something vital in the process. The rewards you get that carry between games are usually great but so is the risk. There isn’t enough risk in Cardaclysm. Getting killed will lose you your cards but you can regain those by replaying the world. This is really the only risk I’ve noted. There is the risk of getting caught by the boss but this still puts you back at the start of that run so you aren’t really losing much other than time.
As a little addendum to what I’ve just said, a challenge mode opens up to you after you kill the first boss. Here the monsters are tougher but the rewards are better. In normal mode when you lose cards they go into the graveyard and can be found again on your next run. In challenge mode there is no graveyard, so the risk is definitely there. The issue I had with this mode is it’s going from the sublime to the ridiculous. The monsters feel way harder and as you need to kill them all to proceed it feels like and unfair spike. My suggestion would be to remove the challenge feature, and modify the ordinary difficulty slightly. I don’t see a particular bonus to having the graveyard so get rid of that and you have a game that feels much truer to the roguelike elements it’s embracing.
The Hunter’s Guild
I can see how the different genres play together but there isn’t enough of any one thing to make it stand out. This is a card game and this obviously shines as the core mechanic so no complaints there. You can only really call this an RPG in the fact that there’s some basic story there and that you’re wandering levels and picking things up. Yes, you get given quests, but they don’t further the plot in any way and you don’t get to know any of the NPCs so the RPG elements that are present don’t really stand out.
As I’ve just mentioned the same applies to the roguelike elements. These are present but not enough to really make them shine. On the other hand, graphically and audibly there isn’t anything to complain about and the control system is simple and intuitive. The levels start to feel a bit samey after a while but this is a minor gripe in comparison to what Cardaclysm does well.
All the above being said Cardaclysm is a fun time killer. I’m enjoying my time with this title so I’m not saying it’s a bad game by any means. The problem you have is that it starts becoming a bit repetitive fairly quickly. You follow the premise of go to world, kill stuff, escape boss, go to pub add Infinitum. I’ve just unlocked Highmoor Castle which adds traps and removes the chase but doesn’t change the core structure enough to feel different. If there was more plot, more quests, or more well balanced risk to all of this it would flesh the experience out but as it is, Cardaclysm feels a bit thin.
If you’re looking for a game with quirky mechanics and a lot of room to grow and flesh out this isn’t a bad call. If you want something that’s going to eat hours of your time in long runs and blurry all-nighters this isn’t going to keep you hooked for long. Cardaclysm is an above-average title and one worth a place in your library, but until we’ve seen a few updates, above average is about the best it’s going to get.
Look and Feel - 8/10
Story - 6/10
Challenge - 7/10
Replayability - 7/10
Nearly but not quite
Cardaclysm is still a very new game. There is a lot that can be done here and if this is a starting point, even as a complete title, there is hope that it can be a stunner in the future. With updates and a bit of balancing this is a killer game in the making. As it stands it’s a fun if slightly basic time killer. This being said, you could do far worse than use it as a way of killing time.
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... Read more...