by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Deck Casters is an interesting creation – It came into being as ArmaGallant: Decks of Destiny on the Playstation 4, and was converted/ported over to the PC, simply as “Deck Casters”. The major thing touted as a difference is that Deck Casters has no microtransactions, unlike ArmaGallant, which had booster packs players could purchase to grow their collection. This version comes with access to all of the cards and also has 20 cards that the console version did not have. I’m a long-time fan of both card games and RTS games (even if I’m much better at the former than the latter), and the last one I played, Golem Gates, was also pretty enjoyable. The problem I’m running into in this style of hybrid is that few people are playing them online. It uses a Lobby System where players create/find matches, but I did not have a single PVP match in my week of seeking them out. Instead, I played AI matches.
The premise of the game is fairly simple. You build a deck with a Champion using one of five elements: Fire, Nature, Water, Darkness, and Light. Between units and spells, you can have up to 20 cards (up to three of a card), using whichever of these you’d care to. These cards all have a rarity/star level (1-4), and it’s fascinating that only Darkness fails to have a 4-star creature card. The Light and Fire elemental come with two, the other decks have one. Each of these cards has a cost, and you start with a hand of them and as you cast them, you’re randomly given other cards to use from your deck.
You build a deck and enter one of two types of matches, Witch Hut or Temple Ruins. The goal, regardless of the map gimmick, is still to bring the other player’s health total to zero. In Temple Ruins, there is an Artifact to control that deals damage to the other player, and also has three choke points (Monoliths) to contain that slowly deal damage. The Witch Hut features a Vision Point that reveals the location of a Crystal that deals heavy damage at once to the other player (and also has the choke points).
Both players start with 5 mana and a meter will fill up as time passes. Any creatures cast will spawn at your starting location. From there, you can use a hotkey to highlight and move a certain character/creature unit. You can have up to eight out at once, and while I’m glad that it has this kind of hotkey to at least access units when they aren’t on screen, it would be better suited to a controller, instead of a keyboard and mouse. It’s also not optimized for two monitors and has zero screen or resolution options to change during a match. Despite playing in Full Screen, I still moused off of the screen more often than not and had to seriously slow down simply to move my in-game screen over just a little bit. I learned that you can use the Arrow Keys to move the screen around, but you still need the mouse to aim and move units for maximum efficiency. The arrow keys move the screen better than the mouse does since you don’t have to stress about mousing off the screen, but the camera can (and will) get stuck if you move too far up or down. This says to me that it was not optimized well for PC use, and is still stuck in a console design.
Visually speaking, I enjoy the look of the game. The character models all look fantastic, and both of the two current maps definitely do not feel the same. With the champion in your deck, you always have access to a creature, even when you have tons of spells in hand, and it’s always very clear where a unit is going on the mini-map. On the actual maps, the colors are fairly rich and with several units cluttered together, it can be very unclear who is doing what.
This game does have a tutorial that is simple but teaches most of what you need to know about the game: summoning units, using spells, moving them, activating hotkeys. It doesn’t tell me what all three of the creature stats mean (two of them are obvious, the pink one in the middle, not so much). I appreciate that because it’s important to know how to play the game, but here’s where I’m starting to find problems. In card games of any kind, it’s important to have something to “shoot” for. You need a goal, and that’s typically to unlock new cards and grow your collection, whether through booster packs or a story system; no matter the design, it’s a “goal”. Deck Casters gives you all of the cards you’re going to need, and it doesn’t really seem to matter what elemental cards you use. It all boils down to whichever ones you want, and the color/element system only seems to be an aesthetic choice of what “type” of creature is in that group. That’s not really a problem, but it takes a bit of the punch away when it doesn’t really matter what you choose and you have no restrictions. In most CCGs, each of these elements requires their own casting cost, requiring more strategy and thought into your deck. In Deck Casters, for better or worse, you can just put together whatever you want and just cast them without any consideration to mana “type”, merely mana “cost”. It feels very easy to play, and not hard to master.
The Flame and the Void: 2.5/5
I enjoy the concept for Deck Casters immensely, but beyond not having people to play with, it controls very poorly, and that’s very important for an RTS on any platform. The camera is clunky, has gotten stuck and required me to move the mouse and stop using the arrow keys (so I simply stopped using arrow keys at all), and far too much time was spent trying not to move off screen. I like that the matches only last up to fifteen minutes, but not one of my AI matches lasted that long. The results at the end of a match do not seem to matter either, and there’s virtually no motivation to get better. If the element types aren’t going to matter, there doesn’t seem to be a purpose to having other colors/elements if there’s not even a storyline to go along with it. The game has lore that can be read, as can the description on the various elements and what they represent, but it doesn’t affect the game in any other way than flavor.
There are, however, lots of very amazing deck combinations possible here depending on your champion, thanks to the lack of elemental requirements, but there’s no hook to draw people back in. No new cards to earn, nobody online to battle, and no single-player campaign to at least get people continuing to play and learn more about the world they’ve crafted. Visually, I enjoy it, but I’ve quickly learned it’s much easier to deal with the AI to spam low-cost creatures on the board and swarm the Monolith/Choke Points to easily win matches. I like the presentation and the idea, but the inception is sincerely disappointing. With some polish and changes, it could really flourish into something entertaining.
The major points I think that could be addressed are the AI, the card collection, and the controls. The AI is unpredictable at best, no matter what difficulty level you’re actually set on. The game features 100 cards, but without something to collect or shoot for, it can push people away. Whether it’s increasing the power of cards, adding some additional cards on the back-end from winning, or from booster packs/daily quests, some new goal would at least offer a reason to constantly play and come back. Overall, the controls feel like they were not changed from the single screen console gameplay. I had an incredibly hard time doing much beyond hitting a hotkey to activate units. Deck Casters has too much freedom, which is something I did not think I would say. The point of card games, to make them interesting, is to restrict what you can and cannot do, to create more challenging/exciting decks and games. But when you can do anything you want and build whatever you’d like, it’s a lot less impactful.