By Remko Molenaar (Proxzor)
This year has seen a big influx of a bunch of new card collectible games, each with their own approach and style of what made card games such as Hearthstone so extremely popular a few years ago. Shardbound adds a little element to this genre as we know it, a turn based style you might find in your usual turn based RPG, giving an extra element to the board for the player to think about. The cards transform into actual characters, and like these characters, your Hero is an actual movable personage on the board.
The game starts with a small prologue to tutor you on the basics of the game. And if you have played a card game in the last couple of years, and are familiar with Hearthstone, the best way to summarize the game as is simply put, ‘It’s just like Hearthstone.’ And it’s a comparison I unfortunately cannot really miss adding to this review. Even though the game is still in early access, a term we are so familiar with these days, the game does its best to notify you that there are a lot of placeholders still in the game, and it’s supposedly far from finished. Although I do have to point out that the only thing that seems missing so far is some of the card’s portraits. However I personally do not have the feeling that there is anything gameplay-wise missing, except that the game loves to sticker ‘placeholder’ on a lot of different cards.
Lately when it comes to Early Access games I just get anxious, since the term is so loosely used you never know what the state of the game might be. Shardbound does feel like a proper Early Access game, not because it’s lacking content, because honestly it’s quite the opposite. But it does feel like some things need tidying up. The menus are simple, portrayed in different areas as floating islands, but it does feel a bit cluttered with unnecessary interactions that I would much rather see fit in one single screen. With that said, it is probably the only negative thing I can say about the game right now, and for an Early Access game, that is saying a lot.
In the same fashion as cards are collected in Hearthstone, you also get them here. You earn rewards by doing daily objectives which lead to Shards that you buy boxes with. You also get daily rewards by logging in and doing other things, so it’s a bit of a daily ‘grind’ to unlock all the current cards, but for a free to play game that seems fair. And well, if you want it faster there is always the option to open your wallet and throw money at your screen. Developers seem to like that these days. After completing the prologue you are given some basic decks of cards with different heroes. These heroes have their own unique abilities and attacking types, so you really have to form your deck around them. Since the game is like a turn-based RPG, there is a lot more to gameplay than just cards attacking each other while lying on the opposite side of a board.
Like your hero, your normal cards have their own style of attacking. They’re either melee based or attack from a range. I really loved the idea of creating a deck based around ranged units, so I decided to try and get the best possible mixture of cards and a hero to back this up. I decided to go with the Venerator Wrynn hero, or rather the orange deck. Every hero has its own color so you can easily see the hero of the enemy, and expect the cards he might use from their respective class. Besides attacking units, you also have spell cards that act like abilities to spice things up and make the impossible happen in some of your games. It also adds a lovely touch of RNG into the mix, one that Hearthstone is so much loved for by the fans.
The game starts with each hero on their own side of the map. Every round you get a mana you can use, the amount of mana you have increases every round so you get to play the better cards the longer the game continues. On the grid in the playing field you have different blocks, ones that block your vision and you cannot step on, and higher elevated blocks to add another element into the mix. For the ranged units there is also another thing you have to keep in mind of. Ranged units behind your own units are able to attack, but ranged units cannot attack other units who are hiding behind either cover or another unit.
So keep in mind you have to play around with positioning while attempting to not leave direct line of fire on your hero. Sometimes it feels like a game of chicken as both players attempt to bait their opponent into traps with the lure of their hero. Units are also only able to move three squares away, and when a melee unit attacks an enemy unit next to him, they both lose health based on the attack values of both cards. Flying units have a lot more mobility and make the game feel quite fast-paced. But there are a few select units that you can place anywhere on the map, so you can never run away indefinitely. Nor is turtling up in a corner a wise decision, because you can be easily countered and cornered.
State of Early Access: Great
Shardbound is a unique card collectible game that adds in its own action based elements. The game is extremely fun and the art style is simple, clean but still appealing. Usually what keeps me away from card collectible games is that, over time, the game simply becomes pay to win in its own style. While it does feel easy to collect the cards in the current state of the game, it is something you always have to keep an eye on. Another problem I have with these games is the RNG possibilities. It can always be frustrating to draw bad cards, while your opponent has the best possible luck in the world where you might question why he’s not buying lottery tickets or playing at a real casino. And while the extra element of moving your characters around changes the game’s overarching dynamic, draw luck still influences the outcome plenty of times. For a free to play game, Shardbound is extremely fun, but do note, it is still in early access.