Shadowverse bears many mechanical similarities to the popular trading card game Hearthstone but does much to address the long-running issues that its rival has been criticised for. Developed by Cygames, Inc., Shadowverse boasts less RNG, much more attractive card art, a more generous economy, and greater complexity in the way each match plays out.
Though the game has already been on Android and Apple devices since June, it was only recently released on Steam. With fullscreen resolution and 60fps, Shadowverse looks better than ever. Roughly twenty hours of challenging gameplay awaits as you make your way through the 7 interwoven campaigns, with each character making their way to the Morning Star – a mysterious presence in the sky of unknown origin. Hours more of entertainment can be reaped through engaging online versus modes.
Though the inclusion of a story mode is great from a gameplay perspective, the plot itself is not particularly enthralling. Shadowverse does little in the way of world-building over the course of its 7 campaigns – one for each of the main characters/leaders. An ominous wall of text at the start of each campaign tells of a strange presence called the Morning Star that has recently filled the sky. Is its arrival a sign of good fortune, or of something more sinister? Sadly, this question is never properly answered, with the same cliffhanger waiting at the end of each of the separate stories. Each of the eight stages per character starts with a simple visual novel-esque cutscene and rewards a further one for victory.
The characters bring some meaning to the plot as each has their own distinct motivation for embarking on their journeys which only become apparent when you play through their story. Something was very clearly amiss with the knight Rowen Dragespear when I first encountered him, but exactly what that remained a mystery for quite some time. The same can be said of most of the roster though some are less interesting than others. Isabelle's obsessive mission to bring her lover back from the dead quickly became tiresome when compared to the existential plight of Urias Formonde, a vampire who reawakens to find himself in a world without a suitable rival. Regardless, the weak writing and repetitive storytelling keep Shadowverse's story consistently mediocre.
Forgetting the plot for a moment, the story mode is still a lot of fun purely from a challenge perspective. With unique card rewards and a satisfying difficulty curve, the mode is a great way for new players to learn the ins-and-outs of a leader's playstyle as well as to learn how to counter other deck types. There are 7 main deck types, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Forestcraft, for example, is very effective at swarming the field with low-cost minions while consistently drawing more and more into your hand for further attacks. You can create a strong synergy between this swarming effect and cards that grow stronger by being played after multiple cards have already been put to use that turn. Bloodcraft, on the other hand, specializes in keeping your leader's health low, providing particularly overwhelming effects to your followers in return. It's risky but the results can be devastating if you have the cards to control health increases and decreases. What this goes to show is that despite there only being 7 main deck types, there is a huge amount of variety in how effective each of those decks will be depending on your specific card choices. Runecraft's ability to enhance cards in your hand through the use of spell cards can be a nice little gimmick or the asset you need to create a crushing late-game play on an unsuspecting opponent.
The cards themselves are divided into three different categories. Follower cards are designed to be your attacking and defending force, and often come with special abilities that are activated under certain circumstances. For example, a follower with the Fanfare ability will be able to use their card effect when they are first played from the hand. Followers with the storm ability can attack immediately once played, rather than having to wait a turn like most others. Spell cards are the second category of tools at your disposal. These are used directly from the hand and discarded afterwards, providing you with various useful effects ranging from aggressive damage based attacks, helpful utilities like drawing extra cards, and truly game-changing moves such as giving yourself an extra turn. Finally, Amulet cards are used to provide passive buffs, control effects and to enhance deck type-specific abilities. There are so many differing card effects with so many different activation requirements that you'll never be able to make a perfect deck, no matter how close you get, so experimenting with multiple setups is both fun and advisable.
Cards are played using play points (PP), a resource that builds up as the game progresses. With only a limited number of PP available to the player per turn, it is important to choose your moves wisely. It's equally important to build your deck with PP in mind as high PP cards may be more effective than lower cost alternatives, but they will essentially be dead weight during the earlier stages of the game. Some opponents can be walked right over if your starting hand is good enough, or they can be crushingly difficult if not. Developing consistency should be a priority when putting a deck together.
Rounds of Shadowverse tend to range from 5-10 minutes as the steady escalation of your playable cards' power inevitably carries you to either victory or defeat. It is important to note that your leader's health pool can be attacked at any point (unless you have a card with the Ward ability). Equally important, is that there will often be times when the board contains both enemy and friendly followers. It's up to you to decide if you should go straight to the enemy leader and hope for a swift victory or take out his followers first and try to prevent a counter-play. The result is a constant state of tension that only continues to ramp up the longer the game continues. One of my online matches lasted for 10 full minutes and ended with the opposing player defeated and myself with only 1 health remaining. As we burned through our cards and deftly countered each other's plays, victory, and defeat laying on a knife edge. This is Shadowverse at its best.
One of Shadowverse's most unique features is its evolution system. With either 2 or 3 evolution points per match depending on whether you started first or second, evolution allows you to buff one of your follower cards with a greater attack, defense, the ability to attack immediately and, in some cases, activate a special card effect. Such power makes room for sudden comebacks that may otherwise have been impossible and works to keep you on your toes at all times.
Once you're willing to take off the training wheels, multiplayer will be what makes up the bulk of your playtime within Shadowverse. Your choices range from unranked matches, ranked matches, and the arena mode. Ranked matches will have you squaring off against opponents with a similar level of experience, each subsequent victory placing you higher up your subdivision. After enough wins, you will be pushed into the next division against tougher opposition until eventually, you are fighting against the true masters. It's a satisfying feeling to climb up the ranks, though the experience is far less entertaining when you lack a powerful deck. Making sure you do everything you can to be a real contender, even if that means spending actual money, is important because even at the lowest ranks there are going to be people with vicious arsenals.
The actual experience of battling it out with other players heightens all the satisfaction that Shadowverse delivered in its solo modes. Pulling off a perfect string of card plays is so much more rewarding when you know that the person on the other end of it is probably losing his mind. Similarly, losing isn't a bad thing – the thrill of taking down an enemy's trump card only to have to face down something twice as horrible a moment later is a reward in itself. Speedy matchmaking and a plentiful supply of achievements with rewards keep the good times rolling. Currently, the meta is rather broad and allows for multiple types of a deck to be optimal. That means that you can merrily put together your own deck, incrementally improving upon it as you discover its pros and cons, without fearing that you will stand no chance against a single god-tier archetype.
The Arena currently only includes Take Two mode, but it's a fun and refreshing style of challenge that can be lucrative for those without huge stockpiles of cards. Once in Take Two, you choose one of three randomly assigned leaders. Afterwards, you will be presented with two pairs of cards for that leader type. It is up to you to decide which of the pairs of cards you would like to add to your deck. You do this fifteen more times until you have a 30 card deck which, hopefully, will prove to be effective. From here you take on up to five other players in a row to see who made the most effective deck and, more importantly, who can utilize it to the greatest advantage. It's an entertaining mode which challenges your ability to think on the fly just as much as your deck-building skills.
Being a free-to-play game, there is a certain point where it becomes necessary (or at least expedient) to start paying out. Constructing the ultimate deck is going to be the ambition of almost every player you face up against so fighting with a shoddy deck is likely going to cause you more frustration than fun. Happily, spending real cash isn't the only way to get extra packs. A daily login bonus rewards you with rupees, as do the daily missions set by the developers, so you can grind your way to success with a little patience. If you are willing to specialize in one deck over the others it's entirely possible to make a top tier deck right from the get-go. This is because Shadowverse gives you 40 packs of cards – for free – the moment you start playing. With a little luck, you'll be most of the way towards making a deadly deck. If not, you can use the Liquefication system to melt down your unwanted cards and purchase more desirable ones. By destroying all the cards from the professions I had no interest in, I was able to create a Runecraft deck that wiped the floor with most of the people I came up against. For a free-to-play game, that's pretty generous.
Graphics and Sound
What is most immediately obvious about the game's visuals is its superb card art. Each of the 400+ cards is filled with huge amounts of detail and their own house style, which makes the various decks easy to differentiate between. Evolution also alters the art, usually making them even more vibrant and powerful-looking than before. Though the highly sexualized style that this Japanese game brings to the table (every woman has pronounced 'assets') is not to my taste, there's no denying the care and attention that went into their creation.
Aside from the art, the game also does a good job of adding impact to each of the follower's attacks through various animations depending on the creature and its strength, all at a smooth 60 FPS. A fairy's orb attack pales in comparison to the strike of a mithril golem, shaking the entire arena in the process. Each of the cards is also voice acted, which brings a little more life to proceedings. The voice acting from the various leaders throughout their campaigns is respectable, giving the fairly one-dimensional characters a bit more likability than they perhaps deserve.
The music – which switches depending on which leader is in battle – does a great job of supporting the fantasy themes of the game and gives each of the characters a greater sense of identity. The orchestral music of Eris, the Havencraft leader, is a stark contrast to the more jovial, flute-heavy tune of Arisa, the Forestcraft, practitioner.
Shadowverse is an entertaining, diverse card collecting game that does much to outshine its rivals. Though it may lack the polish of Hearthstone, it does have a much kinder economy and vastly superior visuals. Whether or not the game hooks you will be entirely up to how much you enjoy ascending the leaderboards, as there isn't a huge amount of variety to speak of. For those looking for a new card game to get into but lack the extra cash that many of them require, Shadowverse will offer you hours of fun without that nagging feeling that you're bashing your head against a rock just to see any progress.
|+ Enjoyable solo and multiplayer modes||– Weak storyline|
|+ Brilliant card art and in-game animations||– Lack of long term replayability for non-PvPers|
|+ Relaxing soundtrack|
|+ Generous economy|
|+ Speedy matchmaking|