Earthcore: Shattered Elements is a strategic card crafting and collectible card game (CCG) that uses a lane combat mechanic and sees the elements of Fire, Water, Earth and Dust face off against one another for supremacy. The game uses a unique method of damage called Risk which replaces the usual attack and defense statistics employed by other card games.
If you read my preview a short while ago while the game was in closed Beta, you will be aware that I was very impressed with what the early version had to offer.
Will the final release of Earthcore impress me just as much? Read on to find out…
Earthcore: Shattered Elements is all about the classical elements, surprisingly enough. There are three main elements within the game: Earth, Fire, and Water, with another colorless element that loses to everything else, called Dust. Cards can sometimes carry an ability that can turn others or itself into Dust in order to exchange for an even better tactical trade-off.
Your cards will usually be one of the three main elements, and they have a Rock, Paper, Scissors combat mechanic that’s easy to remember. Earth absorbs Water, Water extinguishes Fire, and Fire scorches Earth, but if two of the same element clash, it’ll be a stalemate. You can determine the card’s element by the color of its title and the element it can beat is on the far right of that title, just in case you’re the forgetful type like me!
The battleground has remained unchanged from its two sides, three slot system, where players take turns placing one card onto the field at a time from their starting hand of four cards. Before the round starts, you now have a new option, the ability to remove any cards from your opening hand and have them replaced with others from the deck (but you have to accept the second draw). This helps if you find yourself stacked with too many of one particular element and I’m glad the designers added it to the game.
Combat begins once both players have played a card in each of their three slots at which point the game will determine which card wins based on their elemental strengths and weaknesses. If a card has become Dust before the combat phase occurs, it will be defeated by any other element (other than another Dust card, in which case they’ll both lose and will go to a stalemate). A Stalemate will occur when any two cards of the same element face one another and when this happens, both cards remain in their slots but are flipped face-down and their Risk values are added to the next round.
When a card defeats another, the defeated card’s Risk value is subtracted from its owner’s health points. This will include any additional damage from previously stalemated cards, which can sometimes stack several times and inflict massive damage that’ll usually result in a loss for that player. The more powerful the card and its ability, the higher the Risk value it’ll carry. It is often best to save your higher Risk cards until you know they can win their battle for certain.
Most cards in Earthcore: Shattered Elements carry Active or Triggered abilities. Active abilities can be used once over the course of the three rounds. Triggered abilities become active when the card is played into a slot as long as it meets the activation requirements. Managing your abilities can be tricky and knowing when to activate them is crucial to the strategy in Earthcore. Some cards will allow for additional activations of a certain element, but I personally don’t play these in my deck.
Some cards may have a Chant ability and can be placed in the Chant slot on the bottom right corner of the battleground. The Chant ability is rather like a field spell ability that you can use much like an Active ability. Once triggered it will either use an immediate effect, such as shuffling your hand back into the deck to draw new cards, or a lingering effect that’ll resolve at a particular stage of the game. One such instance is during the combat phase and may inflict additional damage to your opponent’s health points.
In the center of the battleground is a Risk modifier that will double the Risk damage a player will receive if their card loses in battle and will only ever be active for one player that round before switching to face the other player in the next. A huge part of the strategy in Earthcore is trying to not take a loss when the Risk modifier is pointing at you, but to instead make maximum use of this when it’s pointing towards your opponent.
Turn order is decided by the Risk modifier and the player who doesn’t have it will usually play their card first. Fear not though, as a card cannot be played directly in front of that card until the following turn, forcing the second player to choose another empty slot. This adds balance and fairness to the game, ensuring that the first card you have played isn’t going to result in an automatic loss.
Despite the game being really simple to play, it has a lot of depth and strategy that most other card games on mobile / tablet should be jealous of. The learning curve is quick and simple however, aided by some excellent video tutorials within the game if you ever get stuck.
MODES AND FEATURES
Earthcore: Shattered Elements has a great variety of modes and features that kept me entertained for hours at a time without wanting to put the game down. Sadly I had to in order to write this review, but I’ll be back on as soon as I’ve finished writing.
Let’s start by looking at the Adventure mode that has a story being told over five “books” — each of these “books” comes with multiple Missions to be cleared. The story is set in a dystopian fantasy world and the writing is of an extremely high caliber. I wanted to keep going through the story to read more and more of it as I progressed through the campaign. You are rewarded for your progression through the Adventure and the further you go, the better the rewards and experience gained.
The individual Missions are cleared after defeating them once, and if you didn’t the first time through, you can try your hand at trying for a higher grade for better rewards. This can be quite difficult at times and I often had to make a few attempts at the two or three star pass level before I could get its reward. Rewards are either new cards for your deck, or Gold (the game’s soft currency), or Diamonds (the game’s premium currency).
Each Missions deck is tailored for you to fight against, and you can usually pass on your first or second attempt without having to refine your deck. In order to pass the higher grades though, you will need to refine your deck a little and perhaps look into a particular strategy that will work against that Mission’s deck. It is good practice to do this early on as you’ll be doing this a lot once you take to the multiplayer Arena. There are Special Missions that are still yet to be added to the game, but will prolong the life even further once you’re done with the Adventure.
Once you’ve acquired enough experience and leveled high enough you can then participate in the Arena, Earthcore‘s multiplayer offering. When in the Arena the game follows the same rules as in the Adventure mode, but against a real player in real-time. Once you have played three “Ranked” games you can participate in the “Ladder” which will track your progress against other online opponents. The more victories you rack up, the higher your ranking and prestige will be amongst the Earthcore community. There is also a “Casual” option within the Arena for those who aren’t keen on competitive gameplay, or if you just want a casual game against a fellow human. If you manage to make some friends in Earthcore‘s thriving community you can also challenge them to a friendly duel to test the might of your decks.
Another excellent mode in Earthcore: Shattered Elements is the Strategium, but as this is where you manage your deck, we’ll look at that a little later. Moving on…
The shop for purchasing your booster packs is contained within the Armory and I really liked the name choice here. Currently you have a choice of 4 booster packs that each have a differing amount of cards, but all packs contain cards from the same card pool. So, just because you may not be able to afford the biggest size pack doesn’t mean you won’t stand a chance at getting the same cards as someone who can. There will be occasional special packs that may contain higher chances to get the rarer Gold (and above) cards. These do tend to cost more than the conventional packs, but the trade-off is worth it if you’re looking to build a powerful collection of cards.
The cards in Earthcore currently come in five rarities: Common, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Hero (all cards are Recruits except the Hero cards). When you open a booster pack and reveal a Bronze or higher card, it’ll have a really cool animation. The packs can be purchased with Gold which is easily obtained through various means and if you cannot afford the Gold, the game will allow you to complete the purchase with Diamonds, if you have them. Diamonds can be topped up via an in-app purchase for real money, but it isn’t necessary to do so to enjoy playing the game.
Finally we have the Tavern, where you can get merrily drunk and share your tales with fellow travelers… sort of! In fact, the Tavern is an achievements log in the form of quests that when completed will grant you medals that are used to claim rewards. There are numerous daily quests that give generous rewards when completed, and a Challenges section that are missions focused around specific game milestones that give you access to even more rewards. Time-limited Events are also present within the Tavern and give even more amazing prizes when you manage to beat them. Earthcore is one of the most generous games around with the sheer number of rewards it can offer the player for simply playing the game.
DECKBUILDING AND STRATEGY
Earthcore: Shattered Elements’ deckbuilding comes in the form of the Strategium. Here you can view at a glance all the cards in your collection in the top row, with your deck displayed on the bottom. All of your new cards are highlighted in red the first time you see them in the Strategium.
Building a deck is easy in Earthcore; with its simple drag and drop interface, everything is a breeze. To view a card’s ability you can click on the card and this shows a larger image with the card’s abilities and its effects shown below. This large card detail view can be cycled through, much like a slideshow, so that you can easily skip ahead to the next card if you want to see them all in as much detail.
Your deck size is limited and cannot exceed that limit, so you’ll want to have a strategy in mind before crafting the deck. You can go in as a jack of all trades and use cards from all three character classes, but cards outside of your chosen class will carry a higher Risk value (this was an ingenious way to implement the class system as relevant to the actual gameplay, so kudos to the developers on that idea!).
The biggest feature of the Strategium and quite possibly my favorite features in the game are the Crafting and Forge tabs, located at the top of the screen. Crafting allows you to give your Hero cards the abilities found on your other cards. Hero cards are high Risk cards that have three ability slots, but usually start with just one ability in them. When you sacrifice three copies of another card that have an ability, it will grant that ability to the Hero card. Three cards might sound like a lot at first, but at the rate I was acquiring cards, I found it to be a good way of managing my inventory. In addition to sacrificing cards you will also need to spend Gold, or Diamonds, in order to craft the new Hero card, and if you don’t want to wait for the crafting time to complete on its own, you can speed it up by spending a small amount to finish automatically.
If you’re having a hard time trying to acquire three of the same card to feed to your Hero cards, you can now make them in the Forge by melting the cards to acquire Bars which can then be spent to make copies of the Recruit cards you already own. This feature cuts the cost of spending huge amounts of Gold or Diamonds on booster packs in order to find a single card.
Managing a Hero card gives you the additional benefit of being able to remove abilities one at a time. Before you had to completely de-craft the Hero to reset it, but the community suggested this much more efficient way of doing things and the developers listened. This rewards long-term players that are looking to focus on specific deck strategies and need to customize their Hero cards without incurring the high costs that would normally be associated with having to re-craft their Hero cards over and over.
There is potentially a staggering number of different Hero and ability combinations. To date the Earthcore community has managed to craft over 13,000 unique cards. As the card pool increases, this number is like to change dramatically, and the scope for unique and exciting deck combinations is going to be astronomical. There aren’t many card games that can boast these kinds of numbers when they talk about their unique number of cards. Earthcore is the only game that can say it with pride and integrity.
These features do have a small Gold cost associated with them, but at the rate you can acquire Gold from quests, missions, challenges, and playing in the Arena – you should have no shortage of it. If you do blow through Gold at an alarming rate from buying booster packs and crafting cards, you can purchase a Gold Doubler that remains active for the entire life of the game. The cost of the doubler is more than reasonable and the benefits it can give you are almost immeasurable. Earthcore has really set the standards for reasonable in-app purchases without players needing to rely on micro-transactions in order to make progress.
Abilities such as being able to move spaces, deal extra damage, or turn an opponent’s card to Dust are at a premium and are usually found on higher rarity cards. Another thing to consider is, when sacrificing cards to enhance a Hero, make sure you don’t sacrifice cards that you want to use in your deck, as the process is irreversible. Another hugely powerful ability that I suggest you try getting onto a Hero card is the ability to see your opponent’s hand. This provides you with a lot of useful information about what elements they have that you can use to great advantage and inevitable victory, if you have the right cards in-hand yourself!
Earthcore: Shattered Elements is a game that has left its mark on me, and in a very good way. I’ve played so many card games that sometimes they end up blurred together in my mind, but not with Earthcore. This game will be one that I will play a lot of and have no doubt that it’ll be a huge success.
The mix of the novel combat mechanics, a polished and stunning user interface, and the beautiful art and animations make for an amazing gaming experience. I do not say these things lightly, and I am aware that this game may not be to everybody’s liking, but I love it. I am hugely impressed by the sheer magnitude of the game and the development that must have gone into it. Everything is highly polished and nothing has been left as a ‘that’ll have to do’ feature. Nothing in this game feels rushed or unfinished.
With all that is good, there has to be a little bit of bad too, as perfection is hard to obtain in this world, and even more so when it comes to card games. I do find that there is a large… element of luck within Earthcore (uh, no pun intended)! Often I found myself being decimated by the AI simply because I didn’t have the necessary element cards in had to win that round, or match, and nothing I could do would have saved me, even though I can change a card or two in my opening hand. This can get a little frustrating at times when you have to repeat the same Mission three or four times to simply pass it with one star. With that said, once you are able to obtain better cards from the Armory, the games do become easier and you will be able to craft a deck that can defeat that particular AI with ease.
I’m also concerned about the pay-to-win aspect of competitive play on the Ladder, but this is an issue with most TCGs/CCGs and is not unique to Earthcore. There is certainly a need to spend some real money in order to play at a more competitive level, but for those looking for a fun, casual, free-to-play game – Earthcore can fit that role perfectly, too.
Nevertheless, I haven’t played a game quite like this in a long time and hope that the development team continues their great work with future expansions and updates. I for one will be downloading any new updates the moment they are released to see what else they could possibly add to make this game even more amazing.
Perhaps you will see me high up on the ladder as my skills and deck get better… So join me in Earthcore: Shattered Elements, because this game is seriously impressive!
For more screenshots, click here.
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