Released on: June 17 2016 (iOS, Android), October 28 2016 (PC)
Available Platforms: PC, Mac Os, iOS, Android
Price: Free (Has microtransactions and loot boxes)
Sometimes, when I’m bored, I like to either check out the Google Play Store or check out a game Facebook recommends me with their ads. In my Magic the Gathering: Arena review, I mentioned that it would do great on mobile devices. With MtG: Arena’s absence, I was left wanting a decent Collectible Card Game (known colloquially as CCG) for my phone. I decided to give Shadowverse a try since it looked like a great alternative to Hearthstone. Is Shadowverse a worthy entry in the CCG genre?
Our story begins with two elves training in the forest, Arisa and Losaria. Suddenly, a shadowy being immerges from out of nowhere and captures Arisa. After the player completes the tutorial (which the player can skip), Losaria saves Arisa, only to suffer the same fate. Now, it is up to Arisa to save her best friend from these shadow beings. That is if the player decides to play as Arisa. After the tutorial, the player is now free to play as whomever they chose. At first, the story failed to impress me, but when I kept going, I ended up being pleasantly surprised. Each character has their own story. For instance, Erika, a high-class knight, vows to save her princess while also hunting down a notorious vampire recently awakened named Urias (who is also a playable character). Another fascinating example is Isabelle, an alchemist devoted to the resurrection of her deceased fiancee. I didn’t think I would be so engrossed with Shadowverse’s story and characters, but here we are.
Shadowverse’s presentation, overall, is clean. The character designs are clear and detailed. When playing through the story mode, the characters are expressive and fully voiced. When it comes to the cards themselves, while the quality of their portrait is sophisticated, the art on them is hard to see when playing the game. The detail is stunning, but it also makes the card seem a little busy. Some cards are animated, which helps it stand out.
Where Shadowverse grabbed my interest the most is with its gameplay. Shadowverse plays similarly to Hearthstone. Players spend Play Points to summon followers, equip amulets, or cast spells. Followers have an attack and defense value (equivalent to Magic’s power and toughness). When a follower’s defense reaches zero, they die. The leader also has a defense stat, where if that reaches zero, the player loses. What makes Shadowverse unique is the ability to evolve cards during gameplay. After five turns, players gain the ability to evolve followers. Evolving followers will make them more powerful and activate “Evolve” abilities. Speaking of abilities, Shadowverse has a keyword system, similar to Magic the Gathering. Like MtG: Arena, players can tap on the keyword to get its details. A nice bit of convenience in Shadowverse’s part is when cards have an ability that activates when a certain amount of turns passes, for example, Shadowverse reveals the amount to the player by merely highlighting the card. There is a fair bit to consider when playing Shadowverse. Since followers are relatively expendable, do we evolve them at the earliest chance to gain an advantage over the opponent, or do we wait to evolve our most powerful follower to finish off our foe? While writing this, I’m still trying to figure out what my favorite strategies are, which is where the best card games shine.
When creating a new deck, Shadowverse asks the player to select a class. Specific classes can only use their class’ cards and neutral cards. Classes typically centralize around individual abilities. Runecraft, for example, has a lot of cards with the “Spellboost” ability, where casting spells before playing said card makes the card more powerful. Swordcraft has cards that have an officer and commander traits. Commanders increase their officer’s power. Having these classes gives Shadowverse some much-appreciated depth. If the player isn’t used to a class, or if they want a quick custom deck, they can tap the “Auto” option to have the game make the deck for them. I like the “Auto” option, as it allows me to learn how to play a specific class, and gives me a foundation to build a proper deck.
One neat feature I like with Shadowverse is the option to play solo. Having Main Story mode offers players harder opponents than the Practice Mode. Clearing story missions rewards the player with Runes that they can use to buy card packs (the game’s loot box) and Vials to create individual cards the player may want to add to their deck.
Being a free-to-play game, Shadowverse has microtransactions and loot boxes. Players can buy crystals with real money, which they can spend on card packs (Shadowverse’s gacha mechanic). I do like the option to turn unwanted cards into Vials, which the player can use to make cards they do want. I do feel that Shadowverse is relatively fair with its monetization, but it is still worth mentioning to warn readers. I also never ran into an instance where I felt like I had to spend money on microtransactions.
My biggest gripe with Shadowverse would be the slightly claustrophobic user interface (UI). Having played the mobile version of Shadowverse, I felt that, while it is smart with how it condenses its information, it still feels like a lot is going on visually. When playing against another player, turns happened abruptly. So abruptly, I typically ignore my opponent’s turn altogether. I like learning from my foes, especially if they have a winning strategy, I can emulate and make my own, but Shadowverse happens a little too quickly for me to get a grip on my opponent’s strategy.
One other minor criticism I have about Shadowverse is that players cannot do anything when it is not their turn. If we take Magic the Gathering as an example, players can cast spells from their hand to negate or counter an opponent’s move. Shadowverse does not have a counter mechanic, meaning players can play cards with impunity. I do like the lack of a counter mechanic, but at the same time, it does make it easy for me to ignore my opponent’s turn. It also means that a player’s followers are sitting ducks on their opponent’s turn. Not a huge point of contention, but I do feel some players might get annoyed with not being able to protect their followers better.
I found Shadowverse remarkable. With gripping gameplay, exciting story, fascinating characters, and an inarguable entry fee (free-to-play), Shadowverse is a suitable alternative to Magic the Gathering, or even Hearthstone.