Cardaclysm review: Decked out

by Nil
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Cardaclysm is the latest challenger to Slay The Spire‘s title as the premier deck-building rogue-like, fully releasing today after an Early Access period. Developer Elder Games said ““I have chosen Early Access as I feel that especially with a strategically complex game such as this one, with its deep balancing mechanics, the input of you, the players, is essential to the quality of the game. The earlier I can include valuable feedback by those who dig the concept of the game, the better the final quality will become.

I think I am trying to create a very unique game with Cardaclysm, there are only a handful of games where I can draw inspiration from. Hopefully alongside the great community we can create something refreshingly new that lives up to the vision I have in mind.”

Cardaclysm

We’ve had our hands on the final release version for a little while now, so I haven’t had any experience with Cardaclysm in Early Access. I have, however, recently previewed another deck-building roguelike in its early days – Doors of Insanity. While that title’s amazing sense of humour earned it a lot of goodwill, it’s still a bit rough around the edges, and the difference between it and Cardaclysm is like night and day. Cardaclysm‘s polish screams high end indie development. There’s a slick fusion between artwork and graphics. Environments are painted in exaggerated, lurid colours. The bestiary is gigantic.

Cardaclysm looks exactly how Blizzard wish Azeroth looked. It’s unclear if Elder Games took any direct inspiration from World of Warcraft, but the creature design definitely rings a few of Stormwind’s bells, if you know what I mean. It’s clean and distinctive, doing a lot of the game’s heavy lifting when it comes to personality. The story is basic as they come, and the monsters, while well-designed and varied, are mostly bog-standard fantasy enemies.

To my knowledge, this is the first game of its kind to unfold in a 3D, explorable world, and it really benefits from it. Levels are procedurally generated, dotted with upgrades that offer permanent and temporary boosts. The biggest hindrance is the acquisition of gold runes, the primary card-summoning currency – once you’ve collected these in the overworld you get a permanent boost, but they don’t exactly come along too often in the beginning. As a result your options stay rather limited until you’ve successfully cleared a big chunk of levels. Plug away at Cardaclysm for long enough and you’ll be slinging monsters and spells like there’s no tomorrow, but that initial unfortunate trench really slows the game down.

You can level cards up by playing them on top of each other in combat or fusing them outside of battle – this is accompanied by huge boosts in power and new appearances. The cost for the highest level creatures will basically be your entire rune pool at first, and there’s very few ways to effectively recover them. It can be a huge risk using these creatures, but finding the right one allows you to steamroll most of the early encounters. I’m not sure the rune system really works as well as it could – it prevents the card duels from feeling as dynamic or strategic as its counterparts, discouraging experimentation until quite late in the game.

Defeating all the monsters in an area will spawn a hideously overpowered enemy who’ll pursue you relentlessly. This was basically a guaranteed insta-kill throughout my time in Cardaclysm, and I’m assuming the endgame is getting powerful enough to take it down. When the forsaken spawns, you’ve got to run to the exit portal before it catches you, but on at least two occasions the key necessary to leave just didn’t spawn in the level. Whilst this is certainly just a bug, it felt really cheap, and the amount of cards I lost to the graveyard when I eventually succumbed to my fate was quite offputting.

Cardaclysm – Wild ace, or just another shuffle?

If you’re looking for something a bit more serious than Doors of Insanity with more substance than Slay The Spire, Cardaclysm will probably scratch that itch. It feels like the next step up for this little niche – not perfect, but important nonetheless. Getting the most enjoyment out of it will require a considerable amount of time invested – the “runs” don’t result in a complete reset, and your power will trickle up in tiny increments. A lot of the balance issues straighten themselves out with a good few hours of playtime – so if you’re looking to sink your teeth into something with depth, give Cardaclysm a try.


Cardaclysm is available now on Steam. Check out more of our game reviews here.

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