Released on both iPhone and iPad less than two weeks ago, Shadow Era marks another quality title brought to iOS from Hanoi, Vietnam-based Wulven Game Studios; Run by Kyle Poole, this is the same company that brought Battle for Wesnoth to the platform. With a high quality turn-based strategy game already in Wulven’s repertoire, expectations ran high for the digital trading-card game. Since its launch, Wulven Game Studios says the game has grown to more than 200,000 players with more than 3,000 players online at any time. New multiplayer battles are created every 4 seconds, according to Kyle Poole.
Comparable to Magic: The Gathering, Shadow Era boasts artwork on par with any analog counterpart. With simple rules, it’s a game that is easy enough to pick up. But it’s also deep enough that any average trading-card game player will enjoy it. Free to download and cross platform, the experience should work for strategy lovers as well. That said, the game does occasionally fall short in both usability and style. Its initial tutorials tend to have a frustrating “Oh, by the way,” mentality.
With a minimal storyline, players pick a hero to fend off the forces of shadow. They take turns playing cards in an attempt to kill the other player’s chosen hero, winning gold and experience upon doing so.
The rules are actually simple. Each turn, players are given a full amount of “Resources” with the maximum amount based on “Sacrifices.” During their turn, players have the opportunity to sacrifice a card in their hand in order to increase their Resource cap, which is used to play cards. With each card, depending on the strength, varying amounts of Resources will be consumed. This creates an initial balance in play by preventing users from utilizing their most powerful cards from the start.
Once enough Resources are available, players can begin playing item and ally cards. The latter consists of standard attack power ratings and health and is used to attack enemy ally cards or the enemy hero. These cards, generally, may not attack their first term, and will automatically defend themselves if attacked and not killed in that first attack. As for the item cards, these are powerful boosts that can alter the game dramatically.
Some items are capable of destroying cards completely, allowing more than one card to be drawn per turn, enhancing or weaking allies, or even resurrecting discarded or destroyed cards. Moreover, many can be used to augment allies with permanent or temporary (X amount of turns) enhancements.
Lastly, hero cards cannot attack. However, they can activate a special ability using another resource called Shadow Power. Generated each turn, these abilities vary from hero to hero and include everything from healing to extra damage.
Unfortunately, this is where one of the game’s shortfalls rears its ugly head. Heroes actually cannot retaliate when attacked unless equipped with an item that grants them a weapon. It doesn’t sound like much, but the game doesn’t do a very good job at telling the player this until they actually do it. Our initial battle consisted of wasting a great deal of time trying to kill the enemy hero without losing allies. This wouldn’t be so bad, but the game does this frequently with many rules, leaving a new player blind. In fact, this ignorance actually led to a loss during the first encounter. Not exactly the best way to motivate new users.
This usability and intuitiveness problem pops up again in the main menu. As soon as the player enters the game world, they are given a map with AI enemies they can battle. However, that appears to be all they can do. The key word is “appears,” as players can actually battle or play cross-platform against other players, organize their deck, and buy new cards. The issue is that the main menu is never shown to the user initially and is actually hidden in the border of the user interface. Players have to notice this and tap it to bring down an actual menu.
Another qualm with Shadow Era is that the game seems to come short of its stylistic potential. The artwork looks fantastic, and the music is even pretty good, but everything else is silent. Much of the visual effects look similar (even if they are of decent quality), but there is no sound of any sort associated to them; taking away from further immersion.
The multiplayer interaction brings the overall game quality back up, however. Players are matched based on level, and with the large variety of cards, most of which hold special abilities and powers, the level of strategic and tactical depth is immense. As an added bonus, the game is tied into Game Center with leaderboard systems. But once in game, an option to access it couldn’t be found.
The best part about Shadow Era is that the game is free-to-play. That doesn’t mean that everything is free, of course. To monetize, the game does what one might expect, and sells card packs with a virtual currency called Shadow Crystals. Coming in packs of 200 – 2000 that cost from $1.99 to $19.99 (with crystals added in as a bonus), this currency can buy decks of 32 cards. Additionally, players can purchase individual cards for earned in-game currency. It is unclear, however, as to whether or not more unique cards are offered in the packs.
Despite some of the noted issues, the overall quality of Shadow Era is high. With simple rules, the game has a great deal of depth to it, and the cross-platform multiplayer setting gives the game an extra incentive not available in many other digital trading-card games. Even without this, however, the game is fun to play and really only misses out on the fun that comes from collecting actual, tangible cards.