Berserk: The Cataclysm review

Berserk: The Cataclysm is a Facebook-based card-battle game from Bytex. It’s been showing activity since October of 2011, but claims to still be in open beta, and has also been receiving promotion through a front-page module on Facebook’s App Center.

Card-battle games are immensely popular on mobile platforms right now, with titles like Rage of Bahamut making a lot of money for their creators despite, in many cases, rather shallow gameplay that is somewhat limited in true interactivity. The urge to “collect” is a powerful one, though, even when the collectible items are nothing more than pixels on a screen, and it is for this reason that these games have proven so popular and profitable. It is somewhat surprising, then, that there have been relatively few games like this on Facebook compared to iOS and Android.

Berserk: The Cataclysm is a collectible card game through and through, but it does not follow the text-based RPG style of Rage of Bahamut and its ilk. Instead, rather than focusing on “questing” that is ultimately irrelevant to the cards (save for the random chance to collect new ones), it focuses entirely on one-on-one battles between the player’s “squads” of cards and either computer- or human-controlled opponents.

The player starts with a single squad of cards and is introduced to the game’s basic concepts through a series of tutorial quests. Once this is over, the game continues to guide the player with quests, but they are free to ignore them as they see fit.

Card battles in the game unfolds as a face-off between two players. Each turn, players draw cards into their hand, and a countdown on any cards already in their hand ticks down to show how long before they will be played into the first available slot on the battlefield. Cards already on the battlefield will attack a card opposite them if there is one present, and deal direct damage to the opponent’s “Leadership Points” if there is not. The first player to run out of either Leadership Points or cards loses, and to the victor go the spoils — usually soft currency and occasionally additional cards.

The battle mechanics are certainly a lot more interesting than the rather dull “numbers games” of most mobile card-battle titles, but the trouble is, as so often happens with this type of game, control is completely wrested away from the player, leaving them as a passive observer in the battle. This significantly diminishes the amount of strategy in the game, and most players used to physical collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering et al would probably have preferred the option to tactically play the cards from their hand as they saw fit rather than simply waiting for arbitrary timers to expire. The fully-automated nature of battles certainly helps the game be accessible to all — particularly those who are not particularly tactically-minded — but this is somewhat incongruous with the game’s target audience. Collectible card games are by their definition a niche interest rather than something which is universally appealing, and their players are, more often than not, willing to learn some complex rules to allow them to show off their custom deck’s full potential.

As with most card-battle games, cards which are not useful in battle may be used to enhance or evolve the player’s decks. Experience points collected in various elements can also be used to “research” new cards suitable for use in various squads.

The game features a few interesting multiplayer features, though the implementation is somewhat questionable at times. At its most basic level, players can challenge their friends or random opponents to asynchronous battles at any time — in this case, the opponent’s defending deck is chosen from any that they have previously set up. However, once the player reaches experience level 4, they gain access to “Portals,” which allow them to attack enemy islands. Each player gradually expands their island through normal play, and the hex-based territories they control allow them a particular amount of income per day. Attacking a player’s territory through a portal allows land to be captured and added to one’s own, but at present all the portals seem to open up either onto islands which have apparently already been conquered by other players, or those on which the game refuses to allow you to attack, instead saying that “you can conquer the lands from the outer ring only.” This message appears even when attempting to attack a territory on the outer ring of an opponent’s territory, and thus appears to prevent any attacks whatsoever — whether this is a bug or a game mechanic which is not clearly explained isn’t entirely obvious.