Apocalyptic Cardcaptors meets Yugi-Oh and Pokemon
Hoo boy. You’ve really done it this time, haven’t you. Just because you’re a dark wizard, you thought you could mess with powerful magic and harness it for your own gain. You really thought that would work, that there’d be no negative consequences or repercussions, huh? Well, that’s just great. Just great! Do you have any idea what you’ve just done? No? You’ve unleashed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and their minions, that’s what! If the Old Wizard Council finds out what happened… well, let’s just say the end of the world won’t even compare to the amount of trouble you’re in for. You better fix this right away — grab your magical cards and get going before it’s too late.
Such is the premise of Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four. Developed by Elder Games and published by Headup, Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four is a card-based, procedurally generated dungeon crawler with action RPG elements. Available on Steam for a friendly price of $14.99, Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four released on February 26, 2021 after spending eight months in Early Access. With a tight core loop, gorgeous music, bright visuals, and a dedicated dev continuously balancing gameplay, Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four is sure to pique the interest of any card battler fans.
Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four’s controls are simple, as they’re predominately point and click. You can use WASD to move the Dark Wizard around in the dungeon, which I preferred, but you can just as easily click somewhere on the map for him to automatically move to that location. The dungeons themselves are procedurally generated, although there are several themes they tend to pull from, such as a lush jungle, a decrepit goblin camp, or ancient ruins. I particularly liked the jungle dungeons, as they were bright, airy, and were quite different from the more similar looking ruins and goblin camp.
Speaking of bright and airy, the aesthetics in Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four are honestly where the game really glistened. The colors were so vibrant on everything, from the dungeons and monsters that inhabited them to the accessories and items the Dark Wizard could pick up along the way. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the music — the soundtrack really elevated the entire game up a notch with its complex beauty, especially on the (surprise!) jungle-themed dungeons. When it comes to the look and feel of the game, Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four definitely receives high marks.
As for the actual card-battling mechanic, it’s one of those things that’s easy to learn and hard to master, which seems to have less to do with the complexity of the game and more its balance. Each dungeon will have a set amount of baddies to beat, and entering a battle will allow you to draw four cards from your deck that you slowly build as you crawl through the dungeon. You can lay down a monster to fight against the enemy monsters you’re up against, or you can cast some spells to fight them yourself. Each monster has one move per turn, and as long as you have enough summoning points to bring them to the battlefield, you can annihilate your enemies and claim victory pretty quickly. After defeating five minions, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse slams through the portal you crawled out of in an attempt to destroy you, so you can either grab the key and quickly flee to safety, or you can stand and fight if you’re feeling brave. Either way, the dungeon ends and it’s back to the tavern to reset, relax, and then run back into the fray once more.
At first, I was really drawn in by Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four, even finding being chased by one of the Four Horsemen an interesting twist; unfortunately, within an hour, gameplay became somewhat tedious. At first, you’re forced to grind through the same three dungeon types for hours before you get the hang of the deck-building mechanic, which feels imbalanced. I personally feel like it teaches the card merging mechanic a little too early on, as you often don’t have enough points to summon more than one or two of the stronger beasts; on the other hand, the enemies themselves get strong quickly, so you’re kind of forced to just hang on with a small handful of monsters and just hope for the best.
Additionally, there were a lot of unexplained effects taking place on the battlefield that happened extremely quickly, such as enemies hitting one of my monsters only to have it and the one next to it drop dead, or one of the enemies dropping dead after the end of their turn. The battles themselves you can kind of breeze through as long as you get good cards, so it’s not like the game is too difficult per se; with that being said, the game gifts phenomenal cards early on that take so much power to summon that it’s almost a waste. I may only have 40 or so points I can use to summon, so why it’s giving me a monster that takes 120 points to bring to the battlefield is beyond me. I definitely wished I could win useable cards early on instead of the same unhelpful cards spawning continuously.
Finally, my motivation just plummeted after about an hour on my first playthrough because I just kept getting the same quests with no real story or smaller goals to break up the monotony. Every single directive was to just get to the end of the dungeon, finding one of a handful of items for the innkeeper if I took on his quest. I will say that, after giving it a break and coming back to it, I was able to play again with fresh eyes and recognize Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four for what it is, which is a solid deckbuilder with RPG elements. At this point, all it’s really missing is some sorely needed balancing; considering the dev is fairly responsive, it’s safe to say it’ll get that eventually.
Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four is a complex deckbuilder game with simple presentation featuring RPG elements acting like a roguelike — all wrapped in a very pretty package. While it suffers from some balancing issues and more information on the battlefield would be welcome, there was a lot attempted here with plenty accomplished. It’s pretty criminal that a game that looks this good doesn’t feel truly ready for release yet; given a few more months, Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four should absolutely shine like the diamond in the rough it is. If you’re a fan of this genre and have at least five hours to wait until the game truly blossoms, I daresay Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four might be up your alley.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Headup; Developer: Elder Games; Players: 1; Released: February 26, 2021; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a copy of Cardaclysm provided by the publisher.