Back in the late ‘90s, Pokémon trading cards were all the rage, with many kids trading them between each other, hoping to collect their favourite characters and shiny variants. Nobody that I knew actually used them to play the game they meant to be a part of, including myself.
Years later, I came across Magic: The Gathering on console and discovered how magical, enjoyable and tactically challenging these types of strategic card games could be, thus leading me to try more of this ilk. Now, a wily veteran of the genre, it’s time to delve into a brand new contender to the throne in the form of free-to-play title, Eternal. Does it have enough depth to rival those who have come before it, or is it another pay-to-win style offering that should be avoided?
Surprisingly, there’s a lot more to Eternal than one would expect from a freebie and others in the digital card market may be keeping a keen eye on this competitor. But that doesn’t mean it’s problem free on the Xbox One, as you’ll find out.
The world of Eternal is one inhabited by folks meddling in sorcery and others wielding six-guns, where conflict appears to occur regularly as everyone vies to claim a seat on the Eternal Throne of Myria. Immediately, you’re thrown into a Campaign which will not only show you the ropes, but attempt to inject some narrative into proceedings. I say attempt because the barebones story and barely passable narration lacks the substance to draw in the player. That’s not the end of the world though in the grand scheme of things. Fortunately, the learning aspect is very much on-point.
The inaugural Campaign is split up into different sections to introduce various gameplay mechanics and explain what everything means, before slowly allowing more freedom in how the 1v1 match-ups play out. Each player has a set number of health points and a whopping deck of cards to draw from; one card at a time after the first hand is dealt. You realise that Power is king in battle, as this enables the use of cards costing different amounts of Power and to build this up, you must play Sigils that come in five different varieties – Fire, Time, Justice, Shadow and Primal.
Taking it in turns, the aim is to deplete all of the opponent’s health by damaging them directly using your troops; however there will potentially be enemy units ready to block your attacks or launch their own. There’s an awful lot more to grasp too, with cards that bring spells to cast or weapons to enable your character to perform an offensive manoeuvre. When you find out how many different types of bonuses your troops can have, it’s a bit overwhelming, which is ironic because one of them is ‘Overwhelm’ and lets any leftover damage from a blocked attack reach the enemy player.
The great thing is that if you inspect a card, it offers a welcome reminder as to what each skill does to help you on the battlefield. Having so many types of troop skills is one of the crucial parts in ensuring that every battle feels fresh. That’s noticeable almost straight away and once the initial Campaign, ‘The Empty Throne’, has held your hand through all of the ins and outs of Eternal, the choice is yours as to the next move. Ploughing into the second and only other Campaign available for free from the start is an option, but it’s incredibly difficult. The rest of them need unlocking by way of grinding to earn a ton of coins or using Gems bought with real cash, which is a shame; although at least they are attainable for at no cost eventually.
Puzzles is, ideally, the best mode to venture into when possible, as despite already being showered with the gift of knowledge about the cards you may possess, that doesn’t necessarily help you to adapt to tricky situations. Consider these as providing a great method to learn more advanced tactical moves. The scenario style Puzzles throw you mid-way into battles in some of the harshest setups and basically goes: figure out the solution to turn this one around, or fail. There’s an element of trial and error involved, but there’s plenty of satisfaction to be gained by overcoming such adversity and the old grey matter gets put through its paces.
Even after embracing your new found techniques, it’s recommended to stick with battling against the A.I. until you’re completely comfortable. The other two modes present to do this in are Gauntlet and Forge, both of which give rewards for successfully tackling a series of opponents. The latter of these, Forge, is the most intriguing due to the need to individually select cards from the choices on offer to create a new deck to use – it’s a bit like FUT Draft, if you’ve ever played a FIFA game.
In regards to the online PvP battles, for those brave enough, there are Casual, Ranked and Draft modes. Two of these are pretty self-explanatory, with Casual ideal for the less competitive gamers than Ranked. So far, getting a match is rather swift and I believe the cross-platform feature is to thanks for that. Draft however, well that’s more akin to Forge in that you’ll craft a deck but then it’ll actually let you keep every card picked. Of course it will, because it’s going to cost a shed load of coins or Gems to partake in such a match.
At the time of writing, that’s every game mode available in Eternal, but soon there will be Tournaments, Events and monthly Leagues to dabble in. So whilst the PvP seems a bit short right now, it won’t be for long and the gameplay ensures that even one-off battles, whether Casual or Ranked, are worthwhile. Every match is diverse, creating lots of excitement when a single turn – good or bad – can change the outlook of the battlefield. What helps are that the encounters are well-paced, never drag on and the sheer abundance of cards at your disposal is constantly high.
You see, there are so many cards to collect through the rewards system and the opening of packs, there’s a real chance of addiction coming over you. Especially when you factor in all of the weird and wonderful heroes and creatures represented by these cards; the art work for each and every one is lovely, really helping to bringing these beings to life. Having such variety in the units, spells and weapons allows some obscure decks to be created, which is brilliant in terms of freedom to mix it up. I do however think Eternal is missing a sort of automatic process to build decks that suit your specifications, instead of just leaving big tasks like that in your hands.
On a technical front, Eternal has only a few issues, but the biggest one worth mentioning is that the game has frozen up a couple of times during online bouts, leaving me quite frustrated. I’m not a fan of the UI either, which makes the menus seem like they’d be easier to navigate on a PC or tablet. Otherwise it’s rather plain sailing to be honest!
Eternal is a proper tactical card game experience, borrowing elements of Magic and Hearthstone, before adding its own little quirks into play to create an exciting pick up and play type affair that’s free. The strategic depth is impressive and the massive number of cards to collect could keep you going for ages. It really helps newcomers grasp the more complex aspects too with informative pop-up text and challenging puzzles. The only disappointments are the story-driven mode that doesn’t deliver, the grind to enter Draft and the presence of micro-transactions – though they won’t hinder your enjoyment much.
Give Eternal a chance, for it’s a very good game and best of all, it won’t cost you a penny.