In the realm of deck-building rogue-lites, it takes a special kind of hook to keep you coming back for more upon inevitable failures to reach your ultimate goal. The one that instantly comes to mind in achieving this is Slay the Spire, but there have been other standouts like the immensely addictive Monster Slayers. The latest contender on Xbox for the throne from developers Tino Games, titled Neoverse, is sending us through the multiverse to become the saviour amidst a crisis. Is this the timeline in which Neoverse thrives and etches its name among the best, or is it doomed to fail in every universe?
When there’s a crisis within the multiverse, you’d usually call for a few DC Comics heroes to save the day. Fortunately for Neoverse, it can handle such matters fairly well and more than holds its own as a deck-building rogue-lite. Sure, it’s not perfect by any means, but it gets a lot right on the gameplay front.
So, Neoverse is an action-packed, deck-building rogue-lite that’s been around on PC for almost a year and has received a great reception to-date. Before delving into what makes this experience potentially a worthy one, let’s get the negatives out of the way; starting with learning the ropes. Given that multiple aspects are going to be totally alien to newcomers, a short video tutorial skimming over these just isn’t enough. It’s quite overwhelming actually and you’ll end up with your first foray into one of the main modes coming across as trial and error whilst you figure things out.
To ensure those initial efforts are even more problematic, the dual-control schemes on offer take a lot of getting the hang of. The option is present to use either a cursor via the left-stick to interact throughout, or navigate various elements of the user interface through the d-pad and bumpers, with additional shortcuts allocated to other buttons. Neither method is intuitive by itself, which leads to the adoption of a hybrid approach instead; while not ideal, it’s the best compromise for an otherwise awkward setup.
With that out of the way, it’s time to put the Neoverse narrative in the spotlight – which won’t take long at all. There’s an exciting video package showing a diverse trio of heroines fending off assaults from an array of weird creatures and beings emerging out of alternate dimensions. Essentially, everyone is fighting over a magic cube – yes, like the Mother Box in the Justice League film – and it seems as if you’re going to have to defeat these baddies to prevent them getting their hands on it. Is it an exciting way to begin the game? Undoubtedly, however don’t expect anything else to satiate your need for lore.
Quite frankly, the story isn’t important once you get into the swing of things in one of three game modes available: Adventure, Hunter, and Challenge. There are three characters to choose from before delving in though, which doesn’t seem an awful lot. Fortunately they each bring a selection of decks, cards and special skills to the table, ensuring vast possibilities. Agent Naya is a badass wielding guns and a blade; the Paladin Claire relies on faith-based powers and, bizarrely, vampiric leeching; and Summoner Helena can unleash a loyal griffin, lion, or dragon to aid in battle.
Each character has a small selection of starter decks tailored specifically to suit their skills, while also providing different playstyles. For example, Naya can enter the fray with more standard attack cards or ones which cause radiation damage over time. It’s not much to begin with, however the decks become more fleshed out and varied as you play through the modes. Whatever setup you decide to go with, the fate of the world depends on you making the best of the attack, defend, instant and constant cards at your disposal.
The battles transpire using neat looking 3D character models that take turns, with your chosen warrior acting upon the cards you use. You’ll acquire five Mana as standard and the cards drawn out have different costs to play them. As soon as a card is used, another is drawn to fill its place and you keep spending that Mana until you wish to end the turn. That’s nothing out of the ordinary, but there’s a combo system that can garner a boost for simply following an on-screen sequence known as Battle Tech. It might require three attack cards to be played in a row and, in return, your attacking power may temporarily increase.
That’s just one of the factors to pay attention to if you wish to win though, with many other elements affecting the outcome of an encounter including buffs, debuffs and preempting the enemy’s planned moves. The latter is only possible because it displays what they’re expected to do on their next turn, enabling you to build up enough armour to nullify the damage and such. You can even send an enemy into a paralysed state by parrying the attack with the exact amount of armour in place, which is a welcome breather when three of the evil swines are inflicting pain.
As for the buffs and debuffs, well, these are applied regularly as part of different cards. These introduce the amplifications of damage received, increase damage dealt, cause long-term decay, limit the Mana available, reflect hits taken, and much more. Furthermore, some of the most devious foes can add detrimental cards to your hand, preventing use of various card types and generally being a nuisance. It keeps your brain ticking over as you anticipate and react to what’s occurring, with a truly satisfying feeling brought about by any small success in outwitting the opposition.
Coins, skill points and other rewards are earned in victory, with the currency coming in handy for the in-game store. Here, a random selection of cards and useful items are available to purchase, enabling you to bolster the deck with cards that might work well alongside those in the starters and any you’ve obtained via rewards. This adds a flexibility to how you want to sculpt the deck and, more often than not, pushes you to try a new approach. Spending coins on additional skill points is very tempting as well, due to the sheer amount needed to unlock the biggest game-changers.
In a clever move, Tino Games have made it so that the unlockable general skills are random in each session. These range from boosting the max health and adding extra armour for playing a certain amount of defensive cards, to store discounts and ways to enhance specific buffs. That’s fine, but it’s the more advanced and expensive Legendary skills that are an absolute must; offering cards costing zero Mana, dealing additional attack damage, giving more protection from armour, and even granting extra Mana. The variety is great in terms of skills and cards, and while I could list the lot here, you’ll only really appreciate the difference they make during the battles.
All these factors combine to create a really tactical, ever-changing experience, which instills a strategic mindset from the outset. Chances are you will fail miserably and swiftly as you get your head around everything going on, but you will come back for more as new skills are thrown in and diverse cards are added to the store. The depth provided by the many aspects being pulled together leads to every playthrough feeling fresh. It’s stupidly addictive; especially when trying to make it to the end of the main adventure.
Adventure mode sees you venture through time and space to tackle 15 fights, featuring everything from Tron-style ninjas and futuristic robots, to centaurs and centurions. It doesn’t seem like a lot of rounds, however with beasty bosses at every fifth level, it’s unlikely you’ll get anywhere near completing it for hours. Should you manage it, there are 15 different modifiers to choose from before delving in again. And then there’s the Hunter mode, providing 20 levels to work through, with various bonuses available to purchase at every fifth milestone. Again, once the hooks are in, you won’t think twice about going for another run when you inevitably die.
The final mode, Challenge, let’s you put your finest decks – moulded in the Adventure mode – to the test against the most brutal of enemies. Even after claiming victory in other modes, there’s no guarantee you’ll be prepared for the dastardly creatures that await your presence in 10 incredibly tough battles. Throughout all three modes, there’s more than enough longevity in place to keep you going for ages.
Ultimately, Neoverse on Xbox is a rather addictive offering within the deck-building genre and will lure you in for session after session. The complex nature of the gameplay is a slight stumbling block, but soon becomes its best asset as you’re stringing combos together and buffing yourself up for the challenges ahead. There’s a decent variety of cards, skills and enemies from different dimensions to ensure boredom is kept at bay. If the controls were better and the tutorial did a more comprehensive job of teaching you what’s going on, Neoverse would be a brilliant game. A bit more lore wouldn’t go amiss either to be honest.
Still, if you’re into card games, then the world of Neoverse delivers a very good experience full of exciting gameplay that will put your strategic thinking through its paces.