Shadowverse, from Japanese developer Cygames, is a collectible card game that is on par with any of the most popular titles in the genre. When I first saw Shadowverse, I actually skipped over it due to the rather suggestive anime art, and UI elements that I thought made it look like a Hearthstone clone. I judged it by its cover, and I could not have been more wrong. Yes, some of the art is over-sexualized, but a lot of it is also striking, impressive, and beautiful. And yes, there are some elements that are reminiscent of Hearthstone, but make no mistake, this game is entirely different. A collection of interesting classes, clever mechanics, quality voice acting, and a generous free to play model make Shadowverse a compelling card game.
The objective in Shadowverse is to reduce your opponent’s health (called defense) to 0. You do this by playing followers, spells, and amulets. Your followers are used to attack and defend, while spells and amulets have offensive and defensive capabilities to support your followers or otherwise give you an advantage. Many of the amulet cards sit on the battlefield to provide a consistent benefit to you, similar to Enchantments from Magic: The Gathering. In Shadowverse, however, they also represent a key tactical decision because you only have 5 spaces on your side of the battlefield. This means that you have to decide whether you want an additional follower out, or the benefits of an amulet. I feel that this idea of having mechanics that are familiar, yet tweaked in an interesting way, is something that is present throughout all of Shadowverse.
There are seven classes in Shadowverse, each with their own “craft” – a unique twist on their approach to the game. The Forestcraft cards, for example, have effects that trigger when you play multiple cards on the same turn. They also give you numerous ways to generate lots of low cost followers that you can play to set up these combos. Bloodcraft on the other hand features a mechanic called “vengeance” that activates when your defense drops below 10. Once vengeance activates, several of your cards have additional effects or become more powerful. Havencraft makes use of Countdown amulet cards. If a card has a Countdown value of 3, it will take 3 turns for the card to activate. Once activated, the amulet is destroyed and its effect will go off. The effect might be similar to a spell that buffs or does damage, or it may even summon a follower or two. Within each craft there are dozens of cards to collect that will allow you to further specialize your play style.
One of the key mechanics in Shadowverse is the ability to evolve your followers. After the first five turns of the game, both players are able to evolve followers a limited number of times. When you evolve a follower, several things happen. First, the attack and defense values almost always go up. Second, additional effects may trigger. Third, it allows your follower to attack other followers (but not your opponent directly) even if you just played it this turn. Finally, the art on the card is replaced with a similar but enhanced version of the original. Knowing when to use your evolutions is key in swinging the tempo of the battle in your favor. This can create some intense moments without just being an “I win” button.
Shadowverse gives you a variety of tactical options without coming across as gimmicky. Because of this, it may take a little bit longer to understand the lay of the land when comparing it to games like Hearthstone. But the payoff is satisfying, and the game has a series of tutorials that ease you into the basics.
As you might expect with any collectible card game, the main draw for replayability in Shadowverse is the online multiplayer. You can choose between unranked and ranked matches, as well as single player practice vs AI. There’s also an arena mode with, you guessed it, a slight tweak to it. The arena features a mode called “Take Two.” While drafting for your temporary arena deck, you are presented with two pairs of cards and you must choose one of these pairs. This means that you might see a great card paired with a terrible card. On the other hand, the other pair might have two cards that are just average. Either way, you have to choose a pair, rather than a single card. This can make it much more difficult to choose, and adds another layer of complexity to the arena mode.
Outside of the multiplayer is a surprisingly decent single player campaign. The story isn’t anything earth-shattering, but compared to other card games that may just have a loading screen with some text on it to convey the “story”, Shadowverse features fully voice acted interactions before each battle. And the voice acting is surprisingly good. Each class has their own perspective on the story, and you can jump back and forth between any of these campaigns as you wish, unlocking cards along the way.
I’ve played several card games over the years, and this one definitely speaks to the part of my brain that wants to break it down and understand it. Switching between classes and taking advantage of the variety of game modes available means that you’ll have plenty to do.
I was consistently pleased with all of the things that Cygames could have skimped on, but didn’t. The music is solid, the voice acting is great, the deckbuilding is clean. As I mentioned a moment ago, they put the effort in to create a story. Every one of the followers has a voice line when played and when attacking. They even created a second portrait for every follower’s evolved form. Granted, it’s usually quite similar to the original art, but the fact that they made the effort here is staggering. There are different attack animations depending on which follower you’re attacking with. The tutorials are easy to understand and follow. There’s also a deck builder on the Shadowverse website, as well as a card list, and articles on different strategies. The list goes on.
The free to play model in Shadowverse is quite generous. You earn a significant number of booster packs right off the bat, and it’s easy to earn more of them. You can purchase booster packs with rupies or tickets that are both earned in-game, or you can purchase crystals with real money that can then be used to buy packs. You could argue that Shadowverse is pay-to-win, but I think that is a fundamental characteristic of all trading and collectible card games. Rare cards are often just objectively better, and those that spend the additional time or money to obtain them will always have an advantage. That being said, with how easy it is to earn packs and rupies in Shadowverse, I was able to get a decent collection very quickly. Additionally, similar to Hearthstone, there is a way to “liquefy” cards that you don’t want, to create “vials”. These vials are spent to create specific cards of your choosing.
For the purposes of this review, I have been playing the Steam version of Shadowverse. However, it is available on Mac, as well as iOS and Android. More importantly, you can generate a code that allows you to link devices so that you can pick up right where you left off, regardless of which device you’re playing on.
The previously mentioned features wouldn’t mean much if they were all done poorly. Fortunately, as I have alluded to already, the level of polish in Shadowverse is top-notch. I haven’t experienced any bugginess, disconnects, or crashes. Considering that this game didn’t originally launch on PC, I’m pleased to see that they took the time to make sure that they got it right. I think that this is especially important when you consider the eSports implications. If you’re a fan of Twitch, you already know that Hearthstone is consistently one of the top 5 games being streamed. Creating an experience that is smooth, polished, and reliable is critical to getting any sort of traction when positioning a game as being worthy of eSports attention. I expect that Shadowverse will pick up a decent number of viewers in the coming months.
It is apparent everywhere you look that Cygames has put in the time and effort to make a game that stands out. I think that they’ve done a great job. If you can look past the risqué artistic direction, you’ll find a game with enough depth, complexity, and polish to rival any of the biggest card games out there. If you’re a fan of collectible card games, or looking to get into one, I recommend giving Shadowverse a try.