Inside Pulse 12

Review: Steamalot: Epoch’s Journey (PC)

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Steamalot: Epoch’s Journey
Publisher: Risen Phoenix Studios
Developer: Risen Phoenix Studios
Genre: Tactical RPG/Card Game
Release Date: 08/31/2015

Merging two seemingly unrelated genres together can be tricky. Steamalot attempts to take the basics of a collectible card game and create a unique tactical role playing experience. Basically, you draw cards and then play them on the battlefield. Once on the field, they can move around a grid and attack the opponent’s creatures. It’s an interesting idea for sure. With a simple package and a low price point, can the gameplay shine through enough to make this a worthy purchase?

steamalot1The story of Steamalot is a bit odd. It takes place in Arthurian times (Think Knights of the Roundtable), but yet contains elements of steampunk. While magic exists, so do mechanical creations. Sir Patrick is the star of the game. His story is told via letters written to Merlin. The gist is that steampunk monsters have started terrorizing the neighborhood. Patrick is out to figure out what’s going on. As a whole, the story fails to excite. Since everything is explained after the fact in letters, you have no idea what’s going on during a battle. You don’t get to watch or experience any of it. You’re just left to have faith that these events happened. As a result, the story falls flat. It doesn’t help that the writing can get pretty bad at points.

There are several different options in the game. The story is told via a mission select, where you can play any unlocked mission or either normal or hard difficulty. Winning battles earns you coins, and much of the rest of the game deals with that. First up, there’s the store. Here you can buy new packs of cards or deck slots. This is all in-game money, so there’s no reason to fret about micro transactions. Then there’s the ability to upgrade a card. Each card can be leveled three different times. All you have to is sacrifice three other cards to the process. The rarity of the cards you need to give increase with the level, so you can’t just throw away a bunch of commons and get a super powerful card in return. Upgrading cards has a chance of increasing their attack or health, both of which are useful. If you want, however, you can simply scrap any card in order to get cash back. You can even combine cards to create a new one. The cards you use have to be specific, and the cards you create are ones that you could get in a booster anyway. The recipes for cards are available on the developer’s website. It’s a decent way to get a specific card , but without the recipes it’s an act of tedium. Also included is the mandatory deck editor. You can create multiple decks of up to twenty cards each. There are little rules here. You’re free to put in pretty much anything you want, but you have to have at least one creature.

steamalot2Finally, there’s PVP. You can fight an opponent on one of over forty different maps. If you add someone to your friends list, you can challenge them at any time. If none of your friends is on, you can try a random battle. I should state that searching for a random opponent is pretty much useless. The community so far isn’t there, and you’d have better luck finding someone to play with via the forums. There’s also the issue of balance. You earn better cards as you complete the story. If you try to play against another person who is further on than you, you’re going to be at a disadvantage. While this is true for other online card games as well, it’s worse in Steamalot. That’s because an advanced player might be able to decimate your entire deck with just a couple of cards. If you’re going to use this feature, it’s better to wait until you’re ready.

Time for the presentation. As you can see from the pics, the game is not much to look at. The maps are made up of ugly tiles and the character models are flat and don’t animate at all. When they attack, they kind of just lunge over to the opposing tile. The interface could use some work too. The cards in your hand are partially hidden from you until you click on them. Even then, the information on that card can only be observed by clicking the view button. It’s tedious. However, the game’s audio fares better. Though the sound effects are tinny and boring, the music is fairly well done. It’s all done on a keyboard, but in such a way to mimic an orchestra. The tunes are dramatic and catchy, and lend the game what little atmosphere it has. It’s not an impressive package, but it works well enough so that you can play the game.

steamalot3Speaking of playing the game, it’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds. Before each battle, you first pick your commander. Your commander is guaranteed to be in your opening hand, so you always have a card to play. The downside is that you lose should your commander fall. During battle, you can play any creature in your to the field on one of two different spawning points. Once there, they can immediately move and attack, but you can’t play any equipment on them until the subsequent turn. If all of your spawning points are occupied, you can’t summon. Victory comes in one of two ways. Either you have to take down the enemy commander, or you have to wipe out every enemy on the field. That doesn’t mean their deck. Even if they’ve got on in their hand, they lose the game if nothing is in play.

There are three different types of cards. Creatures the characters you can play. There are various hero characters such as Sir Patrick, but also common farmers and even barnyard animals. The steampunk influence is obvious in the various airships and automatons you can find as well. Creature cards have a number of base stats. They have attack, defense, health, etc. They also tell you how they move and how many spaces they can move. Some characters can move and attack diagonally, for example. Some creatures have skills, which can be used in battle. These include getting a bonus to a stat, passing equipment, a unique attack, etc. Creature cards are the most important in your deck. Without them, you won’t have any back up for your commander.

Next up we have equipment cards. You play these on creatures to give them a permanent boost. Rules usually apply as to who can equip what. For example, the pig can’t wield a sword. For those that can equip anything, there are five different slots to fill. You can have one weapon, one shield, one armor, one helmet, and one pair of boots. Naturally, figuring out how much and what kind of equipment to include is a big part of deck building.

Lastly, we have spell cards. These can be played any time no matter what. You do what they say, and then discard them. Examples include healing a character, dealing damage to a character, give someone bonus attack, etc. The rare spells often do something extra tricky, like letting you take control of an enemy unit. Though these effects are nice, they will likely not make up a large portion of your deck. Having permanents on the field is just too important.

steamalot4Turns are structured freely. You can move, attack, use skills, or play cards in pretty much any order. The only exception is that a character can’t use a skill after they’ve attacked. Characters are allowed to move as many spaces as their movement stat allows, but they’re aren’t require to take them all at once. That means you can do things like have one character block enemies from going through a corridor, but have him temporarily move out of the way for your other units.

Combat is pretty simple. You simply click on an opponent in range, and hit the attack button. Every attack has a chance to miss, and your attack strength versus their defense determines the amount of damage done on a hit. The only issue is that the game doesn’t show a log or a rundown of what’s going on during your opponent’s turn. If they get buffed or equipped, an icon will briefly flash over their head. If you miss that, you might not realize anything happened at all. You’ll have to manually view the character in order to see what happened. That can mean wasted attacks, which is never good.
The missions will take you several hours to complete, especially since you’ll likely have to go back and grind for coins at some point Towards the end, enemies will be much stronger and use better equipment. Without a powered up deck, you may find your attacks doing nothing and your character being decimated in a couple of hits. You have to constantly tinkering with your setup, or you’ll lose.

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjack1-150x150Overall, it’s a decent game. While the mechanics and interface could use some polishing, it’s a solid tactical game for five bucks. The deck building adds some randomness to the equation, which might throw off some fans of the genre. However, it’s an interesting new way to handle character development. It’s certainly worth a look.

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