Developer: Nodbrim Interactive
Publisher: Nodbrim Interactive
Even for the trading card game uninitiated like myself, Acaratus’ turn-based gameplay and surprisingly different storyline proved compelling. The wonderfully symphonic opening cinematic gets the ball rolling. Narcissistic self-crowned emperor Helios decides to fund his own religion, and creates a societal schism which enables the rise of slave dealers like Adina. However, even she’s not immune to his treachery and escapes with her slave Bolt in tow on a quest to topple the mecha-megalomaniac.
I say ‘mecha’ because Acaratus’ steampunk world is built around machines. In fact, you’ll be using Adina’s battle suit (the powerful contraband Helios is after) to navigate a map teeming with mechanical enemies of various persuasions. They’re deadly, strong, evenly-matched or weak depending on your own setup—which you can (and definitely should) modify with new card abilities. Each battle is essentially a dance across an isometric grid where you slay or be slayed, a familiar concept to TCG enthusiasts, but fun nonetheless. There’s an RPG levelling element stitched on too and it totally works; reaching higher levels grants new perks and rewards which essentially help you fight with more class and power.
The frosty blue playing spaces look a bit too similar, a visual design choice I imagine is intended to carve out different regions of the fictional Thrillith for clarity’s sake. I still feel there’s room to diversify layout, however, Acaratus dodges the claws of repetitiveness with different card modifiers that really make each battle feel like a new experience. Furthermore, the story is interwoven throughout the game, introduces new characters with appealing names and personalities, and occasionally gives you multiple dialogue choice, though I doubt this has impact on the narrative progression. Gameplay is simple to decipher. It’s all mouse-powered action where you can drag modifier cards onto your unit, and you’re fed instructions just in case. The epic instrumental music, sound effects, strategic attacks and counter melees all balance together smoothly to form a really addictive and immersive battle framework. Emerging victorious earns you hidden treasures, which are used to purchase new weapons and abilities from merchants to upgrade the battle suit. There’s a range of difficulty settings which range from easy to impossible, and affect experience gained, enemy strength and gold acquisition rate, but play your cards right and it’s definitely manageable—even on hard. And if the road ahead is clogged with deadly foes? You can always flee without consequences and do some stat building instead.
Speaking of stat building, there’s also a skirmish mode that lets you customise your battle suit with different cores, legs, arms, and strut your strategy against AI. I found this more difficult to navigate compared to the main campaign, because it leaves a lot more design responsibility on the shoulder of players and it’s easy to forget to equip different skills. Still, once you’ve mastered the basics its a great way to practise various techniques in a more contained setting.
Acaratus is out now on Steam for $14.99 USD. It’s an evenly paced tactical exploration game that succeeds with refreshing dialogue and absorbing grid-based battles. I absolutely recommend it. If you’re looking for more good TCGs, we suggest GWENT and Duelyst, which are both free to play.
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.