It’s hard to scoff at a free-to-play game in this day and age. I mean, free is free, right? But what exactly does that encompass? It’s a tricky topic to gauge, especially with the likes of microtransactions and paywalls being every bit as controversial as they ever have been. Should a free-to-play game get a free pass for being stuffed with these elements? Yes, and no. Clearly, the developer needs to secure an income, but it’s still a channel of revenue that needs to be balanced and done correctly. Sadly, this is where Eternal massively falls short.
Let’s go from the top. Eternal is a 1-on-1 strategy card (collecting) game akin to the likes of Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone. Straight from the get-go I had a bad taste in my mouth, thanks to the fact that I was waiting for fifteen minutes on loading screens during the initial boot. No, I’m not kidding, and although it gets a bit better later in, there’s still a fair bit of loading to endure throughout. When that’s out of the way, the game stuffs you straight into its campaign; consisting of five mini-stories told by a chap known as Jakka.
Jakka’s stories depict people from the past that have done wrong, oftentimes highlighting folks of powerful positions that have fallen soon-after. It’s fair to assess the campaign as an elaborate tutorial that features five different card decks. You’re not able to alter these decks during the campaign, but you are afforded three matches with each deck to give you a taste of each sigil within. In all honestly, there’s no real difficulty here. In fact, I was able to breeze through the campaign with little to no trouble whatsoever. It’s relatively straightforward.
There’s some passable dialogue (yet shoddy vocal work) carrying the story along, and once you’re done here, the game begins to truly open up. Unfortunately, Eternal has a habit of telling you what to play before you can enjoy the game’s other aspects. Mind, that’s being too generous. You’re forced into completing specific challenges beforehand, such as taking on the game’s Gauntlet mode. Gauntlet mode is basic in structure, being that you’ll need to fight seven enemies in a row to win a total of three chests in return for your time and effort.
You’re afforded two lives, meaning that if you lose, you can indeed continue. However, and as to be expected, once you’ve selected your deck, you’re stuck with your decision until you either die or win. When you’ve completed Gauntlet, you’ll then be forced into the Forge mode. Much like Gauntlet, in Forge you will need to battle enemies in succession to win, using two lives. The kicker here is that you’ll need to make your deck from scratch; choosing a single card from three drawn until you have a total of twenty five cards at your disposal.
Mercifully, when you’re done with Forge, the game further opens up with Puzzle mode. Here, you’re tasked with solving a series of subsequent pre-set scenarios that are designed in a way to test your perseverance. It’s a fairly good way to get further insight as to how the game functions. That said, there’s really only one other mode to select from at this point, which is the game’s ranked and casual online component. To Eternal’s credit, the game features cross-play functionality with iOS and Android, lending the game a degree of accessibility as a result. Playing will earn you gold coins, and it’s here in which we see Eternal’s steep grind.
In order to buy a single pack of cards to add to your custom deck, you’ll need to pull in one thousand gold coins. One thousand gold coins equates to roughly five wins in a ranked game. You can indeed pull cards from the aforementioned chests, as well as earn more chests through fulfilling quests and challenges. Though for the most part, you’ll be grinding like Sonic on a pipe or spending money like you’re Richard Branson – Eternal offers a crystal system that uses real money to buy in-game additions. This, by definition, means that if you’re not too good at the game, it could take a while to bulk up your pool of cards. Or else fork out sums of money to shortcut.
It would have been nice to see more balance here, that’s for sure. On the topic of money, this brings me to the uncomfortable point of the game’s paywall. The game has a total of six campaigns; the first and the last campaign are offered for free. Anthony, that’s still two freakin’ campaigns you entitled tit! I hear you bellowing. Well, take into account that the first campaign is a tutorial and the last one only has one match (neither are interesting) and you can surely understand my reservations here. The other four campaigns? Paywall.
In order to play these campaigns, you’ll need to dish out roughly £9 (or region equivalent) per-whack. Times that by four, and the cost soon begins to rise. You can indeed use gold coins, but the amount needed is ridiculously high. If Eternal was at least gripping in regards to the story that’s on offer, I may have been more compelled to at least toy with the idea of investing some money. Though as it stands, nothing within is anywhere near interesting enough to see me giving that any real thought. It all just comes of very forced, greedy and time consuming. Hopefully the developer makes some adjustments.
The bottom line? Eternal is bait without a hook. Surely the best way to approach this dynamic would be to intrigue and excite the player, and then encourage them to dive deeper by appealing to their time and their wallet. Instead, what we have is a convoluted setup that doesn’t try hard enough to win any favors. It’s a shame really, because underneath these systems and barriers sits a fairly decent core experience. In fact, the gameplay loop itself is very easy to gel with and doesn’t at all demand too much perseverance or prior experience.
You’ll begin with seven cards in-hand. If you’re unhappy with your dealt hand, you can swap it out once per-match for another. There’s a player token on the field that will represent your points; normally starting at twenty-five health. That can indeed vary, but the key to success is ensuring that it doesn’t deplete completely. Should you hit zero, you’re dead, you lose. Eternal is a turn-based affair, as alluded to above, much like Magic: The Gathering. You’ll need sigil cards that arrive in varying colors depending on what your deck consists of.
The cards you wish to use, be it a fighter card, a spell card, a curse and so forth, will need to have a set number of sigil cards in play. You can find out the value by simply looking at the top left of every card in your hand. Should you have enough sigil cards down to cover the value, you can place down more action cards to enter the field. Sigil cards never deplete and will refresh after every turn. You’ll take turns with your foe laying down sigil and action cards until one of you chips away all of the other’s health and stands firm and victorious.
There’s a good degree of strategy to tap into, largely thanks to the amount of varying cards that are in the game, as well as how each match is setup. There’s no shortage of interesting ways that you can choose to attempt to overthrow and outsmart your opposition. Players can defend their token via using their action cards, absorbing the damage of an attack and saving their token from a hit. Though, in order to do that, their defense needs to be equal to, or greater than, the incoming attack. It’s very simple to understand, I’ll give the game that much.
The crux of play is about playing to your strengths and exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses, which can oftentimes be achieved through creativity. With so many cards, and with so many varying outputs and effects on offer, there’s heaps of tricks you can pull to give you that much needed edge in a battle. It’s just a shame that it’s all pulled back by the game’s poor monetary design. Several times did I face a real player that’s light years ahead of me (through grinding and paying) that the balance here just feels massively out of proportion.
This may indeed turn many newcomers away. Moving onto the game’s visual and audio design. I’ve already lightly touched up on the voice work above, this, in a nutshell, isn’t very good. In contrast, the audio cues are well struck to say the least. The visuals on the other hand are quite standard. Yes, there’s a nice sharp and vibrant look to the game, but it does begin to wear thin before too long at all. The end result makes for a game with a lot of potential, but potential that’s not quite met due to its several poor structural choices.
Eternal offers a pretty decent strategy card game at its core. However, the game’s monetary structure greatly holds it back, being that the game is chock-full of paywalls and microtransactions. This is normally acceptable for a free-to-play experience, but there needs to be a fair middle ground between grinding and expenditure. That sadly isn’t present here. You’re either all in or all out, for the most part.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.