Sometimes you feel like playing a free virtual collectible card game that isn’t Hearthstone. Yes, I know, it’s shocking but true. Maybe the daily rewards aren’t worth it, maybe you feel like a change of pace, or maybe you want to try something surprisingly original yet familiar. That’s where Earthcore: Shattered Elements comes in.
Earthcore can best be described as rock-paper-scissors with Pokémon colours. Two competitors take turns placing three cards on the playing field. After all the cards are down, each one does battle with the card opposite it. After that, damage is calculated, and this continues until a player runs out of health points. Each card has either a fire, water, or earth element. Water beats fire, fire beats earth, and earth beats water. Some cards have special skills or effects, allowing you to deal extra damage, move to a different position on the board, or even change an element. All cards also carry a risk, which is the damage you suffer when the card loses a battle.
This is a big strength for Earthcore: familiarity. Where another card game would spend a hefty chunk of time teaching you all the ins and outs of its systems, Earthcore leaves it up to luck, guesswork, and the rules of a game you’ve probably played since pre-school. With gameplay complexity a non-issue, it’s able to introduce some vastly more innovative ideas.
For one, when cards of the same element battle, they become deadlocked. This renders them unusable and adds their risk values to the board. Lose a battle on a spot with a lot of accumulated risk, and your hit points will vanish instantly. Another neat feature is the crafting system, which lets you modify hero cards by sacrificing lesser cards. Sacrifice enough of the same card, and the hero earns a new skill and becomes riskier to play in combat.
Earthcore also has one heck of a good storyline, where players are tasked with ending a goblin revolt. The story is told across five chapters, each spanning ten missions, and there’s enough here to keep players invested. The story is also a good training tool for online ranked or casual multiplayer. Even though it’s free to play, you’ll rarely feel the need to spend real-world money because new cards and booster packs are often given to you.
Is Earthcore perfect? Of course not. It suffers from poor artwork in the menu screens, and the game could really use a few extra voice actors. Also, its battle system has downsides. For all its innovation, it is still purely rock-paper-scissors gameplay. No matter how masterly crafted and balanced your deck is, it will always lose to blind luck. This sadly limits Earthcore to only ever being a fun distraction.