There’s nothing heavenly about the world of Shattered Heaven.
Oh boy, it’s time for another deck builder with roguelike elements! This genre has become really rather crowded since the wild success of Slay the Spire and Monster Train, arguably the two juggernauts of the card battlers, and I’ll frequently come across ones that settle for doing roughly the same thing as those two. They might do them competently enough, but when you’ve already got top tier options, you need to do something special to stand out. Shattered Heaven certainly tries to be different thanks to its emphasis on story and almost Darkest Dungeon style combat and exploration. Whilst this is only the demo at the moment, I’m expecting the full release to be tremendously enjoyable and able to stand with the big boys.
The story isn’t the easiest to follow, at least initially. The world is in a sorry state ever since the death of a god, with the population barely scraping by and the only hope for a once-a-decade ritual in which groups of warriors set out to complete a ritual. Whichever tribe’s warriors are successful will prosper for the next decade, whilst others will continue to suffer. There’s a lot more to it, and a great deal is locked away in the game’s encyclopaedia which you unlock as certain characters and events are mentioned in dialogue. There’s a deep world here if you want to explore its history, although when a reference to the holy “Porcelain throne” was mentioned, I wasn’t sure if it was serious or not. I didn’t think toilets were being deified.
Anyway, you play one team of warriors, led by Andora and over the course of the demo you’ll meet other warriors, as well as vicious monsters in the dungeons below the land. There’s a lot of story and dialogue, and at first I was getting a little tired of it as I really wanted to get to the gameplay, but as the demo went on for the six-or-so hours it took for me to reach the end — quite generous for a demo — I got much more into it, especially the relationships between characters. There are key choices along the way that will supposedly influence the overall story too.
Once you’re set loose in Shattered Heaven, you’ll set off into a procedurally generated dungeon to complete a mission, which normally boils down to finding an item and reaching the exit. Each of your three characters will have their own deck of cards, and on their turn will draw a handful for you to play using energy. This is much like many other games of this genre, but the combat feels more like Darkest Dungeon than Roguebook, with there being an emphasis on you setting up for your allies on subsequent turns and a requirement to effectively use buffs and debuffs to get by. Between battles you explore the dungeon room by room, finding more fights, as well as events and resting points. Resting also takes some Darkest Dungeon inspiration thanks to you spending points to heal, restore resources, or adapting your deck.
This alone is quite interesting, and certainly enjoyable, but the deck building element is also quite creative. Each of your party members enters the dungeon with a deck of twenty cards that you’ve selected within certain criteria. As the dungeon progresses you’ll be forced to add cards to each character, leading to a bloated deck. The smart thing is that these cards only remain for that dungeon run, and whether you succeed or fail, your next one with return to twenty cards, possibly with some new options that you’ve unlocked.
This was a really neat approach as it meant you weren’t scuppering huge amounts of time due to a poorly constructed deck, as you can get through a whole dungeon in about fifteen to minutes. I frequently found myself setting up decks with suitable cards, only to find my options after a fight weren’t great and I’d have to make the least bad choice. Because each character excels in certain ways thanks to unlockable active skills you can trigger in battle, having cards that play to those strengths is essential. I frequently dumped my poor cards into the vampiric Ishana who could get more powerful by eliminating cards from her hand, so even with these difficult choices I could find a way to make things work.
So the gameplay is really fun, the story is interesting in its own way, and all this is supported by wonderful art and great sound and voice work. The art in particular is worthy of mention as it’s absolutely gorgeous, giving me The House in Fata Morgana vibes at times. Whilst not every line is fully voiced, those that are are excellently done, although I did come across a few errors in the text which meant the odd sentence didn’t quite flow as well as it should. A minor complaint there.
If I had to level a criticism at this stage, it’s that there’s an issue with variety. The events that pop up as you explore the dungeon aren’t terribly varied and I was already seeing several repeated ones by the time I was completing the second main dungeon. There are around six main enemies outside of bosses that you’ll see too. Whilst the design of them is very creative, I fought a lot of four-armed weeping ladies by the time I was done. I’m hoping the different episodes will have a greater number of different foes to face as these ones popped up over and over and often didn’t feel all that different to fight. The bosses were great though, and both had their own ways of fighting, along with different phases as the battle progressed.
This may only be a demo, but Shattered Heaven is shaping up very well. My assumption is that this encompasses about a third of the game as there were two other blocked off areas on the map. With the full game due for release at the end of May, I’d say this is pretty feature complete and the full release will likely not deviate too much from the demo. If you want a different take on the deck building genre and love an anime aesthetic, then this demo will be worth a look and will probably sell you on the full game.
Shattered Heaven is due for release on PC at the end of May. You can currently play a demo or wishlist the game on Steam.