Shattered Heaven does the classic RPG thing of asking you to fight monsters, get stronger, and kill a god.
I had a good old time with the Shattered Heaven preview build earlier in the year. Mechanically it was quite excellent and the art was gorgeous. The story and variety of foes didn’t quite hit the mark for me though, but a lot of this has been addressed in the full release. Whilst I wasn’t a fan of having to replay the entire first act to get back to where I was, everything after that point was really well put together.
When I reviewed the preview, I mentioned how the story was interesting but seemed to want you to delve into heaps of codex entries to understand just what the hell was going on. There was something about a god having been struck down, and humanity being cursed to death unless a holy pilgrimage was completed. I wasn’t fully prepared to piece the world together myself, so I enjoyed the snippets that came up and focussed on the mechanics. Well, with this full release, Leonardo Interactive have somewhat resolved this for me. Admittedly, it’s not until the end of the second act, but a lore dump seemingly out of nowhere filled in pretty much every blank I had to the point that everything slotted together far better than before. I found myself enjoying the gorgeously drawn cutscenes significantly more from that point simply because I knew what was happening, even though some of them are a touch over long. If you do go into Shattered Heaven and find yourself flummoxed, rest assured that things do get cleaned up.
The characters are excellent too, all having their own personalities and motives that tie into the lands that they come from. Most feel well fleshed out and the way they treat you can change significantly depending on choices you make along the way. I was especially a fan of Ishana, a blind girl with a demonic presence attached to her that helps her see, but also has a monstrous side that can come out in combat. There are violent, heart-breaking, and genuinely touching moments for many of the main players throughout thanks to some solid writing, even if the occasional voice acting doesn’t quite do justice to the material.
Mechanically, Shattered Heaven is a deck building roguelike. From your home base, you set up your three party member’s decks, equipment, and abilities, and then set out on the next quest or side quest. Once on the way there is a grid of rooms in a dungeon which could contain nothing, but more likely have an encounter or battle within. This is much like Slay the Spire and its ilk, although you can’t see what’s coming in each room without using special items you can find or purchase back and base. Encounters can strengthen or weaken your party based on your choices, and I was disappointed to see that the variety in them hasn’t really improved since the preview. By the end of the first act you’ll have seen a lot of the same ones, and even though subsequent chapters introduce new ones, you’ll still get a bunch of events you’ll have seen countless times before.
The combat is where the game really shines for me though. Playing as a combined party-based RPG and card battler, your team of three characters take on random assortments of eldritch horrors. Each character has their own deck of cards that tend to play to their style. Andora tends to lean towards the classic hard-hitting melee DPS style, whilst Magni can protect others with high armour values and intercepting enemy attacks, and Ishana doles out status effects on her foes. It’s an elegant system that plays well thanks to each character also having a skill tree, activatable special abilities, and an individual mechanic that links to their play style. I really enjoyed how each character felt genuinely unique and had their own role that you could adapt over the course of the campaign.
What’s particularly interesting is how the decks work though. Each team member has a deck of twenty cards that you can build before each dungeon. You’ll unlock more options as you work through the game, but within the dungeon itself, you’ll constantly find new cards that you must add to your deck. This means your decks become quite bloated as you play through a dungeon, and you’ll often find that you have to take cards that you might not want. The smart thing here is that after each run, win or lose, the cards you picked up along the way will vanish, with only rewards for completing the dungeon being kept to add to your next deck. It results in each run being a safe place to experiment, as a rubbish deck won’t scupper your efforts for the rest of the campaign as you’ll always return to a usable deck each time you venture out again. This isn’t even to mention the permanent upgrades and potion crafting you have back at camp to adapt your party even further. It’s an excellent system that rewards experimentation alongside careful thought.
The battles aren’t desperately challenging on their own, but you can only rest and heal up once per floor in a dungeon, so you can end up in a tough spot late in a run, meaning planning your route is important. Those routes can change due to roguelike elements and special rules that can appear in each dungeon, but they don’t wildly change the structure of your run. Bosses are an exception as they tend to be very challenging all on their own, with multiple phases, changing conditions, and girthy health bars to contend with. They act as a great punctuation mark to some of the dungeons though, and I was always keen to see what I’d be up against.
Visual design helped here too. Those bosses look really impressive and are genuinely varied. Other enemies are equally well designed, but within each chapter you’ll see the same ones a huge number of times, so their impact lessens over time. Everything is brightly coloured and super detailed though, so there’s clearly been a lot of time put into this element. The sound is mostly very good. Effects are chunky and powerful, whilst the music is excellent, with some haunting themes at appropriate times. Voice work is a bit hit and miss though. Some characters are really well done, with actors really committing to the role, whilst others feel undercooked and come across as a bit drab, with occasional accents slipping in and out. It’s not a death knell, but it can be a little immersion breaking at times.
With that minor gripe out the way though, I really was impressed with Shattered Heaven, even considering it’s currently in Early Access on Steam. The developers are releasing frequent updates, with a road map of new cards, new features, and additional content due over the next year or so. This is a very well put together package as it stands, and I only see it improving over time. The devs are very proactive in the game forums and on Discord, appearing to be collecting feedback to improve and balance the game going forward. If you’re a fan of card battlers, this is an excellent choice.
Shattered Heaven is available now on Steam Early Access.