IGN Review of Culdcept Saga
When you play videogames year in and year out it's rare that one comes along that truly makes you study its mechanics in order to beat it. With most games it's a pick up and play affair. Being in the games industry you realize that most releases are formulaic in nature and thus they're easy to break into. Culdcept Saga is not a typical release. It's a different breed of videogame that is rarely seen in today's market due to its incredibly hard shell that makes it tough for those who aren't already interested in fantasy card games to dive in and enjoy themselves. Though once you do break into the Culdcept world and learn the dynamics that make it work you'll realize that there's a fairly enjoyable -- though flawed -- experience waiting to be unearthed.
For those that don't know the basics of the game, we detailed them at length in our most recent
hands-on preview. Be sure to check that out to learn the building blocks of Culdcept Saga. If you don't want to take the time to read through our impressions, just think of Culdcept Saga as a dungeon themed Monopoly and keep reading.
So it's a card game that can be played on Xbox 360 hardware. That much you now know. But is it good enough for non-card game players to enjoy while still packing enough to please the diehards of the world? Well, yes and no. Culdcept's greatest flaw lies within its inherent design. Playing through the 30+ hour experience you'll feel like you're playing something from more than 20 years ago. The graphics are extraordinarily dated and haven't been updated much from the PS2 release which was more than four years ago. Sure, they've been ported to a high-definition environment, but even the textures on creatures, pieces of land, and the surrounding environments are just plain poor. Is it too much to ask for some impressive spell effects or at the very least some kind of visual stimulation beyond lumbering axe and sword swings.
But the game isn't designed with visual splendor in mind. It's about the gameplay. In that regard Culdcept Saga very nearly succeeds in delivering a quality product. Players who have never experienced playing a card-based board game shouldn't run away in fear without first at least investing the time to fully grasp the concepts behind the action. There's a lengthy set of rules and guidelines that come with the game to flesh tings out, but to really wrap your head around what Culdcept is about you're looking at a few hours of getting your feet wet first.
Therein lies one of the core issues with Culdcept Saga and this genre as a whole. Today's gamer isn't someone who can sit for a handful of hours just to learn the concepts of a game so some might be put off by the initial complexities. Once you do wade through the list of rules and thumb through the manual you'll realize that the lengthy -- we're talking upwards of three hours for one encounter -- battles provide a good bit of fun.
It's just too bad that the gameplay never truly expands into anything beyond what you're originally playing. Sure, it adds in small tweaks and changes like different land types and (of course) the ever expanding list of creatures and spells that you can hold in your deck, but you never feel like you're developing a character or gaining new abilities for your hero to wield. The more advanced cards have rules attached to them so, while they are more powerful than your introductory set, they actually feel more constricting. You'll see creature cards that can only be cast on certain land types and other cards that require you to sacrifice pieces of your deck in order to cast them.
It's clear that Culdcept Saga was built in such a way to try and attract as many new players as possible while not deviating too heavily from its core so as not to be intimidating. The only problem with that philosophy is that gamers who played the first Culdcept Saga might be disappointed with the lack of expansion in the gameplay. Things have remained relatively unchanged. You're still pitting monster against monster with items and spells supporting your creature, all in an effort to commandeer pieces of land.
In the end the gameplay never truly appeals to new players or to veterans of the series, but for the exact same reason: there's no growth or expansion within Culdcept Saga. At least not enough to warrant such a lengthy play through. That having been said, if you love Culdcept Saga there's plenty to go around.
There's also a list of annoyances that, while they certainly don't break Culdcept to the point of dysfunction, are still worth mentioning. It might seem inappropriate to mention this, but the battles are just too long. Expecting players to sit through four or five hour fights is asking too much, especially if you're playing online with friends with no way to suspend play and come back later like you can when playing solo. Speaking of playing online, it's a bummer that your opponents can essentially see your cards at all times. They can also see which card you're selecting heading into a battle and see what items you could potentially use to capture a crucial territory, something that the AI wisely hides.
Since the multiplayer (either local or online) allows you to play with up to four players total, it's no surprise that you'll have single-player levels that put three AI avatars to battle your hero. That's when the aforementioned four or five hour marathons come into view, something that's made all the worse by the fact that you can't skip battles between AI-controlled combatants. Playing against AI opponents can also be frustrating as they have an amazing propensity for rolling the exact number that they need to land on and take your finest piece of land. It doesn't happen every time, but it's often enough to raise a suspicious eyebrow.
As you might expect with a card game that's based in a land of fantasy, there's a story to tie the world of Culdcept Saga together. You have one hero that stays with you throughout the journey and you can make little aesthetic style choices like putting different helmets, glove or armor onto your champion, but none have an effect beyond the visual change.
The story that Omiya Soft (the developer) decided to weave into the action through poorly done cut-scenes and scrolling text is best described by the word "boredom." It's total filler and should be skipped immediately. At the onset you're a young lad unaware of your abilities as a Cepter (the name for the ones who can control the mystical Culdcept cards) but you soon stumble upon a pretty girl who goes on to teach you how to wield the powers that will eventually lead you to your destiny. The voice acting is bad, the writing is poorly done and the overarching storyline simply isn't gripping.
The Xbox Live functionality that we touched on earlier is the only truly new feature in Culdcept Saga and it performs fairly well. You can set up a match with tons of different rules and win conditions on any one of the numerous maps. The real treat comes after the match is done, and while it is a bummer that you can't trade cards with your buddies (why not?!), you do get a bunch of new cards from your opponent if you're victorious (less if you lose). They're not removed from their deck; they're simply added on to yours.
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