Before we jump into discussing Card Hunter by Blue Manchu Games, which is the reason for this article, I need to say my piece about Free-to-Play games (FTP) of this nature, since this is the first one I reviewed on SteamFirst. I adore the concept of providing players the chance to enjoy a game without the need to spend money, while allowing them to support the devs by buying in-game content. Making the base game free, but charging the players a one-time fee for expansions or a monthly fee for “membership perks” is also acceptable, if the content is worth our hard earned cash. There are wildly popular games like DOTA 2 that only charge for cosmetic items, which many dedicated fans purchase to show their support of the game. My biggest concern and issues with the FTP platform is micro-transactions set up in a pay-to-win fashion. That means in order to have an advantage over other players, you have to keep throwing cash into the game, or the grinding process without giving into the micro-transactions becomes painstakingly slow to the point where you feel forced to spend money to speed up your advancement. Card Hunter has all three of these options available to the players, each providing new cards, cosmetic items, quests or just random perks. My focus in this review will be to determine which of these options are worth spending your money on, determine if the game can be enjoyable without spending a dime, and will decide if the multiplayer is set up to encourage pay-to-win tactics.
The best way to describe Card Hunter is to imagine the offspring of D&D and Magic: The Gathering who, as a kid, idolized their uncle Fire Emblem and saw him as their role model. I was instantly hooked from the moment I laid eyes on Card Hunter. It combines the three elements of gaming that I have dedicated chunks of my life into. The only way I would ever rate this game lower than 5/5 was if the devs screwed something up on a fundamental level to the point where my inner child streamed out in protest. Luckily, this never happened regarding the base gameplay. You control a party with up to three characters from a choice of three classes; Mage, Cleric and Warrior. You can also choose the race of your character with your choices being Elf, Human and Dwarf. Each class has their own specialized equipment which you can obtain by playing the campaign, winning multiplayer matches or spending real money. Each piece of armor has cards attached to them, which provide your character with different skills or actions, depending on the type of equipment. Every piece of equipment is different and provides a unique spread of cards to use. Once you choose the equipment for your characters, the cards go into a deck that are used during combat, which is the main focus of Card Hunter.
If you have played any tactical turned based game like Fire Emblem or X-com, you should be familiar with the base battle system in Card Hunter. The difference between this game and others of the genre is how you choose what your characters do during their turns. That is when the equipment cards come into the mix. Every turn your character draws 3 cards, with one of them always being a movement card, the rest being picked from the deck that you created. The main card types in the game are attacks, defense, movement, passives (good and bad) and utility. Each card type has sub-types associated with them as well. The way the game works is, you choose one card to use, then you pass the turn to your enemy, and then you repeat the process during the next turn. The game is very easy to pick up and play, and won’t take more than 20 minutes to fully understand how everything works. Like any Trading card game or Tactic based game, mastering Card Hunter could take months, if you are skilled enough to keep up with the bests of the game.
The biggest strategic element in Card Hunter is balancing your deck to properly counter the unique enemies that stand in your way. When you have no idea what your enemies will be throwing at you, the best thing to do is prepare for everything while bringing your own bag of tricks that will knock your opponents off balance. You also want to make sure to balance your deck effectively to avoid only drawing defensive or movement cards when you need to bash the skull of a goblin. I love how there is no “perfect” deck since everything in the game has a counter and weakness. If you feel like you have a completely overpowered set up, I promise there is a deck combination that will make yours look like child’s play. Adding this much depth into the gameplay while keeping the learning curve low is the perfect formula for creating an addictive game with the potential to attract a large following.
The only issues I came across when focusing on the base gameplay is the cone and diagonal targeting systems. Once I grew accustomed to them, it wasn’t a huge problem, which is why I didn’t deduct points from my overall score. When you have a card with a range of two or more, you can target enemies or allies within that range, including diagonally. The reason this bugged me is because it makes some attacks unrealistic. Imagine a spear that can reach 2 spaces away. Normally that makes sense, but when you look at how far two spaces are diagonally, this makes you wonder how long that spear really is. The cone targeting system also has an unconventional style to it. I don’t feel like these systems hindered the game, just that they were jarring since I’m use to the normal targeting mechanics in other turn-based games and in table top games like D&D.
Single/Co-Op Campaign 5/5
I was greatly surprised to find out that Card Hunter had a fully fleshed out campaign mode. With the amount of depth this game has to offer, I have no doubts that it would have been great strictly as a multiplayer online game. Adding the campaign element to the experience gained my respect completely. Out of the 18 hours I spent in this game, 16 of them were from playing the campaign. If you are not a competitive person but enjoy challenging gameplay, I would highly recommend installing Card Hunter solely for the campaign mode. You can log at least 20 satisfying hours into this game without ever needing to spend any money.
The campaign is set up as a series of modules. Each module contains 2 or 3 levels that resembles a night of playing D&D with a group of friends. Each module is ran by a Game Master (GM), who tells the story and controls the enemies. Gary is the appointed GM for your play sessions, and is still learning the ropes. Gary’s brother helps mentor him on how to be the greatest GM throughout the storyline. Each module contains slices of humor and suspense and helps suck you into the game. I found myself laughing out loud at the banter between the brothers, shaking my head at the egotistical comments from Gary’s brother and even had a couple face-palming moments due to Gary’s naïve personality.
I never found myself growing bored of the gameplay, and as I progressed in the story, the difficulty increased enough in order to continue testing my skills while keeping victory obtainable. Playing this mode alone was great, but inviting two friends into my party increased the enjoyment level ten-fold. When playing with friends in Co-op mode, each player chooses one character, instead of you managing the entire party in single-player. This forces a high level of cooperation and is a great way to test the boundaries of friendship. While playing with my friends, we had moments of quiet tension when faced with a difficult challenge, intense anger when I made mistakes and out-right joy from watching our tactics pay off with a victory. Moments like those are good examples of the social aspects of gaming, and prove that you don’t have to be a loner to enjoy gaming.
When I think of great Free to play titles, Tera, DOTA 2 and Team Fortress 2 are the best examples. Each of these titles have something in common; they are multiplayer games. Some are built to be competitive, and others are built to work together with others in a social environment. Whatever the focus is, having a solid online community is what makes these games great. Card Hunter does not disappoint and like the campaign mode, I recommend picking up this title solely for this purpose. When it comes to multiplayer, I would suggest playing through the campaign mode in order to obtain a large variety of equipment, but you can always choose to spend money to obtain equipment if you would rather skip that mode completely, and if you have the extra money to spare. Read my micro-transactions section before going that route, so I can provide you with the proper warning.
After playing 15 hours of the campaign mode, I felt like I was skilled enough to square off against other players. The Orcs and other monsters that stood in my way are now corpses wishing they never crossed paths with my party. With the main builds I had set up, there was no way I would be bested. Five minutes into my first online match, I had to grab a towel to soak up the puddles of regret and despair that were accumulating on my keyboard. That was when I realized that the multiplayer portion of Card Hunter was an entirely different beast that was just as satisfying and challenging as the campaign mode.
Skill, critical thinking and counter deck building are essential to online play, and I can see this game becoming a classic and is a game I wouldn’t mind dedicating large chunks of time into. Since I mentioned micro-transactions at the start of this review, I know you are wondering if getting hooked into this game will force money out of your pocket. I can’t lie regarding this subject, because it could become a money trap for you, but it doesn’t have to be. Every card in the game can be obtained by buying the expansions, playing through the campaign mode, and winning multiplayer matches. The membership and micro-transactions are there as ways to gain equipment faster. I will go into this more in a bit, but you don’t have to fall into the micro-transactions trap in order to obtain the items you need for multiplayer, but you can spend money to speed up the process.
Club Membership 2/5
One of the three ways Card Hunter makes a profit is with the use of a membership option. I normally have no issues with this tactic, unless the boosts they provide are unfair to other players, or if the money they charge is not worth the perks. Card Hunter’s “Club Membership” is a monthly fee that grants the player extra loot from reward chests and multiplayer chests. This may not seem like a big deal, but when playing multiplayer, this comes in handy. Whatever equipment you pick up from multiplayer rewards, the free equipment will match the highest rarity you acquired. So, if you get lucky and snag a legendary item, you will get another legendary item due to being a club member. In order to be part of this club, you have to spend 10 bucks for 30 days. For 10 bucks a month, I don’t feel like this is worth it. Sure, it helps with the amount of items you obtain, but I feel like that is a little pricey, since that is the standard monthly fee for most MMO games. If this was the only way Card Hunter was using to obtain money, my opinion might be different. Since that is not the case, I have to shake my head due to the high price versus the perks gained. On the flip-side, if you ever have ten bucks laying around and feel like you will be playing this game a lot in the next month, gaining the club perks for 30 days is always nice, just not as a long term investment.
When looking at expansions, the biggest question on my mind is how much does this alter the game, and is the extra content priced fairly compared to base game. This means I will not spend 40 bucks for an expansion of a game that cost 60 if all I’m getting is a couple new weapons and four additional hours of gameplay. When it comes to Card Hunter, the game is free, so it was a little difficult to judge using my go-to method. That being said, I have no problems saying that the three expansions in the game are more than worth it. Each one comes with a new line of campaign quests, new cards and sometimes even a free month of the club membership. Playing through some of the campaign missions from the expansions, I feel like they still offer challenging gameplay, provide tons of humor and help maintain a feeling of variety. With the newest expansion Expedition to the Sky Citadel, a whole new element type was introduced. The campaigns in Expedition to the Sky Citadel follow a futuristic vibe, and the new cards follow suit. Adding laser weapons and new terrain modifications, they created even more strategy and combinations which only adds to the overall depth of this game.
Overall, I was happy with the additional content. If I had to choose to only spend money on one of the three options in Card Hunter, I would gladly offer my support by buying all three expansions.
To avoid making this review longer than it already is, let’s just keep it simple; I hate the use of Micro-transactions in any game unless the only things you can buy are cosmetic items. Giving players the option to speed up the experience-point rate or giving them a way to acquire more in-game items is a shady tactic that I will never agree with. The fact that Card Hunter allows players to buy extra loot chests with real money is bad enough. When they still provide this option along with a monthly subscription and expansions, well that is where they crossed the line in my opinion. You can use money to purchase pizza, which is an in-game currency. This pizza can be used to buy chests and new character models. The only good thing that I can say about this feature is that the devs are generous with how much you can obtain with a little amount of cash. Either way, if someone that has issues controlling their spending habits gets hooked into the multiplayer portion of Card Hunter, these micro-transactions will end up taking advantage of this poor soul who most likely already bought all of the expansions and is a monthly club member. I just don’t see how this can be seen as a moral business practice. That is just my personal opinion, and I can’t blame the devs from Card Hunter, because they are simply using all the options available to them in order to make money off their creation. I only ask that they really think about the repercussions of a business model of this nature.
Overall I love Card Hunter. They were able to successfully blend my favorite aspects of gaming into one epic package. Between the campaign mode and multiplayer, I could easily see myself logging hundreds of hours into this game if I had the free time to do so. The only reason I can’t give this a solid 5/5 is due to the micro-transactions along with the expansions and club membership. They are just being a little too greedy when it comes to sucking money out of the pockets of fellow gamers, and games like these are hard for me to recommend on a moral level. If someone who respects my opinions got hooked onto this game and ends up spending thousands of dollars due to micro-transactions, I couldn’t help but feel slightly responsible. If you are not someone that is easily suckered into this business scheme, then I highly recommend this game. You can enjoy Card Hunter without ever spending a dime, or at least never buying any Pizza. If you are someone that can’t help but spend money in a game in order to gain the upper hand or speed up the grinding process, I urge to you to stay away from this game, and any others that condone this set-up. If you fall under the first group, check out Card Hunter here, and message me on Twitter if you would like to party up sometime!