Long gone are the days where a computer came preloaded with timeless card games. With so many development tools available and creative minds filled with new ideas, we are instead treated to games such as Ancient Enemy, a strategic, combat card game backed by Bithell Games and developed in collaboration by Grey Alien Games and Jim Rossingol.
Ancient Enemy tells the story of a mage who has awoken in a world where evil has already won and he must now fight to understand how ruin came to be. Along the way, the mage reacquires his lost powers to fight against the ancient forces that defeated him in the first place. The narrative provides a nice touch that ties together the combat and artstyle in a cohesive and atmospheric way.
Gameplay follows a simple, solitaire-style approach with the player selecting a visible card from the playing field that is either the value above or below the currently drawn card. When in combat, cards charge up spells to attack the opponent or defend against enemy attacks. Battles force the player to think strategically to counter attacks and create large combo bonuses. Players are awarded a star rating for their efforts in battle that is based on how many turns were required to win the fight, which places an emphasis on completing a level efficiently.
The RPG elements of Ancient Enemy provide a simple, yet effective, personalisation to the gameplay. Skills points are granted at the completion of a chapter to spend on bonuses that help tailor the playstyle to that of the player. Players are also offered a range of new spells and passive abilities for purchase which they can add to their card collection. In the early chapters of the game, there was little need to swap out spells to counter enemy attacks and resistances, making the mechanic feel slightly wasted. However, later stages of Ancient Enemy proved the need for a diverse deck to swiftly and effectively eliminate enemies.
Eleven chapters make up the campaign of Ancient Enemy. Every chapter consists of multiple levels that either present the player with combat scenarios or the opportunity to collect additional loot. Optional levels also offer the opportunity to collect valuable passive ability cards if the player is willing to risk taking damage in combat. The variety of levels within the chapters creates a steady pace for the game which never gets dull.
Ancient Enemy offers three levels of difficulty that alter the parameters of the game: “Relaxed” mode allows fights to be skipped and health to be restored; “Normal” makes combat mandatory and health does not restore after battle; and “Nightmare” increases the difficulties of enemies and makes death permanent within chapters. The changes present within each difficulty setting allow the game to be easily accessable to both casual and hardcore players.
The wonderful art by Jen Pattison evokes a gritty atmosphere reminiscent of Darkest Dungeon, which was an inspiration for the turn-based adventure of Ancient Enemy. The backdrops are moody and the characters are brimming with personality to showcase the medieval drama of the narrative.
Despite being a card-based game, Ancient Enemy offers extensive playtime and is incredibly addictive. Gameplay is varied, combat is satisfying, and loot is always worthwhile, encouraging the player to come back for more. The indie developers behind this project have created a masterful work that is fun for all players and proves that even the humble card game can offer a unique and enjoyable experience.
Reviewed on PC.