Albedon Wars needs improvement, but its early access version shows promise through its ambitious RPG elements and its clunky strategy gameplay.
Card deck games have been a strong place for indie developers to go to explore strategy gameplay in different ways. Titles such as the fantastic Nowhere Prophet have shown the scope that can be found within a genre that has sometimes felt restrictive, and the latest game to go for broke through a card deck is Albedon Wars.
Coming from studio Firemill Games, Albedon Wars mixes its card strategy with a blend of science fiction and high fantasy. Recently releasing in early access, this hybrid of deckbuilding, RPG and multiplayer mechanics is certainly aiming high. As of yet there are still questions to answer about its depth of play and how well those elements intertwine.
In spite of its various ambitious strands, Albedon Wars' core gameplay will feel familiar to fans of the card strategy genre. The title plays similarly to other deck games, with individual units acting as the player's troops which can be paired with additional cards. These cards can give a boost to units, including additional movements or attacks, as well as other bonuses and abilities that can lead to a different plan to defeat the enemy.
This means that Albedon Wars won't come as anything new to tactics fans. The exception is that the game puts an extra emphasis on unit positioning, with three key areas of the battle map that provide different bonuses to the player. Rather than a static map, this does mean that players have to think about more than just wiping out the opposition through strength alone.
By holding units in each area at the end of the round, the player can get bonuses to help with the fight ahead. This could be a bonus to card pickup, additional gems to allow the use of cards during the upcoming round, or gaining initiative to attack first in the rounds ahead. When this is married to a requirement for constant vigilance to ensure units are in the best offensive or defensive position, it gives Albedon Wars a bit of a different challenge.
It helps that units attack in different ways. Sprint cards come in handy early on to keep heavy-hitting melee units on the aggressive and frailer long-range attackers out of reach, even if it can result in a merry-go-round sometimes. As always, some cards are better than others, but that random element has always been part of the allure of the genre as a whole.
Nonetheless there’s a rigidity to Albedon Wars that doesn’t do it much good. The biggest problem comes from issues with pacing, as Albedon Wars is not only quite slow but also one-paced at the same time, with no real peaks and troughs within its gameplay. Although this makes the game feel quite measured, it doesn’t do much to get the blood pumping.
In comparison to other card games, this is perhaps its main flaw. Titles like Hearthstone and tabletop granddaddy Magic: The Gathering allow the player to weave their way into Machiavellian plots, in order to then dump a devastating amount of damage in one go. Meanwhile, there’s the threat that the alternative is going to happen to the player, which helps keep these kind of games engaging.
Unfortunately for Albedon Wars, it does not really manage to convey the same approach, feeling a little more simplistic and piecemeal than its peers. In part this is down to the speed at which the player can play complex moves, which at times can feel glacial as the game goes from turn to turn without having much need to formulate a wider strategy.
Albedon Wars gains a lot of ground in its story, and the way it weaves RPG mechanics into the overall framing of the game. Behind the card decks lies a unique sci-fi fantasy tale that throws the player in at the deep end. There's an awful lot of lore to wade through here, focusing on two long-warring factions with their own cultures and intricacies to explore and strange creatures to discover.
Does it always work? No, but it is always interesting, with a high fantasy bent and a love for heavy-hitting if simplistic imagery that’s hard not to get lost in. Doubling down on this in the full release would be a good way for Firemill Games to maintain interest from players beyond the strategy gameplay.
Exactly how Albedon Wars grows from here will be an interesting thing to see. There are definite gameplay tweaks needed to keep things exciting, but there’s an interesting core here and room for it to grow. Since the game's multiplayer RPG element is seen as its unique selling point, though, this does mean Firemill Games needs to keep things changing at a good pace.
Although the game has plenty to give as a solo player, should Albedon Wars reach its potential then providing a steady stream of content for its multiplayer component will be vital. The developers have promised more complexity to come, and that’s a positive sign; there’s a lot more that needs to be explored here, both from a gameplay and story perspective.
Albedon Wars is currently in early access for PC. Screen Rant was provided with a PC download code for the purposes of this review.