Deckbuilding games have been a staple of the tabletop community for years, but unlike their trading card game counterparts, the transition to digital settings have been slower. There have been breakthroughs - Slay The Spire is the most prominent, and a great example of the form doing digital right - but by and large, video game enthusiasts have been reluctant to dive into the intricacies of a genre that can be challenging.
Mystic Vale is popular enough among tabletop fans, and a digital release could be a way to break in ahead of the properties that many would have expected to have done so already. There's certainly potential here. The game isn't particularly complicated on its face, and picking up the intricacies of deckbuilding and gameplay decisions only takes a few matches at most. Unfortunately, despite a strong nucleus of gameplay elements and refinement, everything else surrounding Mystic Vale drags the game down into the murky depths of a forgettable experience.
Let's start with a positive, though: Mystic Vale translates extremely well onto a PC. The game's UI is easy to parse, and the card art looks crisp and gorgeous, with a polish similar to that seen in Artifact. The idea of druids battling to purify the land pervades every bit of the battlefield. From an aesthetic standpoint, Mystic Vale delivers on the promise of a deckbuilding game that could have been carved from the wood of the land. It's a nice touch.
The gameplay is fine as well, for those familiar with the title. Mystic Vale's tutorial is a little obtuse, and doesn't seem like it would be an easy transition into the genre for those who are unfamiliar with it. It also introduced us to what is easily one of the worst parts of Mystic Vale - the loading times. For whatever reason, Mystic Vale does not enjoy going through its own processes, and it results in frequent hang ups while loading. Several times, especially while trying to find a multiplayer match, it was better to close the client and re-open it rather than wait to make it into the game lobby. It's not the kind of experience that is endearing, and it made simply playing a multiplayer game grating.
Single-player matches are available as well, but they also have issues. Beyond just the potential for more hangups - the game took several minutes trying to load the final results screen twice - the AI is pretty lackluster. The hardest variant of the AI is beatable once it becomes obvious how to exploit their tendencies, and the easier versions are so easy that the game might as well be solitaire. Obviously having the option for single player is nice, but it's not executed in a way that's particularly fun or bears repeating over a series of matches.
Mystic Vale is also lacking in options. While that's a restriction of the game itself, as there's only so much content available to draw from, its nevertheless a shortcoming. Whereas games like Slay the Spire have depth and variety because it was designed to be a video game first, Mystic Vale suffers as an adaptation. What's reasonable for a tabletop deckbuilding game is, evidently, not quite enough for an online offering. With only one mode and cards that don't change, sitting down with Mystic Vale for more than a few hours begins to feel extremely repetitive.
It's worth noting that Mystic Vale is planning on launching several different expansions, which will include new cards and modes. That will increase the variety of the games, and it will make it worth checking out later. As it stands right now, though, there's not enough here to make up for the technical shortcomings.
Ultimately, Mystic Vale is a good concept stuck in bad execution. Deckbuilding games might still be a relatively under-explored sub-genre of digital card games, but they nevertheless come with expectations: enough variety and content to last several playthroughs. The lack of campaign mode or multiplayer variety really hurts this title, which feels largely like a missed opportunity. That, coupled with some technical problems, makes it difficult to recommend Mystic Vale to anyone except die-hard fans of the tabletop version who simply want a way to play with their friends online. Otherwise, you're better served sticking to Hearthstone's dungeon runs or Slay the Spire's deeper offerings.
Mystic Vale is available now on Steam. Screen Rant was provided a digital download code for the purposes of this review.