The reason I thought Cataclysm might be a dumpster fire waiting to happen is because it merges three Genres that are hard to fix on their own. Cardaclysm is a mix of TCG (or CCG for some of you) Roguelike and RPG elements. There are very few titles I can think of that have been able to mix the card and RPG genre and do it well.
I really want a few other development companies to follow this path, but you have to be so careful, otherwise it will just be a role-playing game with a little card mechanics or a card game with a few pieces of history. We have both seen and although there is nothing wrong with either, they are not enough to stand out as something special. The real curiosity came with how they would make exactly that a Roguelike or even use Roguelike elements well enough to make adding that term to the game useful. We need to take a closer look at all this, because it is actually very important for our results.
First of all, let’s look at The history of Cataclysm. You play a black wizard who has done something silly. You thought, in your infinite wisdom, that you could control the four horsemen and transfer their powers to your own devices. To put it politely, something went wrong and they managed to free everyone instead.
Suffice it to say that they are not very satisfied with you and are now chasing you through interdimensional worlds. Aside from the incredibly powerful creatures that really want to chat, these places are now filled with all kinds of monsters and nasties. You really have to be on your toes if you want to get out of this little mistake alive.
Your Arsenal comes in the cards in your spellbook. You will use them to call powerful creatures and cast spells as you would in just about every CCG. However, there are a few important differences here: first, you can actually see what you have invoked. I really like it. The map art is beautiful, but it will never be the same as a fully rendered monster. If you actively control your coins, you will also see the board differently and somehow increase the urgency of how you will use them.
The way you call your creatures in Cataclysm is different and actually quite clever. This is not one of those games where you take turns gaining Mana and playing creatures until your hit points are gone. In Cataclysm, you have two resources that are essential for success. You have runes and balls. Creatures have both rune costs and balls, spells have only Rune costs. You will find both resources in the world and if you collect them, they belong to you permanently.
The reason this is all so important is that it affects the way you play in a very critical sense. You can face four creatures, and, for example, if you have collected only 30 runes, you may only be able to afford to play 2. If these creatures Pass away and you cannot afford to play others because their resources do not replenish during the game, the game is over. You don’t action battles either. You will only pick up a card if you have played one. You have a hand of four slots at a time when you are full and you can’t afford to play something you have stuffed.
Following the mechanics I just mentioned, your Wizard is a bit … muddy. No matter how powerful your Magic is, you only have one life. If you have nothing to defend yourself and you are hit, you will Pass away. This is where some of the elements of Roguelike come into play. Passed away means that you lose everything that you have collected in the current world in which you find yourself and return to the beginning. The modifiers in the world are kept, but the actual map is chosen randomly, so that you do not face the same creatures a second time or perform the same layout. As a Roguelike fan, this is welcoming to me, but if you like to remember where you were, you might get frustrated.
For each level of Cataclysm, you need to kill all the monsters and find a red key that opens the exit door. It’s important to be a little methodical about how to do it. After the last monster has Passed away, one of the Riders will come out of the entrance to the level and chase you around the map. They are really powerful beings that you need to be prepared for, so it is not wise to get caught.
You have to get to the open exit and get through before you get caught, or in most matters you will replay this level. I really like this idea. You can face the boss whenever you want, just make sure that you can face this action, or you will lose cards and other collectibles worth a level. When you kill the rider chasing you, you open a new level of maps, collectibles and worlds and the hunt continues with another rider.