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Impressions: Arcanium

Arcanium is a lane-based, multi-character deckbuilding roguelike. You control the actions of three different furry characters with their own distinct card pools, passive abilities, and equipment. There are always three different enemies in the opposing lanes, although you can spend resources to get them to retarget other lanes (Taunt cards) or swap lanes with your own characters to distribute damage and/or fire off attacks. Defeating foes grants you rewards, new cards to add to your deck, and all the sort of things you would expect from a deckbuilding roguelike.

And, uh… that basically sums it all up.

I’ve played a lot of deckbuilding roguelikes over the years and Arcanium is OK. Fine, even. What it reminded me most of was Roguebook, in that you have multiple characters with their own decks, traverse a hex-based map trying to uncover new nodes, and there being incentives to maximize deck size. I also appreciate the new trend (?) for these games to allow banked energy – you start with 3/turn, but can carry up to 5 over to your next turn, if you don’t have a use for it. That part, along with the equipment, reminded me of Across the Obelisk.

I do have some issues with the game, although they are difficult to articulate. For example, a lot of the enemies feel the same: they attack for X amount, deal a debuff, perform an area attack for Y amount, or gain armor. That sort of reductionism can be made for Slay the Spire too, right? Perhaps it feels worse in Arcanium due to the lane-based nature of the game. After all, enemies always target down their lane, and you cannot target things more than one lane away.

Another issue I have is that the sort of highest-difficulty fights reward you with Heirloom Equipment, which are character-specific items that synergize with their passive abilities/cards in various ways. Getting all three characters their Heirlooms is very important… but once that’s done, those hard battles thereafter become mostly pointless, as you’d rather get regular equipment for the other slots. Technically you get an already-upgraded card choice from the rewards and closer to unlocking character upgrades (more energy/cards per turn), but again, it just feels bad doing these fights with the Heirlooms being wasted. I wish there was a way to scrap them or trade for regular equipment.

Overall, Arcanium is a perfectly serviceable deckbuilding roguelike. Unlocking new characters by doing specific things during each run feels rewarding, and cards are similarly unlocked and added to the pool all the time. Each character and their card pools feels unique, and you can be rewarded for discovering synergies between them. Having said that, I have played Arcanium for 15 hours and feel like I’ve seen all that I want to, whereas most deckbuilders taper off after 40 hours for me. Take that for what you will.

Impressions: Across the Obelisk

Across the Obelisk is a chunky deck-building roguelike that has a lot of overlapping mechanics that… mostly work together.

You control four characters each with their own decks. By default, these characters are a warrior, ranger, mage, and cleric, and all have their own unique card pools. Additionally, each character has four equipment slots (and one pet slot) that can be filled with a wide assortment of gear. Additionally additionally, each character can level up five times, getting a binary choice of abilities unique to that specific character (e.g. the four warriors each have different choices). Additionally additionally additionally, you earn Perk points across all characters that allows you more customization options in the form of +1 bonuses to various stats.

Oh, and you accumulate “Supplies” that let’s you upgrade the towns at the beginning of each map. And maps have various lanes and encounters and character unlocks and secrets and general themes.

Like I said, there’s a lot going on.

The problem, 25 hours in, is an understanding that a lot of the game just doesn’t matter. In Slay the Spire, you always go first and can see what the enemy is going to do. In this game, enemy actions are hidden by default – you have to debuff them with certain cards to temporarily see – and turns are based on the speed stat… which can be buffed or debuffed. So sometimes the enemy will just do things to your team without you knowing what’s going on. Like all deck-building games though, sometimes you can’t do anything even if you do know what’s coming due to the cards drawn.

Another issue I have is how often what the card says doesn’t matter. Characters have resistances to the various damage types in the game, and it’s often a fact that enemies get 60% resistance or higher. When I first unlocked a high-cost card that said “Deal 60 damage” I was excited… only to find that it actually deals like 20. The game calculates it for you so there’s no surprises, but nevertheless this funnels all successful strategies towards stacking debuffs (which typically lower resistances as a bonus). Which is whatever I guess… until you face enemies immune to that debuff, or can self-dispel, or can transfer (!!) the debuffs back your way. Most of the time, whether a given enemy can do this will be a complete surprise. Fun times.

First turn on a boss battle; my team was full health walking in

Ultimately, I’m finding the game plenty compelling in an almost unhealthy way. Each run makes the next one that much easier, which is good, but this also means you are set up to fail the first dozen or so runs. I like how you can end up crafting a lot of your favorite cards right at the beginning of the game and thinning your deck out so there is less ramp-up. Figuring out synergies between the classes feels satisfying, and unlocking characters can lead to new ways of playing based on their unique talents.

But if you aren’t into deck-builders, this certainly isn’t going to get you onboard. Not only is there a lot of RNG – moreso than normal deck-builders – each run takes several hours between having to coordinate four different decks and equipment and upgrades and so on.