Series: The Casual Gamer
I’ve been a fan of trading card games (TCG) for several years now, but the fact that you have to keep investing in new expansions as they become available in order to remain competitive prevents me from enjoying them as much as I’d like. So, whenever a free TCG for iOS launches, I get curious. Finding one that’s actually enjoyable over the long haul, though, is a bit more of a problem.
The basic premise of Elemental Kingdoms is that you start with a deck of five cards that you use to do battle with your opponents. As you win battles and level up, you unlock additional card slots. A deck that is completely unlocked consists of ten cards. You also have the ability to augment your deck with up to four runes that do additional damage to opponents once certain conditions in combat are met. Similarly to card slots, you begin with one rune slot and can unlock up to four rune slots. You can mix and match both cards and runes to create a custom deck that suits your particular play style. Both cards and runes can also be leveled up, unlocking additional abilities for each.
Each player has a hero with a hit point (HP) pool that represents your overall health. Cards attack other cards immediately across from them on the field, whittling down that card’s HP until it is destroyed. If there is no opposing card, then damage is assessed to the opposing hero. Card abilities may modify how, and where, damage is applied. The objective of battle is to eliminate all of the opposing cards or kill the opposing hero. The more you fight, the more cards you can potentially win as spoils, giving you more options for customizing your deck.
Like most TCGs cards are divided into different factions or types based on topographical region: Forest, Mountain, Swamp, or Tundra. Each is ranked in terms of commonality, ranging from one star (common) to five stars (super rare). The power of the card is related to its commonality.
My primary complaint with the combat system is that, once you have your cards and runes selected and your deck built, there really isn’t a whole lot to do once you enter battle. There is an Auto button to the right side of the screen that will automatically play your cards for you, and I find myself using it almost all the time. Enter combat, hit Auto, and go do something else for a couple of minutes while the fight plays out. There really isn’t a whole lot of strategy involved, which is unfortunate since that’s one of my favorite part about TCGs.
The single-player side of Elemental Kingdoms follows a very basic, almost plot-free storyline. Your hero ranges across several regions on a quest to enlist an army to help fight off some evil something-or-other. Each story segment is comprised of only three or four lines of dialogue, which is fortunate since the writing is particularly stilted and cheesy. I honestly didn’t expect any great work of fiction — TCGs are notoriously difficult to work a storyline around — so I wasn’t particularly surprised or disappointed in this regard.
The thing that I do find disappointing and frustrating, however, is the fact that this game seems to once again be designed toward a very male audience. While the artwork throughout the game is exceptionally well done, nearly every single card with a female image has been sexualized. Large breasts, narrow waists, skimpy outfits. Just once it would be nice to have a game that’s willing to portray female characters without the need to be ‘sexy.’
Overall, Elemental Kingdoms is one of the better free TCGs I’ve played, in terms of mechanics, but it does still become boring relatively quickly. There is also a multiplayer arena available (after unlocking it), but I don’t anticipate venturing into PvP combat. Elemental Kingdoms does quite a few things pretty well, but it’s the shortcomings that make this game unlikely to be part of my permanent game library.