Joanna Dark is back in her latest adventure! Going from an iconic FPS, she has now found herself in a Perfect grimdark deckbuilder that mixes some rather heavy metal visuals that you’d expect tattooed on the back of a long bearded chap with a unique gameplay mechanic that has your moves directly affecting how the enemy plays.
Oh, wait. It’s Jeanne d’Arc. Never mind, let’s review it anyway.
Many thanks to Crunching Koalas for the review code
ONE HELL OF A TIME
Taking control of either Jeanne, Vlad the Impaler, or Hernan Cortés (an unlikely trio of ‘heroes’), your goal is to descend the circles of hell and take on the embodiment of sin lying at the bottom. As a roguelite, you can expect your journey to be a difficult one – but failure will earn you the necessary resources to build up your base of operations and potentially make your future journeys a little bit easier.
There’s little in the way of story, but the focus here is predominantly on the unique cardplay that the game offers. Nadir plays out in a rather straightforward way that hides way more depth than appears at first glance. Cards you have in your deck are effectively like dominoes, split into two halves (in this case red and blue). Each side will offer a different move, whether it be offensive moves, defensive moves, or status effects. Each side will show their cost value, which relates to how many colours your opponents deck currently has. If they have two reds and a blue out, you won’t be able to play a card with a three red cost, for example.
Playing a card will fill the notches on the back of their deck as per the cost of your card and, once the notches are filled for one of their cards, the enemy will perform their action and the card will change both move and colour. This means that choosing what card you play and what card(s) you assign it to will be a key part of your strategy, since you know exactly what is going to come your way and you can prepare for it in advance.
Status affects are what really add to the overall strategy as there are quite a few available which can all swing the battle in various ways. Armour will act as a secondary health pool and will take damage coming your way before it starts draining your health; shields, on the other hand, will block (most) attacks completely regardless of how strong the attack is. This means that moves that hit multiple times are especially useful against heavily shielded opponents as it can wear away their protection rather quickly. Other effects such as the attack increasing Rage, or the crippling Rust act in different ways, but also can be extremely useful when used right. There are plenty of more available, but going into them all would take forever. There’s a lot to learn, but knowing how to use them to your advantage is key to making battles go your way.
Should you beat one of the eldritch beasts in a given circle of hell, you have the opportunity to take advantage of the rest of what that circle has to offer. You can get into more fights if you want more resources, or you can shop for more cards, edit your deck, choose a new additional card, or more. There’s nothing hugely revolutionary, but the system has a good flow and complements the main gameplay rather well.
LOST IN THE GRIMDARK
Unfortunately, this excellent gameplay gimmick is spoiled slightly by the game’s overall lack of polish. From the very start, you’re warned that the game is essentially still a work in progress, and it really does show. Whilst the artwork and character designs look absolutely awesome, they’re also really just limited to two separate images that try to represent an attack. It works fine for the most part, but it also means that battles just end promptly as it throws you to the reward screen quite abruptly. Whilst no animation is strictly needed, having some form of speech (which the game does have during some battles) to make the battles feel finished would certainly have been nice.
Another slight issue with the presentation is with the game’s interface and rather clunky controls. Navigating around the screen tends to be pretty counter-intuitive anyway, but it’s only made worse by the unusual button mapping. Heck, it took me a while to figure out how to even start the game once the tutorial had ended! Worse than that, however, is the game’s inability to explain things well. The game’s multitude of status effects are great, but finding out what each one does can be a real pain. Sometimes the game will tell you what it does when selecting a card in your deck (but sometimes not…), but there’s no way to highlight enemy cards to find out what they do. Some symbols aren’t exactly that clear, which can make receiving an enemy attack a little riskier than it probably should be. Having some kind of in-game guide would also help when picking cards to add to your deck as not knowing this information makes a tough game even harder. The game’s learning curve is already steep, so refusing to explain how things work just comes off as irritating more than anything.
Whilst these issues are likely to be addressed further down the line as the game gets updated (atleast, I hope so!), my main gripe is something far more fundamental and less likely to be altered. Most of the best deckbuilders tend to give enemies their own themed attacks to fit the character and make the fights more memorable, but here most of the enemies just feel the same. They have great designs, but their attacks just tend to blend together. The occasional one feels unique, but I couldn’t tell you how the swarm of flies attacks, for example. Bosses fare slightly better with attacks more fitting of their personality, but they still don’t feel completely unique and memorable even then.
If it sounds like I’m being overly critical, it’s mainly because the game has a great foundation that feels really unique and deserves to be a deckbuilder that you’ll play for hundreds of hours. As it is though, it still has a while to go to reach those heights that it deserves. What’s more, the price tag indicates that this should be a finished product rather than just a promise of one – all of which makes this more of a game to keep an eye on rather than jumping on in its present state.
Nadir: A Grimdark Deckbuilder has a really intuitive and enjoyable gimmick, but its lack of polish holds it back a bit. It’s still in development, as the game often likes to remind you, and I’m sure it’s going to be fantastic when they’re done with it, but whether or not that is a risk you want to take at full price is going to be down to you. It may be worth keeping an eye on it instead.