Over the past year or so I’ve developed what you might call a bit of an interest in collectible card games. Mostly I play with physical cards, but sometimes I don’t have the energy to track all the game effects myself. On those days, a digital card game would be welcome.
I’ve dabbled with Magic: Arena off and on, but I’m not much for competitive play. I gave Hearthstone another shot recently, but I don’t jive with its aesthetic or gameplay very well, and it paywalls too much stuff. Google then led me to a lesser known option with the uninspiring title “Eternal Card Game.” Eternal is a free to play CCG with robust support for solo PvE play, alongside the usual PvP offerings.
I’ve been playing Eternal for a few weeks now, and while it’s not perfect, I have largely been impressed by its quality, and I think it may deserve more attention than it’s gotten.
Eternal‘s mechanics are very similar to that of Magic: The Gathering, at times to an almost excessive degree. On the plus side, this makes it a great option if you want a non-PvP alternative to Magic (as I do), but it can feel a little derivative at times.
My biggest complaint is that Eternal borrows my least favourite Magic mechanic: making your resources dependent on cards drawn from your deck. Here they’re called power cards rather than lands, but the mechanic is mostly the same. It makes the game far too luck-based for my liking. Too often I either don’t get enough lands/powers and wind up resource-starved, or I get too many and have nothing to spend my resources on. It doesn’t happen every time, but it happens often enough to be frustrating. It’s a terrible way to lose a match.
Eternal does borrow the more fun parts of Magic’s toolbox as well, though. You’ve got your five card factions with their own strengths and weaknesses, keyword-based synergies, and all the potential for cool card combos you could want. Eternal has been around for six years and has pursued an aggressive content release schedule, so the card pool is quite deep by now.
One area where it does distinguish itself from Magic a bit is that Eternal does make extensive use of its digital-only format to implement mechanics that couldn’t exist with paper cards, such as effects that permanently buff cards you haven’t even drawn yet, or creating new cards from thin air.
And of course, there’s the PvE. Eternal has an extensive list of single-player campaigns that flesh out the story of its world and characters. There’s a lengthy tutorial campaign when you first start the game, but after that you need to unlock the remaining campaigns with real world or in-game currency.
It’s a long grind if you want to unlock them for free, but on the bright side, the paid option is relatively inexpensive, with each campaign priced at $10 USD, less than half the price of Hearthstone‘s paid campaigns. Each campaign also unlocks a large number of exclusive cards to use in deck-building, and unlike in Hearthstone, most campaign missions can be played using decks of your own design, with only occasional missions that use pre-mades for story or instructional reasons.
The plot isn’t likely to win any awards, but considering the game’s extremely limited story-telling tools, I’d argue the quality is pretty solid and the voice acting is surprisingly good. Many campaign missions also use unique mechanics that spice up the core gameplay. In short, the campaigns are a good ride.
The campaign isn’t the only option for PvE play, either. If you enjoy drafting, there’s also a versus AI draft option called the Forge.
But what really takes Eternal the next level as a solo play option is the Gauntlet. The Gauntlet is a highly replayable mode wherein you choose a deck and then battle through a sequence of up to seven AI opponents. The Gauntlet ends when you’ve beat them all or lose a certain number of times, and then you gain rewards based on how many you’ve beat. The final fight of each Gauntlet also features some kind of unique mechanic or twist.
The replay value here is vast. I’ve been playing for a few weeks now, and I’m still regularly encountering enemy decks I haven’t seen yet. The AI is pretty smart, and its difficulty dynamically adjusts based on your performance, consistently maintaining a level of challenge that’s respectable but not overwhelming. Add in how many different options there are for player decks, and you have a mode that could continue to provide fresh experiences for dozens if not hundreds of hours.
The Gauntlet is so good it puts Eternal‘s competitors to shame for not having something similar. Even if you’re not a big PvE fan, I can see it having a lot of utility as a low pressure environment you can use to test decks before throwing yourself into competitive play.
There are still a few points of frustration if you want to play Eternal strictly as a solo player. While there are some daily quests that can be completed in any content, many can only be completed in PvP. You can reroll them, but odds are you’re still going to often end up going a few days between quests that you can complete solo.
The fact that the Gauntlet allows you less losses before kicking you as you progress in ranks also means that it gets less rewarding as you get better at it (albeit only slightly), which is… an odd way to do things, to say the least.
I don’t think it’s wrong that PvP is the more rewarding path in Eternal, as it is objectively more challenging, but these specific ways in which solo players are disadvantaged create a bit more frustration than necessary.
Still, if you’re a solo player, Eternal will treat you vastly better than Hearthstone or Magic: Arena will. And if you also enjoy PvP, then you’re going to have a wealth of great options available to you.
One of the quotes on Eternal‘s Steam page hails it as “by far and away” the most generous of the digital CCGs. To be honest, I’m not sure if “generous” and “collectible card game” are terms that go together, but it is definitely fair to say that developer Dire Wolf Digital offers you more bang for your buck than their competitors do.
For one thing, absolutely anything with any kind of gameplay effect — from campaigns to cards — can be earned for free with in-game gold, as well as being bought for cash. If you do go the paid route, the prices are generally pretty reasonable, too; I’ve already mentioned how inexpensive the campaigns are.
Something I noticed early on is how big the packs are. Each card pack you open in Eternal gives you twelve cards, which is roughly twice what you get per pack in Hearthstone and Magic: Arena.
The reality is that if you want everything, you’re still going to have to either do a lot of grinding and/or fork over at least a bit of cash, but it definitely feels like it values your time and money a lot better than other, similar games.
With smaller games like this, longevity can be a concern; we don’t want to invest into a game that might shut down tomorrow. However, while Eternal seems to have a fairly small player population, it does seem robust enough to keep the game healthy. When I have tried PvP, my queue times were quite short, and the game is still getting regular balance patches and infusions of new content. It’s been around for six years already, so it’s already shown some longevity.
Overall, despite some rough edges, Eternal feels like a real hidden gem of online gaming. I’m already almost forty hours deep into it, and I’m not planning to stop any time soon. If you want a new digital card game in your life, and especially if you’re craving one you can play solo, give Eternal a look. I think you may be pleasantly surprised.