Preview: Shattered Heaven
More and more, I feel like the most important thing in a game’s genre is how it decides to defy it. The way developers take the broad strokes and general idea of the genre and present you with something that feels fresh and new, or at the very least hasn’t been seen in a while. Shattered Heaven, published by Leonardo Interactive, brands itself as a rogue-lite deck builder, but what I found most interesting were all the ways it pushes that label.
So, let’s start with all the ways it fits. You explore randomly generated dungeons with random events and battles, and you battle by selecting cards from a hand you draw from a deck. As you explore the dungeon you get more cards added to your deck, and managing that is key to succeeding. So far, so good.
As far as differences, right off the bat there’s an emphasis on exploring new dungeons and succeeding at them, rather than the typical run-based roguelike experience of expecting to be sent to the start over and over until you finally succeed. While I certainly felt challenged, it felt expected that I would succeed at a given dungeon first try. The feel in this regard is more along the lines of your usual RPG.
Likewise with combat and progression. You have a full fledged party, all of whom have their own preset playstyles and preferences. You play as all three, and you need to keep their strengths and weaknesses in mind both when choosing your actions and building your deck. The main character Andora is a prime example. Most cards come in either ruby, sapphire, or emerald colors, and she benefits from playing one of each color. Because of this, it’s important to not absolutely flood her deck with one color. Complicating this is how you get new cards.
After every fight you’re given three “neutral” cards (ones not specific to any one hero) and you need to choose who gets what. Emphasis on “need” – you can’t just opt out and every character gets one. While the cards aren’t “bad” per se, each one is still reducing the chances of pulling specific cards and altering what they may be capable of. This makes for some fun deckbuilding situations where you really have to consider what actions are core to a character’s strategies, and what you’ve given them so far, whether that’s considering what may synergize with their toolkit or simply trying to avoid foisting all the junk onto one character.
Each character also has a number of passive traits and active skills which you can unlock in a massive skill tree, and after completing a dungeon you’ll get new cards which you can swap into your permanent deck. Both of these serve to give you more control, especially the skills. They each have costs or cooldowns associated with them, but are otherwise always with you no matter what you draw and can be really handy if you need a certain effect and your deck just isn’t cooperating there.
The other major difference is an emphasis on story. In this world, humans killed their gods long ago, and ever since have lived a tenuous and fleeting existence. There’s a hard cap on their age, and of the four tribes, only one is able to bring new life into the world. That is determined by whichever one’s vestal manages to win that right in the War for Ascension held every ten years. You play as Ashram’s vestal, Andora, alongside her guardians, the stalwart Magni and the outcast Ishana. Face the trials, perform better than your peers, set right ancient wrongs and save your people. Seems easy enough at first glance, but things are rarely so simple.
Your salvation may doom another, and little cracks start to form here and there about if there may be another way. You wouldn’t be the first to try, as one of your first tasks is to deal with a traitorous vestal who chose a different route herself. While the demo only went through the first couple dungeons, even this early on we are shown both the doubts about the way things are, and the consequences of those who tried and failed before.
There’s no shortage of cutscenes and conversations both between dungeons and during them. I would say I easily spent more time getting to know my companions and rivals than I did fighting the monsters, and they are quite the lively and varied bunch. As with the difficulty and expectations of the combat, this is another area where I would say this game falls more in line with a typical RPG. You’re making impactful choices, getting to know a world full of lore, and coming face to face with questions and mysteries.
Shattered Heaven may have been introduced to me as a rogue-lite, but I feel like the emphasis is on the “lite.” At its core, it’s a dungeon crawling RPG that uses cards and random generation to add spice and uncertainty to the adventure, and in doing so manages to capture the best parts of both rogue-likes and classic RPGs. I look forward to seeing how the full game pans out in Q4 2022.
Preview copy provided by Leonardo Interactive for PC. Screenshots courtesy of Leonard Interactive.