I’m deeply thankful to Elements for finally testing out an adventure mode because it allows me to legitimately write about one of my favourite games without having to bend the ‘RPGs only’ rule here at My Boxed Universe. Not that I intend to allow my personal experiences with this title sway me, this will be a fair and balanced review.
It always amazes me that large titles such as ‘Magic: The Gathering’ and ‘Pokémon: TCCG’ fail at producing a computerised experience that lives up to the physical rendition. Magic is especially bad at this, focussing on producing overly complicated visual messes that get refined into new editions on an almost yearly basis without ever thinking to streamline the visual experience to make the games mechanics more understandable. Elements has been online now for over 10 years, and manages to have all the complexity with none of the clutter.
Visually, Elements is a fairly standard looking card game. Matches take place on a wooden table with the various types of energy that powers play listed on the left and your hand displayed on the right. The centre of the field is split into two sections, one for laying monster cards and the other for laying energy generators and on-going effects. Card art ranges in quality but is all presentable and in some cases quite beautiful, with a selection of well over 100 cards available to the player to use. Panning the mouse around the screen shows additional details on whatever it hovers over and shows cards in more detail, with their on-screen representations turned into icons that display health and attack values to save space. It’s all uncluttered and manageable at a glance, even when juggling multiple types of energy in the same deck. Adventure mode offers up a quite beautiful faux 3D world split into hexagons and populated by hovering icons that you engage in combat with when entering their space. Again the level of visual design here far outmatches the art assets, which are already nice, and allows for a master-class in how these ideas can be implemented without resorting to selecting matches from a list. Standard play modes do however include a 5-ranked random battle option.
Sound is well thought out but largely not a focus of the game, with effects for various actions and cards heard over and over again. A coin spun at the start of battle, energy collected and the end of a turn are all instantly recognisable even when playing with half your attention elsewhere and although you will hear them a lot they never become annoying. Background music is used more sparingly and features a nice but short melody that is easily switched off at any time if you’re trying to multitask work and play.
Sadly although Adventure mode is included (currently under the ‘In Development’ banner) there’s no pre-established plot to Elements. Decks have themes based on their alignment and energy types and there’s a significant tutorial in place to teach newcomers the basics of play, but a narrative isn’t something that’s been the focus of the developers. Hopefully with the inclusion of the new adventure mode that will begin to change, especially since the quest-like nature of its layout at this time lends itself particularly well to NPC addition and world building.
Gameplay sees a quite traditional CCG produced to an extremely high standard. Upon creating a login account for Elements the game will prompt you to choose a deck based on one of the 12 elements that the game is themed around. These range from the standard Earth, Fire and Water to Death, Time and Aether and each deck will be tightly themed around the element you choose as well as feature additional cards from a second element to add variety. You’ll also be given a ‘mark’ that will come into play in-game as a free point of energy of the element you chose every turn. This is important because to get more you need to play a growing stack of towers that generate different kinds of energy based on their type and cost nothing to play. Everything else in the game is either a Spell, which takes place immediately, a Permanent which remains in play after paying for it, or a Creature card, which attack the enemy. The aim is basically to whittle your opponents HP down to zero, with every creature you summon helping to achieve that goal or shield you in some way. Permanents also include weapons and armour that you can equip into an active slot beside you mark and will protect you from harm or deal free damage even without monsters in play – adding to the RPG feel of it all. Energy of all 12 types can be collected in-game and is sorted into a handy box on the left of the screen to make it apparent what you have at any given time, and cards you can afford in your hand glow to let you know you’re capable of playing them. This accompanied by a tutorial and the ability to mouse-pan over anything and see an explanation in detail makes for an extremely easy to learn and pleasurable experience. Initially in the main game you’re tasked with various missions which reward you in coins (which you also receive or lose after a battle) and eventually gives way to a way to create rare variants of cards in your deck. There’s also a series of ranked matches cumulating in a battle against a ‘False God’ and an online PVP option that works fantastically. A bazaar allows you to spend in-game currency on new cards of any kind and a free option to change your mark outside of battle allows for players to try out any kind of build they like. An Oracle dishes out free currency and a new card once a day for you based on a random draw, as well as lending you a ‘pet’ which appears as a pre-summoned card on your battlefield until it dies. The adventure mode, though still in development sees you explore a world broken down into hexagons and encounter random battles of varying difficulties as you explore regions based on the 12 elements in the game. Initially starting with a small deck of weak cards you build a better deck using currency won in battle and cards dropped by enemies. It’s an original take on a levelling system that works brilliantly and the games view can be shifted from suedo-3D to overhead at any time.
Elements is a game that outstrips anything else in its field. That it runs using flash in-browser and is completely free amazes me as there’s no monetisation scheme in place here at all, donations can be made to the devs using a button in the top right of the screen but that’s all you will ever see. Anybody with even the slightest interest in card games should give Elements a look, and although progress cannot be saved in the experimental adventure mode at this time RPG fans should check it out too because it has the potential to be amazing. It’s a shame that there appears to be no intention on the part of the developer to create a mobile edition of this title, as it would give ‘Hearthstone’ and similar games a serious run for their money. As it is, Elements remains one of the best kept secret classics on the net.