At this point in VR’s lifecycle we’ve seen a few different takes on the classic card-based gameplay format. Dragon Front was one of the first, from High Voltage, but it’s exclusive to the Rift and Gear VR’s Oculus Home platform. We’ve also got the likes of Ascension VR, which takes an existing game and adapts it for the immersive space, but it doesn’t bring the creatures to life in the same way. That’s where new indie game, Manastorm: Champions of G’nar by DaGGaSoft comes into play.
Players can achieve the same basic functionality of Magic: The Gathering by playing with the actual rules and cards in something like Tabletop Simulator, but then it’s only simulating the act of playing the standard card game you could already play in real life. It doesn’t really take advantage of VR as a medium. That’s where Manastorm takes the experience a step further.
While playing Manastorm, I stood behind an alchemist’s table in charge of my forces, evaluating the cards in my hand. To play a card, I’d physically toss it out onto the battlefield using a motion controller, similar to how characters would summon creatures in the Yu-Gi-Oh anime series, or how Ash throws a Pokeball in Pokemon. That small flourish alone is enough to immediately make the experience feel that much more visceral.
From there, I watch as my creatures emerge from the abyss with life. They’ve all got a mana cost, an attack value, and a defense value — just like you’d find in Dragon Front, Magic, or even Hearthstone. My resource for summoning creatures is pulled from a collection of mana crystals that slowly increases over the course of the game.
Tossing cards to summon creatures is one thing, but the immersion goes even farther when I’m able to actually cast spells such as a fire beam. To use it, I’d actually hold out my hands in front of me as if I was actually an all-powerful sorcerer lording over my minions. I can even shoot arrows from an actual bow in the game that requires precision, rather than just clicking or pointing to an enemy.
While playing, I ended up feeling more like the mastermind behind a powerful army than just a player in a VR-ified card game. Even though the abilities are still represented as cards, it didn’t prevent me from briefly suspending disbelief.
The final extra wrinkle added to the puzzle is the inclusion of alchemy mechanics. At a table in front of me, I’ve not only got cards to pick from, but also a small collection of ingredients.
This feature isn’t very fleshed out right now — and neither is most of the game in most regards — but it could quickly become a key feature to help set the experience apart even further. Instead of picking a certain class as is typical in a game like Hearthstone or Dragon Front, the alchemy table could allow players to craft abilities and potions on the fly as necessary ingredients are acquired. Developers could build this out to add incredible diversity to the core game.
As it is right now, the blocking system was bare bones. As a big fan of Magic: The Gathering, I’d love to see that system adapted here, in which you can have your creatures block incoming attacks against you instead of unwillingly taking the damage. Generally speaking, Manastorm is in need of a bit more polish and better-explained tutorials across the board, but it’s on the right track.
It’s still early for Manastorm as it just launched in Early Access on Steam last week. So far, the game’s only been in development by a tiny team for a few months. Features such as multiplayer and a marketplace are being considered as development continues. More cards, creatures, spells, and other feature are intended to be incorporated over time.
You can grab Manastorm in it’s current form on Steam for $4.99 — a price increase is expected once it fully launches out of Early Access. Follow DaGGaSoft on Twitter and the official website for more information.