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Written by Rob Larkin on 9/3/2020 for SWI  
More On: Faeria

Collectible card games, or CCGs, are ubiquitous across platforms. They basically follow a pattern: you gather a collection of all cards from different classes, choose a deck of a limited size to play based on some ruleset of which combos are allowed, then enter an area to go head to head with an opponent, typically using your minions and spells to whittle their hero's life to zero for a victory condition. It's all fun and good, and mostly free to play, or F2P, with microtransactions littering the menus to speed up your progress.

Just about all of these games offer a cross-platform experience with a slow progression for F2P players, and the ability to sink hundreds or even thousands of dollars into the game in microtransactions to unlock the best cards and decks for those with the will and means to do so. And people do pay those thousands for that competitive edge. They are known as "whales." The whales are the lifeblood of so many of these games to the devs, but the bane to so many of the F2P players. They are the players that will have every new DLC card within hours of release, that will throw out decks raining elite after elite card, that you have little chance to actually compete against and will create an artificial barrier to ever climbing to the top of the ladder, because ultimately the endgame of a CCG is to do just that: test your mettle, and your deck, against the top competition in PVP matches.

Along comes Faeria to shatter that mold. There are no whales in Faeria. There can't be, because there are no microtransactions for them to artificially buy their way to the top. Every card is available through the base game or the DLC. While there are ways to slightly boost your progression, every player can catch up with a full deck in a reasonable about of time, and not exclusively playtime. The PR claims "Faeria is also the only card game where you can gain all 300 cards in less than 50 hours." While many of those hours can even be done offline, the reality is it will take longer for most of us to accomplish—but it can be accomplished. Also, unlike the endgame of most CCGs, Faeria is not a slave to the PVP ladder. Actually, the vast majority of the game is to be found in single-player challenges and progressions. And if you're thinking, "How can a CCG pull off a robust enough single-player experience to make it even work?" Well, let me introduce you to the gameplay.

You see, other CCGs, they're pretty much all about the cards. Faeria isn't just about the cards. Some, like Hearthstone or standalone Gwent, add a bit of spice with unique powers of your hero, but it's icing on the cards. Some, like TES Legends do bring the board into play more, but it's still all about the cards. Faeria has the cards, but it's all about the board, which in most matches, begins as a blank slate. Before you can even smash your opponent's face in Faeria, you have to build a bridge to even get there. Unlike the cycle of other CCGs—play cards, perform actions, end turn, repeatFaeria adds an entirely new dynamic to the rotation: build the board.

Before you can even drop most creatures, you need to fill the hexagons with land. You got your base Prarie land for neutral creatures, and then elemental lands of Desert sand, Lake, Mountain, and Forest for the different corresponding classes. Each turn you can choose to drop two neutral Praries, or a single elemental land. You can also forego building land to choose an extra mana point (used to actually play cards in your hand onto the board) or to draw an extra card if you're satisfied with the terrain as is. You can't drop those elemental creatures without enough of the corresponding elemental tiles to your name. And once a tile is taken it's yours (for the most part, there are special cards later in the game but let's not get ahead of ourselves).

You can only play on empty tiles adjacent to your hero, adjacent to an existing tile of your own, or adjacent one of your minions on the board. So you begin on opposite sides of the board and the early game is simply creating the path to traverse to the opponent, block their own progress, or wandering over to the map corners where orb wells lie to snag extra mana. Before you can being the endgame of dropping your most powerful creatures, it's a land grab to build paths, drop in low power minions, snag orbs, and build up your mana reserves. The board is as much the game as the cards, and presents an entirely new depth to the strategy of CCGs. 

But you still need the cards too, and your base deck isn't going to get you very far. You can complete daily quests and earn new battle chests that can be used as packs to open new cards. Chests can also be used as currency for Pandora mode, you wager the chests for even greater rewards at the end of a Pandora run, but mostly the Chests are simply opened to give you a few new options for building your decks. However, it is through crafting that you will ultimately build out most of your collection. In most CCGs crafting is done by miserly saving up all your gems or soul tokens or whatever MacGuffins and then one day dropping them all on the most expensive exotic, legendary cards. In Faeria you start crafting from as soon as you level up enough past the tutorial to open the mechanic.

Because there is no currency of the realm to horde and save, crafting is based on time. At the onset you'll only be allowed to craft Common cards, so you do, as you level up Rare and Epic card crafting opens too. So the majority of your deck is built out in a natural, progressive way. This is the "300 cards in less than 50 hours" promise from the Faeria advertising. There is a cooldown on the crafting, so all of that time need not be in game. Make sure you've crafted your limit and then head off back to the real world, return after the cooldown and craft some more. This will take you up to the Legendaries, and from then it's up to you to play the game and unlock them. Legendaries are obtained through gameplay only, via those battle chests. They can be earned in the Pandora mode, from completing all the solo quests, or via the PVP called Battle mode. 

Decks are really open to any cards, limited by the elements you choose to place in game. You could create a rainbow deck, but elements build on each other and the number of elements required on board to play the toughest minions means you're not likely to have much more than an element or two featured in a deck. I mostly built around one element with the occasional multi-element card that meshed well with what I already had. Basically, if I'm running a Forest deck I am losing momentum to stop and have to drop a Mountain in there for that multi-element card. So it really needs to be worth it, and with some of the dual element cards that already incorporate Forest, maybe it is. With cards created and a deck formed, it's time to hit the modes.

There are the solo challenges in the form of various opponents and decks, some interesting twist to the base maps, occasional problems to solve where you are given a set of cards in hand and asked to win in a single turn, etc. There are lots and lots of ways to play solo, some very challenging, all very fun; and that takes up the bulk of my experience, and it's a joy. It's a really fun game to play, has great depth, and the loads and loads of single player modes and challenges more than fill up the return on your investment the base price of the game. 

There is also the PVP component, Battle mode, but you need only wade in the shallow end before you will quickly realize these are waters you dare not swim unless you open up the DLCs. Thus far there are three DLCs with additional cards and a fourth with additional challenge problems. All DLCs are available for Switch at launch, so there is full content parity with the PC version. The three card-based DLCs added 40 cards each for 120 new cards total across them all, and only a few games in will show you just how hamstrung you are trying to go toe to toe without them. There are some pretty cool cards in there that make for great combos with the base deck. Each card based DLC is $10 additional and the challenge DLC, Elements, is another $7. You can compete in PVP, but you really need the DLCs to do so on a level playing field, and ultimately that adds another $30 bucks to the $20 already invested in the base game. So for the full PVP experience, you're looking at the total cost of a single AAA game, around $50. That is so, so much less than required for the other CCGs out there, unless you are willing to wait an eternity (or the player base to die out) to painstakingly build your deck as a F2P player.

For example, my primary CCG is The Elder Scrolls: Legends (TESL). As an F2P player, I finally started making it into the higher monthly legends rank and landing top 100 in weekend events nearly a year after starting the game, and much of that success is probably due to the dwindling player base since the developer and publisher have basically abandoned the game, putting it on ice in maintenance mode only. But that's how long it took to scrounge the soul gems to finally make a deck that could compete at the top tiers, without paying a dime; and I consider TESL to be the most generous of the traditional CCGs out there at rewarding free loot. Still, a year, a full year to get to the top of the game organically, versus the option of dunking a few hundred, maybe a grand in card packs and getting there overnight.

Or you could play Faeria and have most the collection done in a few dozen in-game hours for an investment of $50. 

With Faeria, we're all on the same level ground, but it does require that time commitment to get there. Time is the currency in question here. Time to craft the base collection and possibly more to finish off a dominating set of Legendaries via the battle chests earned through play. As awesome as this level playing field is, the field only exists on a single platform at a time. There is no cross-save. So progress earned on one platform, like Switch, does not carry over to another, like PC. So if you're like me, and first found this game on PC, and have invested a significant amount of time in building your collection and completing puzzles, the Switch version welcomes you back at square one, an empty collection and the opening tutorials all afresh.

This continues that trend of Faeria breaking the mold of traditional CCGs who are happy to transfer your progress between devices; but in this case we're not so much breaking things in a good way. I know the arguments as to why. I'm not expecting the devs or publishers to give away the game for free. I don't even mind having to repurchase the DLCs across multiple platforms, but it's the lost progress that pains me. It's a great game, but I can't possibly invest half a hundred hours in one platform to do it all again in another just to play endgame content wherever is most convenient at the time. I simply don't have those hours to spare. The lack of cross-save forces you to choose a single medium on which to invest, and locks you in. That's just not great, especially when just about all the other CCGs out there don't do that. Gwent is the only other game I remember taking this tack, and it's the reason I gave up on Gwent. 

So if I have to choose a platform, then Switch seems the obvious winner. It's portable, I can take it wherever I go, dock it when I'm not on the go. What's not to love? Well, unfortunately, while great care was given to the match experience of playing a game, everything about this translation to the portable console is anything but portable. The matches itself are great. Buttons have been reworked to compensate for the loss of mouse, and there is a fully functional touchscreen to boot. I'd say the actual match experience of going head to head with your opponent actually exceeds the PC and all its keyboard full of unused buttons.

However, outside of the actual match the game suffers greatly from a lack of awareness of what happens to fonts when smooshed onto a 6.2 inch LCD. From what I can tell, no care was taken in translating the sizing of all out-of-match text, and most of it becomes unreadable when used in handheld mode. Again, matches are great, everything is bright and bold and easily deciphered; but this is a deck-building card game, and trying to squint through the micro-font when you earn a new card or review your collection when building a deck is so difficult it's not even worth playing until you have a chance to dock again and can plaster the interface back on in full screen on a monitor or television.

There is also the fact that the game requires an always-online connection to actually run. Collections are held in the cloud. Without a valid internet connection the game will stall at the loading screen, helpfully telling you to go find one. Despite the vast majority of the game being played in a single-player mode and done so on a portable console, the online requirement really strips much of the portability out of the package. So not only can I not see much of what I am trying to manage while on the go, I can't even connect to the game if I wander outside WiFi range. Problem solved, right? Can't complain about fonts when the only one you see is the one that's large enough and telling you to find a network connection. 

If you have any interest in CCGs, then Faeria should be high on your list of games to play. It's fantastic. However, at the end of the day, the lack of cross-save is probably going to make you have to choose one platform to invest into Faeria. Because you can't buy your way to the top, because it demands so many hours to craft your way there, because Legendaries can only be won by more hours, it's prohibitive in a commodity that's possibly more relatively costly than your money: your time.

As it stands I love Faeria, I think it's an adorable game, it has fantastic mechanics, is loads of fun to play, has robust game modes that don't just pigeonhole you into PVP, it's all done across a level playing field for all players, it utilized the board itself to layer on an entirely new level of depth to a genre I can't get enough of... But I don't think I love it on Switch. I can't hardly play the game except when docked anyway. I can jump into a single match and have a grand time, but checking out newly won cards or deck building caused too much eye strain to make it worth it. I can't play on the go because as soon as I wander out of WiFi range the game shuts down. Every hour I do sink into it feels wasted as I'm still behind where I left off on PC, and am far from utilizing the best the mobile console has to offer. It's these little niggling annoyances that do not actually ruin the experience, but left in the bind of having to choose a platform, are enough to make me stick with PC.  

If you haven't invested in Faeria yet and are starting anew, if you're happy to use the dock to read the fine print now and again, then I recommend Faeria wholeheartedly. But having already been invested in the PC version, I have to score this just that little bit lower than I would on the other medium. It is essentially the same game, just significantly harder too read on the native Switch LCD and impossible to play in some of the moments I most turn to my Switch for, such as pulling it from my carry-on inflight. The limitations are not experience breaking, but are at odds with how I want to use my Switch and take advantage of the preeminent portability the device provides. This is not really a portable game, hence my decision to ditch my progress here and stick to the PC which is sitting there next to my Switch dock anyway. If I'm going to be tethered either way... 

Here at Gaming Nexus, we tag the 8.8 score as Class Leading. The way Faeria ditches the traditional CCG models, it deserves that distinction in every way. But in that same breath I admit I would rate the PC version something in the 9's. Simply add cross-save, or fix the fonts outside of the match experience, and I'd bump the Switch version into the same lofty atmosphere. Add them both and I'd be hard pressed not to give it a 10, but I'm reviewing the game I have at my disposal to actually play, not the game I want, so Class Leading it is.

The gameplay of Faeria is top notch, adding a whole new layer of depth to the Collectible Card Game genre in bringing the map itself in as a critical piece of the strategy. The rules are fair, as is the playing field as there is only the cost of the base game and DLC to factor into your, and your opponent's, gaming experience. It is loads of fun to play, has some great atmosphere and artwork to enjoy, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. However, it does not take advantage of many of the things that make the Switch so great. It does not handle the native LCD well with fonts in many places that are just too small, it also loses much of its portability in its mandate to remain always online in order to play. It remains a fantastic gaming experience, only one ever so slightly less fantastic that its PC counterpart, and the lack of cross-save will force you to choose a side, so choose wisely...

Rating: 8.8 Class Leading

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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 First picked up a game controller when my mother bought an Atari 2600 for my brother and I one fateful Christmas.  
Now I'm a Software Developer in my day job who is happy to be a part of the Gaming Nexus team so I can have at least a flimsy excuse for my wife as to why I need to get those 15 more minutes of game time in...

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