Darkness falls across the land
You awake in a dark place, it’s horrific, and you have no idea what’s going on. After clawing yourself out of that murk, you find yourself exhausted and surrounded by ruins. You stand alive but alone, the sole survivor of a terrible battle that has claimed the lives of many. You set out into a corrupted world, one where the people, creatures, and elements themselves are filled with pitch-black darkness, and you’re going to have to try and fix that.
Ancient Enemy is a card-battler of sorts. It has both cards and battles, that’s for sure, but it’s not in the way you might expect. Often the game feels a bit like playing Solitaire, and a large part of each encounter is finding a card that is one higher or lower than the single card in your hand. As you do this, you can build combos, which increase the power of your attacks, magics, or defence. It’s a fascinating little system, and it makes it feel truly unique in a sea of card-battler games, at least not having played a Grey Alien Games game before.
Pick A Card, Any Card
Each card you pick up charges up one of your moves, and clicking on an action will end your turn. Your aim is to build up a combo, see what the enemy will be doing, and react accordingly. If they’re about to defend, then you want to attack now so that their defence is irrelevant. If they’re going to attack, then you had better prepare a good guard or try and deal lethal damage. It’s an easy enough system to get your head around, to begin with.
Of course, as you progress through the game, you’ll unlock new passive abilities, have far more options for your attacks. You’ll also have to study enemies to figure out which elements they’re weak to and figure out what kind of attacks you should expect. It’s a good combat system, and matching the cards is a lot more fun than I initially expected. It’s got the same satisfying feel as something like Puzzle Quest, which is some of the highest praise I can levy against a game.
The art-style has a wonderful level of grit to it, like the visual equivalent of eating sand, but in a good way. No, I’m not sure what the good way of eating sand is, but if there is one, then it would taste the way this game looks. The dark fantasy world is at its most apparent in the writing, which can feel rather long in the tooth. You get a feeling that the character you’re playing as simply has a lot to say, rather than the writers on the game feeling a need to flex their wordiness. It can make some of the sequences feel a little long-winded but remains mostly enjoyable anyway.
Lunge And Strike
The animations are gorgeous too. Despite the generally static images you find yourself staring at, the attacks have a satisfying amount of force to them, with dagger strikes having the characters clashing together while you swing an arm up, or the enemy recoiling into a defensive position to try and survive.
The flexible difficulty is also a nice touch. You can change it more or less whenever you like, and each one offers something difficult. For example, on the medium difficulty, your health remains consistent throughout a chapter. So if you take a lot of damage in the first fight, then the rest of the chapter will demand perfect play. If that’s not for you, then putting it down to easy will mean regenerating health.
Overall, Ancient Enemy is an incredibly enjoyable game and one that is unlike anything else I’ve played. It feels like it’s been inspired by many of my favourite oddities, but it puts them together in a way that is completely its own, and I adore that about it. The story and exposition can occasionally overstay their welcome, but that won’t be an issue for a lot of people. It’s certainly a game that’ll have you ready to shuffle the deck and start the next round, and that’s the best thing about card games.
[Reviewed on PC]
Jason is the Editor of The Indie Game Website. He’s a lover of roguelikes, soulslikes, and other kinds of likes. He basically spends a lot of time getting beaten up in games and seems to enjoy it.