NFT Game Review: Gods Unchained

*Editors note: I pretty much had the bulk of this review written after playing this game for a few days. The general take-away was more than positive. However, after getting deeper into the game, and specifically, playing in a ‘Weekend Tournament’ where there are real chances to win some rewards, the insidious nature of this game really showed its opportunistic, greedy, ‘let’s scam kids out of money’ morals.

The grift works like this. “Hey kids, want some FREE NFT collectible cards? I know you do… here… take some more… that’s it. See how shiny they are. No, no… they’re free… go on… that’s it. You want to play with them don’t you? Here’s our game. You can earn money! Really! Just try it and see if you like it. Oh hey, look at that! You won! You’re REALLY good at this. Here’s some more cards. Oh look, you won again! Man, you are a pro right out the gate. Here, have some more cards. Oh by the way… we are having a tournament this weekend. Geez… you sure are good, you should bring your shiny new cards and compete. There’s some swell prizes we know you’ll want to win.”

*Kid shows up to the tournament.

“Oh darn… you got your ass completely handed to you. Oh wow, it happened again? Hey, I see what’s happening… those guys have better cards than you. That sucks, huh? Well you’ll get’em next time I’m sure. Oh, you didn’t? Lost another seven in a row? You got completely wiped off the board over and over again with zero chance? Huh. That’s a bummer. You know what would fix that? If you bought more cards. Hey, you can even buy the expensive cool cards like the ones that just beat you senseless. Then YOU can be the guy who is beating people up and …. ***The game developers notice some other wide eyed little kid looking at the game.

“Hey buddy, you want some free cards?…. here ya go.”

See how it works? They’ll bait you in with a bunch of ‘free NFT cards’. But when it comes time to compete, you will find yourself woefully out classed by players who have either a) taken the rich kid path and just bought their way to having a powerful deck or b) have been playing the game MUCH longer than you, and have amassed a collection of cards that can beat anything you own easily. It’s see-through transparent, sketchy as all hell, and a design choice that really takes a lot of the enjoyment from the game. They WANT you to get your ass handed to you by ‘better’ cards. I wouldn’t be surprised if they even had bots playing, that lose to you in the beginning to build up a false sense of confidence in the game, and then later on, they come with just slightly better cards than you, just to make you want those cards as well.

Me about to get my ass handed to me by someone with much better cards,

In the first three or four days playing the game, I could go 20 rounds and maybe lose 2. (again, bots? In retrospect, pretty damn sure some were bots, I mean, players generally don’t make mistakes that dumb, even when learning a game, but I’ve no proof of this). Granted, the game is designed to advance you along tiers to better find where your deck and playing level is best matched. And that’s great. But that’s NOT what the game is doing. As soon as there is a tournament, or something more than the daily grind on the line, then I went 1-8 before seeing the scam for what it is. EVERY deck I played against, all of sudden, has cards I’ve never seen. The borders signify rarity and set types, and yeah, these are all next level cards. The ‘fun’ of the game screeched to a halt as my opponents would pull out cards that would just shut me down, kick my ass, and the game was over in a few rounds. The balance is completely warped. Again, that’s no accident. It’s to make you buy cards.

I had praised the game for rising above the Splinterlands model that basically boils down to just having powerful cards and very little skill to playing the actual game.

An analogy for your money?

Gods Unchained… if the devs weren’t so perversely greedy in how they are trying to manipulate kids out of money… would be a game that leaned heavy on skill… with some deck building and THEN collecting aspects rolled in. But in its current form, it’s set up to bait you in with easy win victories, then purposefully make you lose when you hit the level where there is something to win, so you will be ‘encouraged’ (more like psychologically manipulated by morally-deprived game designers) to buy more cards.

So player and buyer beware. It’s too bad. They could have just made a fun, competitive game with a balanced ranking system that DOESN’T put newer players in the pools with people who obviously have way better cards to build way better decks.

But that doesn’t generate the same kind of money just screwing with people does. And Gods Unchained knows this.

 

(The following is the original review before I realized how corrupt the bait and switch of this game truly was.)

 

Play to Earn (or P2E) NFT and crypto games are all the rage. It’s hard to even keep track of all the new metaverse NFT collectible mutant minted combo card games and battle monsters.

You’re looking at over $900 worth of monster. Seriously.

There are the top tier, high entry games… like Axie Infinity. To even play the game, you need to buy a few NFT minted monsters. The low end of which run in the hundreds. Oh, and you need three of them to play.

If that’s a little too rich for your blood, Splinterlands has done quite well for itself over the past year. With a minimal $10 entry fee… the collectible NFT card game has seen an explosion in its player-base. This has driven the price of old and rare cards through the roof. It’s not uncommon for cards to command prices in the 10’s of thousands of dollars.

And while I don’t want to diverge into a Splinterlands review, it needs some understanding to view the current landscape of these games. From the outside, it looks a bit like Magic The Gathering. I use that as an example of a collectible card game as it’s one of the most popular and most gaming nerds have some experience with it or at least know someone who got addicted to those packs of cards like they were 80’s era DC street crack. But as far as the ‘game’ of Splinterlands goes… anyone who has played it will agree… it barely qualifies as a strategy game. At best, it’s a ‘guess what your opponent might play’ game, based on his previous hands, and build a quick 2-6 card hand that will beat it by the rules of the game. Once the cards hit the table, the match has already been decided and recorded. You are just watching a replay. The cards animate and ‘play’ themselves based on the ruleset of the game. It’s not entirely unfun, if not leaning on luck and holding some choice cards. And one of the main draws of the game past the collectible NFT card aspect, is how, if played with a little knowledge, (and again, some choice cards), players can grind away and earn real life crypto. Top players can earn upwards of a $100 or more per month, just playing this game less than an hour a day. And as players grind, they earn random chests, which just might contain a NFT card that the player now owns.

Splinterlands: Fun… if you like watching a computer play your deck.

There are more layers to that game, and whatever its formula is, has proven to be highly successful with one of the largest player bases for its genre at the time of this writing.

Which brings us to the very excellent Gods Unchained. (*would have been very excellent if not for the blatant bait and switch.)

Which is another NFT collectible card battle game, that is A LOT like magic. Seriously, it plays almost 80% the same as Magic. There are some fundamental differences (especially in how Mana is handled), but anyone that played Magic, will quickly take to Gods Unchained.

While the game was announced in 2018 and put through extensive Beta testing in 2019 and 2020, it was with the rise of the NFT craze of 2021 that Gods Unchained has started to draw more and more people into its strategic battle arenas.

I’ve given the game a good run three nights in a row, and it seems, they are being VERY generous with the NFT cards for new players. I’ve receive multiple packs, with lots of rares, epics, and so far… 4 Legendary level cards. Two of which are identical, which means once I’ve earned enough in game currency, I can mint those two NFTs that I own, into a single new NFT that I own, but is worth considerably more.

I’ve collected a total of 4 Legendary Cards so far. Market value of each is currently around $4.00, Not bad for a free to play game.

And much like Splinterlands, (sorry for the continued comparison, but I’m playing them both actively at the moment, so it’s just easy to draw the lines of similarities and differences)… the game has ‘seasons’, which are time-frames, lasting from a few days to a few weeks, in which a player has to win as many battles as they can. Each battle won levels them up and raises them through a ladder of progressively skilled leagues. The best players make it to the top, which is where the rewards are the juiciest.

But how does the game actually play?

(all the following works really well if you just stick, ‘kinda like Magic The Gathering’ unto the end of every sentence).

There are 6 Summoners represented by different colors. You can use one color to build a deck of 30 cards. Each card costs Mana. Mana is generated progressively each round. So round 1, you get 1 Mana, round 2, you get 2 Mana, and so on, with the Mana pool resetting at the beginning of each turn. As the ‘summoner’ who holds the deck, you have 30 life points, as does your opponent, which you are trying to knock down to zero. The strategy lies in building efficient decks, that utilize the strengths of each card. Often cards have abilities that play well off other cards, so when played together, create unexpected and hard to counter decks. There a few different layers, and couple more moving parts that require a quick mind and bit of mouse skill to execute well. One of the games best features is the timer that forces players to make a move or forfeit their turn. If you are quick, and take as little time as possible and end your turn early, it effects how much time the other player will have on their turn, which can put on the pressure when trying to figure out the most strategic way to battle through your opponents line to strike the death blow. (*That is… when the game isn’t trying to scam you out of money by stacking you against opponents with a WAY better deck in some lame attempt to push you into buying more cards).

Gods Unchained will give you a deck of each color to start and allow you to build your own decks as you earn more cards.

It comes down to 3 core aspects. How well you can build a deck (meaning: how efficiently does it flow and take the enemy down), how well you can PLAY that deck (meaning: are you making the most efficient choices to deal the most damage in the quickest way), and how many cool cards do you manage to pick up along the way (meaning: some rich snot who has been playing way longer than you will show up with some legendary fuck-you-over-but-thanks-for-the-easy-win monster card that just shuts down the entire board). Ok, that’s only happened once in like, 40 rounds… but that’s always a factor in these kind of games. (*unless, as mentioned, you are actually trying to compete for prizes, in which case, it won’t matter how well you can build a deck, or how well you can play that deck, or even how many cool cards you think you have… because the game is going to purposefully stack you against decks with cards you don’t have a chance against, regardless of your skill level.)

*Generally, I have kicked some major ass playing this game. In the early ranks, I didn’t even need a good deck. My past experience with Magic allowed me to understand this game, and how to maximize damage efficiently so I not only walked across 90 percent of my opponents… I could actively watch what mistakes they were making on the board. As I’ve risen in ranks, I’ve come across a few more players, with more experience, and better cards… and I still win 18 out 20.  (*I now laugh at this paragraph, written by someone who was tricked into thinking he kicked some major ass, when it was most likely bots, or the very least, matching me with decks with similar level cards.)

And here is were I would have closed this review up with some positive takes and a glowing recommendation. However, as the intro made clear, this game has some seriously questionable mechanics in play that are…. let’s just call it out… a dirty trick… to manipulate you into spending money on the game. I know… surprise, a ‘P2E’ game that presents itself as one thing, but is really something else.

This one just did a better job of hiding it.

But to be fair to Gods Unchained… ALL collectible card games suffer from difficult entry points. Especially when matched with players who obviously hold an advantage in both the number and selection of cards they have available. The game could do more to make sure overpowered decks aren’t stomping on the new-comers, but that seems to be more of a problem during tournaments, which, again to be fair, should favor the strong. And it will take some time and/or money to get strong at Gods Unchained.

But along the way, you sure will get some nifty NFT cards. For free. So no matter how well you do… you just can’t beat some free NFTs for just checking out a game.

Final verdict: The game is fun. Consistently losing to better cards that you don’t have is not. The free NFTs are a sweet deal no matter what. The core of the game-play is tight with a lot of encouragement to progress. Since the game is still rolling out features, the actual ‘grind to earn crypto’ mechanic does not seem to be present at the time of this writing. Nor does there seem to be any mechanic for passive income by renting out your cards (Splinterlands does this and it’s an excellent model that I’d be surprised if Gods Unchained doesn’t adopt in the near future). If you play, and have minimal skills, you will earn cards. If you understand the game, and have some quick math skills, you can earn even more cards quicker. Certainly more than most current NFT games. So if you like Magic The Gathering and/or are down for some free NFT collectible cards from a game that looks like it has a bright future… give Gods Unchained some of your precious attention and see how many Legendary cards you can pull!