It’s a fan favorite show, but does it make a good card game?
Seven years ago, Rooster Teeth released “RWBY”, an ambitious series that moved away from its comedic machinima roots to tell a fully-animated story. Taking inspiration from the world of anime, “RWBY” constructed a world of vicious monsters and the young men and women who fight them with a vast array of weapons as outrageous as they are explosive.
Fast forward to today, and “RWBY” is no longer just a show, but a full-blown franchise. It has a manga, a video game and a spin-off chibi series with more to come in the form of a partnership with DC comics and a young adult novel series. Following this ambitious trend comes RWBY Deckbuilding Game, an oddly titled move towards the always-profitable free-to-play mobile card game market. It’s a game that presents a unique offering in this arena. Unlike “GWENT” or “Hearthstone” the game isn’t about flinging monsters at your opponent’s face to knock down their health points, but rather constructing a better deck from a deck of community cards than your opponent. However, much like the original series, its unique idea isn’t enough to save it from falling short. RWBY Deckbuilding Game has been found wanting.
To those not familiar with the deckbuilding genre, there is a little bit of a curve here to understand just what the heck this kind of game is. Thankfully, the tutorial, delivered by Professor Ozpin, does a good job of clearing things up. The main mechanics are actually deceptively simple: spend cards from your own deck to accumulate “power”, then spend that power to buy better cards from the community deck, which offer greater power rewards and also contribute to your “points”. Get more points than your opponents when the community deck runs dry and you are proclaimed the victor. Some cards have certain effects that benefit certain playstyles and characters, which add another level of complexity to the game. In addition, there are boss cards that require a large amount of power to defeat, but are much powerful to use in your deck. There are other mechanics, of course, but a majority of this game consists of this main rhythm: play cards, buy better cards, get points, win.
The core mechanics are tried and true, they offer the same satisfaction and strategy involved with building a deck that has served the deckbuilding genre for years. The problems arise in other areas, mainly the poor optimization of the game and its oft-wonky visuals. The main draw to a game based off a popular property comes from the joy of seeing your favorite world come to life in another form. “Hearthstone”, for instance, capitalized on the immersive nature of “World of Warcraft” to give a fairly simple game extra layers of enjoyment using new art, fun voice lines and incorporating concepts from the main game. RWBY Deckbuilding Game clearly has that same idea in mind, but it lacks the polish to follow through on that idea. Most, if not all, of the game’s card art, is recycled stills from the show, which don’t blend well with the hand-drawn art style of the UI. Card animations are minimal and happen very quickly, often not giving the player enough time to digest what just happened or the implications of the card an opponent picked. In addition, the UI feels “thin”, lacking the satisfying card movements or the intuitive ease-of-play that a game like this demands, especially if it’s going to be played on mobile. Case in point, there were several times during my playthrough that cards didn’t do what I expected them to because the text was too small to read.
This is indicative of the major failing that follows the game at every turn: it feels unfinished. There are the makings of a fun game here. I think the deckbuilding genre deserves a good entry into the mobile card game world, and there were moments where I really enjoyed myself after getting a sick new card or stealing a win at the last minute from my opponent. But it’s lost in the muck of a game that feels like it’s still in Alpha. It reeks of something that was pushed out to market way before it was ready, which makes me wonder if this isn’t so much a natural expansion of the franchise but a cheap cash grab used to take advantage of a fandom’s good nature. A game this glitchy, this wonky, awkward and confusing has no business being released to the market in its current state. And, make no mistake, this game is fully monetized, it’s free to play, but has purchasable deck sleeves and the “Relic Adventure” and “Raid Modes” locked behind a premium paywall. Admittedly, it’s not an expensive paywall, but for a game that has less polish than some completely free flash games I’ve seen, it is a bit insulting.
I want to like these kinds of smaller, independent games that try to build up our own home-grown anime market, but if they’re not finished, then I can’t offer any excuses for them. “RWBY” doesn’t just get a pass because its been made by a smaller company. If it gets some visual updates, if it gets a UI overhaul, if the developers add more voice lines and give the game some more love, then it could be an actual competitor. Sadly, in its current state, I can’t recommend that anyone should play this.