Monster Train is a deck-building game with an essential twist. You’re on a train, and it’s objective is the heart of hell. Now, I’ve only played a few deck-building games in my time. I’ve mostly logged several hours on Magic: the Gathering, with a touch of Hearthstone and Gwent.
However, Monster Train provides some excitement that may just overrun my love for any of the deck-building strategy games mentioned above. With single-player and multiplayer available, you can perform hell runs on your own or against friends online.
Before we get into the heart of our Monster Train review, we suggest playing AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell ‘ in the background for absolute reading enjoyment.
|Platform reviewed:||PC (Steam)|
|Release date:||21 May 2020|
|Price:||£19.49 / $24 / R150|
|Players:||1 (Campaign) / 8 (Competitive multiplayer)|
|Publisher:||Good Shepherd Entertainment|
Monster Train Story
In Monster Train, you’re running on a railway that takes you straight to hell. Now, we’ve become used to the cliche of being the good guy that attempts to destroy hell. However, your mission is to rail to hell in order to save it.
Hell has frozen over. Literally. There are five clans that aren’t too happy with this. So, they board a train with the full intention of lighting the heart of hell up again. Yet, the angels and all of heavendom will stop at nothing to prevent you from doing so.
There are eight levels to right through before you enter the frozen heart of hell. Your Monster Train has three levels to defend, with an uppermost level reserved for your burning pyre. Hosts enemies will enter each level and fight their way to the top, hoping to destroy the fire that will reignite hell.
The five clans are known as Hellhorned, Awoken, Stygian Guard, Umbra, and Melting Remnant. You’ll start off with the first two, unlocking the rest in the Campaign as you progress. In Monster Train, you may select a primary clan and an allied clan. Doing so will determine the types of cards you can play with on your hell run.
What’s also fantastic is the ‘Choose your adventure’ elements found in the story. This will determine how the stages play out and which upgrades you’ll receive. We’ll tackle this some more in the Gameplay section of our Monster Train review.
Playing Monster Train
When we started playing the deck-building game for our Monster Train review, we expected it to be just like every other card game out there. Whether it’s Hearthstone or Gwent, we’ve become accustomed to table board games where you have a surface to fight opponents against.
In Monster Train, the developers took deck-building games to the next level, introducing roguelike features. At first, you must select your clan. You’ll start off with the Hellhorned, but unlock more as you proceed.
Furthermore, your first visit in Limbo starts off with a tutorial. You’ll be gifted a champion with a few playing cards. Enemies enter the first level and attack any defenders there. Furthermore, they will rise to the next level every turn if you don’t kill them.
There a burning pyre at the uppermost level of your train carriage. While you’re doing your best to kill the foes off, their mission is to destroy that pyre. Its health is represented by a red ruby in the upper left corner of the screen.
Every turn’s cards are randomised, so you’ll have to make do with the hand you’re given. Players will receive better cards as they progress down to hell, ultimately making you stronger with each stage. However, you’ll need it, as the enemies grow stronger too.
The Combat system
The outcome of each battle is determined by the small heart meter under each creature. Set bonuses and armour are also displayed there. As soon as the heart meter runs out from damage, the creature dies and the slot opens for a new beastie.
To make it easier to understand how each stage plays out, we’ve summarised it here for our Monster Train review:
- Preparation: Place your champion and any minions you have.
- First wave: enemies enter level 1 and attack. Choose which cards you want to attack or defend with, or rejuvenate your forces. Your creatures will automatically defend when attacked. You’ll only use your cards for special attacks.
- Second wave: Enemies that survive the first wave proceed to level 2. New enemies enter level 1. Each side takes turns attacking and defending.
- Additional waves: With each new wave, surviving foes move up a floor and new enemies enter level 1. Should any creatures make it to the pyre, they will attack first, with the pyre defending itself in return. While the pyre usually deals fatal damage killing everyone on the floor, it will still receive some damage first.
- Final wave: The stage boss arrives. There is a standoff between the boss and each level’s defenders until one side is wiped out. The boss freezes the defeated level and moves up.
- Final outcome: Should the boss reach the pyre, with all your defenders destroyed, the pyre and boss take turns attacking each other until only one is left standing. If you die, it’s completely game over. If you win, you can choose your rewards and progress to the next level of hell.
Choose your path wisely
We were excited to find a certain ‘Choose your adventure’ type of gameplay. With each level towards the frozen heart of hell, you must decide which track you want to rail down. Fortunately, you can hold your arrow icon over the rewards of each rail to see what you’ll receive.
While this definitely makes choices easier, there are times where it will be difficult to decide. We always favoured the side with a new champion or creature card. However, sometimes you’ll have to choose which clan’s champion you want the most.
Standard cards and champions won’t help you in the long run. As you progress through hell, the enemies grow stronger. Yet, each stage will afford you the opportunity to level up your cards, magic or artifacts. You’ll need to choose carefully though. Each side of the rail offers different upgrades and you can’t go back to make a different choice.
Complete your collection
We love collecting items in a game. We also love games that allow us to view our collection. This is why we’re so delighted to write our Monster Train review!
The deck-building game provides players with a logbook. In this logbook, there are various sections that include the following:
- Overall level progress and card collections per clan.
- Your entire card collection, with toggles to filter what you want to see.
- Dark forge upgrades unlocked per clan champion.
- All your collected artifacts, with empty slots showing what you’re missing.
- Stats leaderboard to compare your scores with other players.
Completing your logbook collection isn’t the only reason you’ll replay Monster Train. When you die, it’s not completely game over. Each time you start over, it’s referred to as a ‘Hell run’. You can play a new hell run with cards and champions already unlocked!
In essence, you’ll die many times in the beginning. Yet, that’s ok. The game is designed for infinite hell runs. Each run is different, which means you’ll never become bored. There are different enemies at different difficulty levels, upgrades, and cards to collect which seem to be completely random.
However, we’d like to note in our Monster Train review that becoming better at the game doesn’t mean you reach the heart of hell any quicker. In one run, we managed to attain level 5.
We obtained improved upgrades and cards but failed to pass level 3 the next run around. So the difficulty progression isn’t linear. It’s all down to strategy and how well you play your hand, so to speak. Yet, the more you level up, the better your chances.
We’d like to write a quick word for the multiplayer action. There are three main sections in multiplayer. Hell Rush is the main competitive mode, where you can race against seven other players for the highest scores. Furthermore, you can accept daily challenges or create your own challenge for other players to attempt.
The only feature that would improve the strategy game is if there was a multiplayer co-op mode for the campaign. Since there are two rails to choose from, you and a friend can take either side and battle enemies in your own respective challenges. If one of you dies, they reset in Limbo and try to catch up with you again. It would have been a great way to play the main missions together.
How Monster Train looks
There are many elements we adore about this deck-building game’s graphics. First, it’s the originality in design. Gone are the standard tabletop layouts, and in comes this new 2D side-view action. The graphics are absolutely superb and we love the design of the cards, upgrades, creatures… everything!
The only downfall is with the cut-scenes. While performing our Monster Train review, the videos froze about three times. There are no glitches during gameplay, only during certain cutscenes or when loading a new stage. However, it didn’t crash the game completely. Patience was a virtue indeed, and the game continued after waiting 10 seconds on average. We suspect this may be fixed with a future update.
How it sounds
Monster Train features a delightful soundtrack. On the Steam page, you can buy the soundtrack separately. Trust us when we say that the soundtrack for Monster Train is worth buying at that low price. There are some amazing songs, and the title of a song appears at the top of the screen when a new one starts.
The battle sounds are just as great. While there is no voice acting for the story text, you’ll hear some during the attack and defence moves. You’ll hear every cry of pain and glorious shout of combat during each wave of battle.
Monster Train : Final Verdict
Overall, this strategy deck-building game is amazing. It brings a delightful change of pace to the standard tabletop card games we’ve become used to. The lore of the story receives top marks from us, where you can read the details of each clan, creature and ability in your logbook or before entering the fight.
The superb gameplay, graphics and sound all contribute to our high Monster Train review score below. If you’re quick about it, you can grab the 10% discount offered on Steam right now. We truly believe that Monster Train is worth buying, even without this discount.
|OVERALL SCORE: 9|
|STORY: 10||SOUND: 9|
|+ Exciting story elements|
+ Amazing creatures and champions
+ Choose your adventure story type
|+ Soundtrack that suits the action|
+ Sounds of battle
– No voice acting for story text
|GAMEPLAY: 9||GRAPHICS: 9|
|+ Fantastic power ups and upgrades|
+ Infinite replayability
– No multiplayer co-op mode or dual runs for campaign
|+ Stunning scenes|
+ Not the usual card game design
– Cut-scenes freeze at times
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