Upon discovering The Amazing Eternals (formerly known as Keystone) the first thing that grabbed us, and the thing that we subsequently enjoyed throughout our initial look, was the 1960s sci-fi style. It recalls glorious b-movies and classic comic books, and more recently even Fallout-inspired Americana and the niche but hugely enjoyable action-RPG, The Deadly Tower of Monsters. It's tongue-in-cheek, full of homage, and eye-catching; we were immediately impressed.
The Amazing Eternals is more than just its art-style, however, as Digital Extremes has given us a limited glimpse at a hero shooter that utilises a card-playing system not dissimilar to the burn cards we once saw in Titanfall. Simply put, your cards unlock while you play and then you can use them at choice moments during each match to enhance your immediate prospects as you battle with another team over capture points and map positioning.
Due to their burgeoning popularity, hero shooters are sprouting up here, there, and everywhere, and as such it might be easy to dismiss The Amazing Eternals as just another hat thrown in the ring, but we're not going to do that, and that's not just because Digital Extremes has more than proved itself after cultivating a strong and dedicated community around its big hitter, the more traditional sci-fi shooter, Warframe. While TAE certainly boasts a colour palette not dissimilar to the one found in Overwatch, or even the likes of Battleborn and Fortnite, its retro leanings set it apart, and the card element further differentiates it from the pack. Pardon the pun.
After installing the client for the closed beta we jumped straight into a match, instructions be damned. Lucky for us it's actually pretty straightforward, and the shifting objectives in the Fragment Fight mode are clearly telegraphed, and we always knew where we had to go and what we needed to do. Most of the time we ended up playing a mode where both teams have to attack and defend fragments on the map, until one side wins or the timer runs down. We also played a couple of rounds of straight-up deathmatch, and that worked nicely too. Early on we noted the cards popping up in the bottom left corner of the screen, and hitting the corresponding number on the keyboard brought instant results. You can unlock more powerful guns, buff the weapons you're carrying, drop turrets and traps, and mix and match those abilities as desired.
After a few matches have been completed and you've got some experience under your belt you advance through the levels (a nice touch: your progress is measured via a board game), and at a certain point you can unlock a deck-building element whereby you can create your own collection of cards, each one tied to a specific character. These let you play a dozen over the course of a match in an order that you decide before the action starts. This gives TAE an interesting tactical element, where players will have to put thought into how their deck will play out over the course of a game, and which cards need to be placed close together to maximise their effectiveness. As you'll play you unlock booster packs containing more cards, and as you might expect, you can buy them too. Having not seen the rarest gear/cards, at this stage it's hard to say if games will be unbalanced by people investing heavily; we'll just have to wait and see how that plays out.
For the purposes of this closed beta, the game has launched with just six of the titular eternals available for selection. Each one, to its credit, is distinct from the rest, with melee-focused characters sitting alongside mid-range all-rounders and squishier alternatives wielding bows or healing powers. We liked the obvious starting choice of robo-assassin Winter, but later gravitated towards Ray (who, naturally, has a raygun), while our nemesis throughout was Groot-like fighter Bristle. Of course, we're going to want to see more of these eternals and find out how they play together, but we're hoping to see some imaginative thinking around each character's individual strengths and abilities.
It's not just cards that define each character, as they all come with a starting weapon and a couple of powers tied to cool-down timers (grenades, a dash move, a defensive shield: that sort of thing). On top of that, they all look very individualistic, and each one is fully voiced and plays to the stereotypes that they're built to imitate. Sci-fi fans will likely enjoy the homage, and we certainly look forward to a time when the roster is filled with new and interesting characters. The future should be bright, as the art-style and the period it's inspired by certainly hints at some potentially hilarious characters still to come.
Cards and hero characters aside, The Amazing Eternals is still a shooter first and foremost, and in this respect everything seems to be in order. Several of our matches were populated with AI-controlled bots, but hopefully, as more players come on board, this will happen less frequently. We also noted a couple of instances of lag, but it's early days during a closed test, so that's to be expected. Hitbox detection seemed solid for the most part, although that too could do with tightening up. At least it's always clear what's going on thanks to a mixture of detailed health information above the head of each character, and obvious objective markers. Perhaps some of the weapons could have a touch more heft to them, but even then some of the laser-based rifles packed a surprising amount of punch. Generally, though, it looks in a pretty solid state at this early stage.
If you hadn't already noticed, The Amazing Eternals has our interest well and truly piqued. Digital Extremes is bringing some interesting elements to the table and the blend of ideas that have been offered up looks like it holds plenty of promise. We want to see more of the depth offered by the card system, but more than that we're very eager to see future playable characters, because if they bring together a nice blend of distinctive personalities and then flesh them out with interesting choices tied to the cards, Digital Extremes could well have a quirky shooter on its hands that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Warframe.
Update: Since this piece was published it has come to light that the game's development is being paused, with no sign as to if and when it will resume.