Illuvium review: Is this a true AAA NFT game?

Illuvium is an open world RPG meets auto battler with an economy based on collectable NFTs and resource mining. Is it worth your ILV stake?

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Illuvium verdict | Pros and Cons

Quick Verdict: Illuvium looks promising on paper. There's a deep progression and rarity tree to the collectable Illuvials, and a clear plan for a budding economy. The mix of 3D exploration and auto battler combat should shine in Unreal Engine 4, too. However, there's very little game development experience in the team, as well as no serious footage of gameplay in action to back up the proposed experience.

Pros

  • Deep and enjoyable gameplay mechanics
  • Unreal Engine 4 promises immersive world
  • 100% of revenue goes back to the community
  • Strong token release strategy
  • Room for expansion and spin-offs

Cons

  • Novice development team
  • No genuine gameplay footage to back up plans
  • Pitches based on concept art
  • Game delay likely
  • Only 100 Illuvials at launch

Is Illuvium really set to be the first AAA blockchain game? That's the claim from co-founders Kieran and Aaron Warwick. And we've heard such a claim many times before in the short history of NFT gaming. However, Illuvium has gained significant momentum since 2020.

In 6 short months, the game passed 100,000 Discord subscribers. And between July 2021 and October 2021, the ILV token went from USD$30 to USD$700 in value, helped by its appearance on leading exchanges like CoinSpot.

In this article, I'm going to break down the gameplay experience promised by Illuvium, as well as dive into the game's tokenomics. Is Illuvium set to be one of the best NFT games of 2021?

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What is the Illuvium release date?

It's scheduled to go into an open beta in Q1 of 2022. However, that's already a delay from Q3 2021. If the meagre footage available as of September 2021 is anything to go by, that Q1 2022 target seems unlikely.

Is Illuvium free-to-play?

Not all regions offer the same difficulty or even access. There is a base Tier 0 realm that is free-to-play and can be experienced by all. It gets you used to the game's mechanics and to the idea of tracking down and collecting Illuvials. Indeed, you can mine for free Shards, which can capture the most basic of Illuvials in the game.

However, if you want to step up to the Tier 1 and higher regions (it looks like it goes up to Tier 5), then you will need to put some skin into the game. You'll pay in Ethereum (ETH).

What formats is Illuvium on?

No formats have been announced, although you can lock in PC and potentially Mac. There is a mobile spin-off title in development – called Illuvium: Zero (see bottom of article) – and the current strategy will see it used as a way to mine resources for the main game while on the go.

What is Illuvium's premise?

Your position in the intergalactic space fleet turns pear-shaped when you crash land on an irradiated planet that's been punished by some sort of cataclysm. Most of the place has been devoured by the ocean and what land remains is getting battered by natural disasters while giant obelisks, created by some previous inhabitant, block access to some regions entirely.

Your goal is to discover what caused this event to occur and to unlock the obelisks as you go. To do this, you will need to mine the land for Shards, which can be used to capture Illuvials, subduing them for use in your little private army.

Illuvials are God-like creatures that roam this unnamed planet empowered by radiation. You can think of them as being a lot like Pokémon. Or at least, Pokémon given a mature kick up the backside, taking away that cheesy Nintendo shine in the process.

At the start of the game, you will be able to customise the look of your character. You will also be able to choose a drone that will accompany you on your adventure as a sidekick. It's called the Polymorphic Subordinate Drone, or PSD.

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Illuvium gameplay explained

Illuvium pitches itself as an open-world RPG, which would put it alongside the likes of The Elder Scrolls or Cyberpunk 2077. If it was AAA. Very early footage shows a 3D world with large environments filled with reasonable amounts of detail. It's built in Unreal Engine 4, which is a particularly robust middleware solution for this genre. And the colour palette does recall that engine's most popular game, Fortnite.

We've been promised a range of environments, although we've only had a glimpse thus far of what they may be – mostly in the form of concept art. Some footage has been leaked of a barren rocky island, surrounded by beaches and water. However, it looks bland and very linear for something that's supposedly open world. A day-night cycle has been suggested, too.

Travelling through the overworld is done on foot or through the Obelisks scattered around the world. Towns also exist near these Obelisks, which is not only where you will craft new gear, but will provide a safe haven away from Illuvials.

As you explore, you will come across Illuvials – the creatures of the land. These aren't roaming freely, but instead phase in and out of the world. Which is a fancy way of saying they just pop up suddenly at random battles – an archaic gameplay mechanic from old Pokémon and Final Fantasy games. You don't get to track them down like Monster Hunter.

You can battle against Illuvials (see combat section below) and, if successful, you have the opportunity of capturing them in a Shard. The chance of capture is defined by the power of the Shard versus the power of the Illuvial you're trying to capture. Captured Illuvials become part of your collection for future fights. The better and more robust your collection, the deeper into the game world you can progress.

What are Illuvials?

The Illuvials are the Pokémon of this world. Or the Axies, if you prefer. There are over 100 to collect, which is a little underwhelming if you ask me. Pokémon Sword and Shield had 400, for example. The Illuvials are broken up into 1 of 5 affinities (Water, Earth, Fire, Nature and Air) and 5 classes (Fighter, Guardian, Rogue, Psion and Empath). They also have 3 life phases to level-up through, growing from cubs into deities.

However, as you get towards the endgame, you come across rarer, more powerful Illuvials that can have multiple affinities and classes. In addition, you can fuse 3 fully-levelled Illuvials together, generating new variants with rarer abilities. The game also favours players who build up collections of likeminded Illuvials, allowing them to "synergise" and enhance one another's powers.

Throwing an extra curve ball into the mix are rare captures. Each time you use a Shard, there is a small chance it'll be mutated into a Shiny, Rainbow or Holo form – getting rarer in that order. These change the look of the Shard and make it more valuable to the NFT's owner.

On paper, this capture process does have some interesting (although far from unique) depth. While those in pursuit of earning some rare (read: valuable) NFTs have something to look forward to from the Fusion concept, Illuvials will also level-up through combat, so will theoretically improve as they are used in-game.

Every time you capture an Illuvial, that NFT is minted. If you fuse 3 Illuvials together, a new Illuvial is minted and the 3 existing NFTs are burned. However, it's not clear whether the result of a Fusion is randomised or preset.

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How does combat work in Illuvium?

Illuvium's combat takes its nod from the auto battler genre; an emerging gameplay experience that started to get traction a few years ago. Auto Chess was the trendsetter, but Dota Underlords, Hearthstone Battlegrounds and Teamfight Tactics are also notable entries.

An auto battler is a game where you have no real-time hands-on control of the actual fighting. Instead, it's all about team building and strategy. In this case, using your Illuvials. What Illuvials have you collected? How have you upgraded them and fed them with resources? How do the stats, level, class and type of your assembled team synergise together? Each Illuvial has a basic, critical and ultimate attack to consider, too.

Then, of course, these strategies need to be considered with respect to the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent.

It's very much like a card collecting game (CCG) in this regard. Or indeed a Pokémon title. However, with an auto battler, once the pieces (read: Illuvials) are placed on the battlefield, you step away and watch on in a passive capacity to see if you got your pre-fight strategy correct. It's not clear yet how many fighters you'll bring into each battle, but screenshots suggest it's 8 Illuvials.

It's worth noting that your player character is always on the battlefield, too. While the player is passive in battle, their avatar is active. It can add affinity and class auras that enhance the attributes of your assembled team of Illuvials.

You can also bond your character to an Illuvial to grant even more additional bonuses. This isn't well explained as yet, but is described as being semi-permanent. It suggests that taking this route may allow you to capture more Illuvials by having a more powerful team, but may deflate the value or even burn that particular NFT as a sacrifice.

Mining resources

Your drone is used to mining resources from the planet's surface. Ore, uncured Shards and gemstones can be uncovered, all with varying rarities. These can be used to create new armour and weapons, or enhance those you already have. The improvements you make here govern the auras your player character emits in battle which, in turn, buffs your Illuvials.

You can also harvest organics from the trees that dot the world. These can be provided directly to Illuvials to offer limited-time enhancements during combat. One example allows you to harvest a poison goo, which can improve an Illuvials' attack stats.

Illuvium Review 1

What are the game modes?

There will only be 1 mode at launch: Adventure Mode. Much of the gameplay described above occurs within this mode. After launch, we can expect 2 battle arena modes to arrive: Ranked and Leviathan. The former creates a level playing field for skill-based matches. The latter is a free-for-all with whatever collection you've got.

Interestingly, the developer has indicated plans to allow for in-game betting on the battle arena modes. It will be fun to watch how governments around the world look (read: frown) at that!

Shards explained

As you've no doubt gathered, Shards are the Pokéball of Illuvium. These are mined from the ground in uncured form and the quality of the Shard you recover is random in strength – well, random in that the stronger, the rarer. You need strong Shards to capture strong Illuvials. So if you venture out without a couple of good Shards up your sleeve, you run the risk of coming across an Illuvial you can't capture.

Who is developing Illuvium?

Frustratingly, like many developers in the NFT and blockchain gaming space, the developer of Illuvium has no name. And, for me, this is always a red flag. Looking into the 2 co-founders raises further concerns. Brothers Kieran and Aaron Warwick, out of Sydney, Australia, have no game development history of note.

The former – Kieran – is an entrepreneur. While Aaron has a long history as a coding hobbyist, he has never worked in a game studio environment. There's very little notable gaming experience across the grander team. Only former Irrational Games (BioShock), Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider) and Arkane Studios (Dishonored) alumni Nate Wells, who only exists in an advisor/producer capacity, is of note.

This doesn't mean they can't develop a great game, but I'd put question marks over any first-time developer claiming they'll revolutionise NFT games by producing a AAA title. I've covered the indie gaming scene since it became a thing, and this is the kind of BS I've heard a million times over.

For the record, the game is being developed using the popular Unreal Engine 4 middleware solution and the tokenomics are all underpinned by the Ethereum ERC-20 blockchain. NFT trading is being handled by Immutable X.

Illuvium Review 2

Play to earn mechanics

This is NFT gaming, so the main means of a player making money in Illuvium is to collect and sell high-value Illuvials. However, to get to the rare and most valuable Illuvials requires the player to get deep into the game world.

This requires mining Shards from the world's land, unearthing ore and gemstones that can be used to upgrade and improve gear, as well as harvesting organic resources from plants that can provide in battle buffs. All this as you're capturing, levelling and fusing a team of Illuvials good enough to take on and capture the rare (read: strongest and more valuable) creatures you can find.

As such, there are markets where players can sell the resources they gather, weapons and gear they have crafted, or lesser Illuvials to other players. All the in-game transactions between players are done with the ILV token. The marketplace for all these transactions is called IlluviDEX, and it's facilitated by Immutable X. That's a third-party, layer-2 Ethereum transaction engine that allows for gas-free transfers of NFTs.

It's also worth noting that there are a limited number of Illuvials in the game's ecosystem. So as more of a kind are found, the harder they become to locate. However, there are expansion plans in place for more regions and Illuvials in the future, so it will be interesting to see how they handle their addition without devaluing or annoying existing holders.

While not available at launch, players will eventually be able to place wagers on ranked matches in the battle arenas, too. Land sales have also been touted and even appear as a "coming soon" on the website, but appear to be tied to the Illuvium: Zero mobile spin-off title.

How much does it cost to play Illuvium?

While in-game trades between users are done using ILV tokens, the transactions between the game itself and users all occur through Ethereum. Indeed, you don't ever need ILV to play the game.

There are 2 ways that Illuvium absorbs Ethereum from the player. The first is they take a 5% fee for any transaction made between players. (There's an additional 0.5% fee that also goes to Immutable X.)

The second method is through purchasing in-game items. The 5 things you can spend ILV tokens on are:

  1. Shard Curing: Used to turn mined Shards into Shards capable of capturing an Illuvial.
  2. Travel: When you want to move between regions through an obelisk.
  3. Crafting: If you want to quick-jump your way to better equipment.
  4. Cosmetics: Add looks and bling, if that is your thing.
  5. Revival: If you can't be bothered waiting for an injured Illuvial to heal, you can jump the process with ETH. A strategy that harks back to those horrid mobile game monetisation approaches.

It's unclear at this point how much it will cost in ILV to cure a Shard, but this is at the core of the game's monetisation strategy. You cannot capture any Illuvials without Shards.

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Tokenomics of Illuvium explained

The maximum number of ILV tokens in the market at full dilution will be 10,000,000. Prior to the game's release, 9,000,000 will be in circulation, with the last million divvied out as in-game rewards and for tournament victories. A further 1,500,000 tokens are already held by the DAO in the treasury for further distribution to in-game achievements and tournaments.

The 2,000,000 ILV tokens distributed during seeding are scheduled to unlock in March 2022, and will be drip-fed out at a rate of 1/12 per month for 12 months. The 1,500,000 ILV tokens held by the team will also be drip-fed out from that time, but at a rate of 1/36 per month for 3 years.

Illuvium Tokenomics

As of the time of writing, a further 3,000,000 tokens are currently being locked away in yield farming for 12-month vesting stints.

Those who buy ILV can stake them in 2 places. There's the direct ILV pool, which is expecting to earn 85% annual percentage yield (APY). Or there is a secondary LV/ETH Sushi Liquidity Pool on Sushi.com – where you must stake both ETH and ILV 1:1. This delivers a 600% APY on the combined amount.

However, the total pool of 10,000,000 ILV tokens may never eventuate due to the ability for token owners to claim their stake early by converting ILV to sILV. This synthetic alternative holds a 1:1 value with the main token, and allows for those who have staked their ILV to spend it in-game before their funds are unlocked. Any ILV involved in these transactions is burned.

100% of all earnings made through the Illuvium game is returned to holders of ILV.

Illuvium Distribution

DAO governance constitution

The Illuvinati Council is elected every 3 months, with 5 community members voted into the seats from those who put themselves forward. Voting power is distributed via the square-root of one's ILV stake. So, 1 ILV gets you 1 vote, 36 ILV gets you 6 votes, and so on. This is to prevent over-domination by whales and seeders.

The council can "debate and distil technical changes", as well as look at ways to distribute the 1,500,000 ILV held in the treasury. However, any changes to the protocol – Illuvium Improvement Proposals – require a supermajority to be enacted.

Where to buy Illuvium (ILV)

You can currently buy Illuvium from the following exchanges:

Name Product Deposit methods Fiat Currencies Cryptocurrencies
CoinSpot Cryptocurrency Exchange
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Cryptocurrency, PayPal, Wire transfer, Credit or Debit Card, SEPA
USD, EUR, GBP, RUB, CNY, AUD, KRW, JPY, TRY, VND & 40+ more

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Finder exclusive: New users get $90 worth of Gate.IO points and an airdrop of $5 in GateTokens if trade volume exceeds $100 in their first week. T&Cs apply.
A feature-rich exchange with over 700 tokens including derivatives, yield farming and lending products.
Gemini Cryptocurrency Exchange
Bank transfer (ACH)
USD, AUD, CAD, EUR, GBP, SGD, HKD

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Trade bitcoin, Ethereum and more at a US-based exchange where payments can be made in USD.
Crypto.com App
Credit card, Cryptocurrency, PayPal, TransferWise, SEPA
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OKEx Cryptocurrency Exchange
Bank transfer, Cryptocurrency, iDEAL, PayPal, POLi, SEPA, Faster Payments (FPS)
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Listing over 100 cryptocurrencies, OKEx offers its users a variety of payment methods and coins to choose from.
Hotbit Cryptocurrency Exchange
Hotbit Cryptocurrency Exchange
Cryptocurrency, Epay
USD

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A multi-currency exchange with 150+ pairings that can be accessed through desktop as well as a mobile app.
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Illuvium Zero

What is Illuvium: Zero?

Illuvium: Zero is a spin-off title to Illuvium releasing on mobiles in 2022. It's a city-builder, where players are able to buy a portion of land and then build out a civilisation that can mine resources. If you are playing the game for free, those resources are bound to the Illuvium: Zero game. However, if you have bought into the game, then the resources you mine can be transferred to the main game as fuel to help with your pursuit of Illuvials. You can also scan Illuvials that roam your land, and use this information to create skins that can be sold into the main community as blueprint NFTs.

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