Illuvium: Has the 'AAA' NFT Gaming Messiah Arrived?
If you’ve been a part of the 90s and early 2000s, the word ‘Pokémon’ is bound to bring a flood of happy memories. I remember the evenings I sat in front of the TV waiting for the clock to turn five, passing my time chanting ‘Gotta catch ‘em all!’ right before Ash Ketchum popped up on the screen, running along with Pikachu bursting into that sweet melodious show tune.
Do you remember?
It goes like this; “I want to be the very best like no one ever was…. to catch them is my real test. To train them is my cause!”. Ah, it’s safe to say that my attachment to the show was a bit too strong.
For those unfamiliar, ‘Pokémon’ was one of the biggest videogame and TV series franchises in the 90s and early 2000s that swallowed the attention of young whippersnappers such as myself. I’d argue that it remains relevant even today, especially in the realm of collectables.
Some rare Pokémon trading cards have sold for huge sums of money, with some owned and purchased by famous internet personalities like Logan Paul. It seems like collectors are truly lining up to catch ‘em all.
Over the years, many others have tried to emulate the success of the Pokémon franchise, especially in gaming. But very few have been able to capture even a fraction of the attention and success. The low success rate can be attributed to the countless copycats that are hardly distinguishable from the original. The few that did succeed were able to do so by creating engaging storylines and universes that managed to emulate some of the core game philosophies of Pokémon without compromising on their originality.
This got me wondering if there was a blockchain native that resembled Pokémon and all its wonders. It’s safe to say that I found quite a few copycats—blatant plagiarisms without a hint of originality. However, I did stumble across one diamond in the rough that seemed like it could possess some redeeming qualities that might poise it for success.
This was ‘Illuvium’, a 3D auto battler crypto game on the Ethereum network which possessed Pokémon-inspired game mechanics. Notably, Illuvium is still currently in development and only in its Beta test phase.
In this article, I outline my research findings after taking a deeper look at the project and its plans. I highly recommend you read the entire piece to truly understand whether Illuvium is a game that would be worth your time and money. I delve into the project’s team, history, game mechanics, tokenomics and ‘play-to-earn’ model.
What is Illuvium?
Illuvium is a decentralized 3D open-world fantasy RPG game where players can explore the landscape, collect alien beasts called ‘Illuvials’ and battle each other in the ‘Battle Arena’ to win Ether. The game draws inspiration from Pokémon for its open-world game structure and aims to be the first truly AAA game in the blockchain gaming ecosystem.
If you don’t know what a ‘AAA’ game is, don’t worry. It’s pretty simple, ‘AAA’ is an informal title given to games from major publishers with big budgets for game production. These games are usually considered the best of the best, both in terms of gameplay and in the graphics component of the game. In traditional gaming, a few examples of this would be Elden Ring, God of War and GTA 5.
To ensure that players have a ‘AAA’ gaming experience, Illuvium utilizes the Unreal Engine 4.26. and has several highly skilled contributors working on the game. Each of the battles within the game is run in a simulation coded in C++, which is then hooked to the Unreal Engine to be visualized. The simulation is deterministic, allowing players to replay their matches in extremely high-quality cinematic reels.
As far as the lore and universe of the game are concerned, the game follows a blend of outer-space fantasy adventure meets Pokémon. Players of the game are passengers on an intergalactic spaceship that crash lands on a dying planet filled with mysterious creatures that seem to possess mystical powers and abilities. These mysterious alien creatures are known as ‘Illuvials’.
All survivors of the spaceship now begin their journey towards exploring the planet by becoming hunters that subdue and tame the alien beasts of the planet. As hunters, you use the tamed Illuvials to explore further lands that can be unlocked by activating obelisks that you find along your journey.
All Illuvials that are successfully tamed result in a new NFT minted and sent to your associated wallet address. These NFTs represent the Illuvial captured and can be traded on the native market of the game.
The game runs on the Ethereum blockchain and utilises Immutable X (a layer-2 that utilises ZK rollup technology) to provide players with zero gas fee transactions while leveraging the security of the Ethereum network to secure the in-game assets.
Illuvium Team & History
The game was founded by the Warwick brothers, namely Kieran, Aaron and Grant Warwick. Interestingly, they happen to be the younger brothers of Kain Warwick, the founder of the Synthetix Protocol- a synthetic asset DeFi platform. Yes, ‘that’ Synthetix, the DeFi platform with over 1 billion in TVL.
The Warwick brothers were naturally interested in crypto due to their older brother’s influence; however, the idea for Illuvium didn’t hit them until the latter half of 2020. It all started when Kieran came across Axie Infinity and their play-to-earn ecosystem. Heavily inspired by the concept of play-to-earn and game asset ownership through NFTs, Kieran set out to develop his own blockchain game.
This was when the idea and concept for Illuvium were developed. Kieran modelled the game based on the Pokémon game mechanism of capturing, taming and battling monsters and combined it with an auto battler style combat system from ‘League of Legends’ and ‘Teamfight Tactics’.
While the brothers were part of the founding team behind the game, the game and its development were formally managed from the outset by the Illuvium DAO, a decentralized autonomous organization made up of ILV token holders.
The Illuvium DAO elects a council of representatives called the ‘Illuvinati Council’. The council members acting as community representatives vote on proposals after debating. Currently, Illuvium has over 150 contributors aiding in the game's development.
The game is made up of four core components that are used extensively in the worldbuilding and gameplay of Illuvium. They are:
- Game Items
Let’s look at each of them briefly, shall we?
Illuvials are the alien creatures present on the dying planet on which the player begins his journey. They can be likened to the monsters from the Pokémon series, being similarly capable of changing forms and executing and learning different attacks as they level up and progress.
The game currently has over 100 Illuvials for players to find and tame, with each possessing unique abilities based on their class and affinity. All Illuvials released in the game will be acquired by players playing the game and capturing them. The Illuvials will not be sold as NFTs separately. This ensures a fair launch mechanism for the project.
There are currently five classes and five affinities that each Illuvial can belong to. Similar to Pokémon, each Illuvial can evolve from its base form up to its final stage. Notably, final forms of Illuvials called the ‘Ascended forms’ can sometimes possess a stacked version of classes or affinity.
For example, an ascended form of a water illuvial may possess two stacks of Water affinity, which gives rise to the ‘Overflow’ affinity, or it might possess a stack of water affinity with air affinity, which gives rise to the ‘Frost’ affinity. A similar stacking system is also present for the class variable of Illuvials in their ascended forms.
Classes- There are five primary classes of Illuvials- Fighter, Guardian, Rogue, Psion and Empath. The class component of an illuvial influences the bonus power gained from synergy when creating a team of Illuvials. For example, a team compromised completely of Fighter Illuvials might get an attack bonus. In addition, ascended forms of Illuvials can sometimes embody two classes simultaneously, such as Slayer (Fighter + Rogue), or become stronger in a single class, such as Invoker (Psion + Psion).
Affinity- Each Illuvial in the game is connected to at least one of the five primary elements of the game- Water, Fire, Earth, Air and Nature. The affinity of an Illuvial influences its advantage over the opponent’s illuvial in a battle. For example, a fire illuvial will have stronger attacks against nature Illuvials and weaker attacks against water Illuvials.
The Illuviary is similar to the Pokédex from Pokémon. It is a database comprising information on all the Illuvials present in the game. However, players will have to travel the regions and discover the Illuvials before viewing the complete details on the Illuviary.
Illuvium has combined the blockchain element to this process by inscribing the name of the person who first discovered a particular Illuvial after the game's initial release next to the official entry of the Illuvial in the worldwide Illuviary database.
Apart from Illuvials, there are other game items represented as NFTs that can be traded on the open market. These items are used to aid in the process of capturing and taming Illuvials.
The four primary items that a player can use in the game are:
Shards – Shards are slivers of crystal used to capture and control the Illuvials after a victorious battle. They are NFTs and one of the most important items in the game. Shards come in different tiers, which influence the success rate of capturing a particular Illuvial successfully after the battle. Each player is given a set number of shards when they begin the game. After that, any additional shards can be mined from deposits within the game world. Shards are tradeable on the IlluviDEX.
Weapons- Weapons are NFTs that can be equipped onto the player's avatar before the battle. Unlike Pokémon, even the player can directly battle Illuvials in the game. Weapons equipped influence the class of the player's avatar. This class can provide bonus synergy to your Illuvial team, depending on the composition of your team. Weapons are tradeable on the IlluviDEX.
Armour- Armours are NFTs that can be equipped by the player on his avatar. Armours are forged from items mined on Illuvium and act as a defence against damage from the beasts that we fight. Armours are tradeable on the IlluviDEX.
Imbues- Imbues are cosmetic improvements that can increase the worth of a player's collection by distinguishing their purchases from others. Imbues are modular; thus, you can use them on several goods or sell them on the IlluviDEX. Various game components, such as weaponry, armour, and even your Drone, can be imbued. They are similar to paint cans in games like PUBG.
Illuvium will initially launch with a limited number of regions that will be accessible to players. Later on, players will unlock Obelisks which allow for travel to new beautiful, challenging, and important regions that come with new Illuvials to battle and collect and shed more light on the story and lore of the game. The regions will be tiered, and the Tier 0 region will be available for free to play players to explore and form an opinion before investing capital into the game.
Illuvium Basic Gameplay
The game is planned to be a free-to-play single-player open-world RPG in its current form. Players begin the game by customising their character and selecting an accompanying drone that acts as a sidekick. The player then begins his journey to explore the game's open world and collects and battles Illuvials that they encounter. Defeated Illuvials can be captured via shards and minted as NFTs. Every player has five key game mechanisms or modes that they can engage in while playing the game. They are as follows:
The adventuring mode follows the general story adventure of the main character. Players can also freely travel across the available regions of the game's open-world to catch and tame Illuvials.
Over time, capturing Illuvials will get more difficult. As more are discovered, their capture rate will fluctuate, as it is inextricably linked to the number of Illuvials that have been captured thus far. However, the more time you spend adventuring, the stronger your crew and team will get.
Mining and Harvesting
The second activity that players can engage in while playing the game is 'mining and harvesting'. If you've been wondering what purpose the drone we selected as a sidekick served. Well, here is your answer- the drone plays a crucial role in mining minerals from the planet's surface and forging them into useful items. The stronger and rarer the quality of materials mined, the better the forged item will be. Mining is also used to gather free low-quality shards for capturing Illuvials.
This is perhaps one of the most essential aspects of Illuvium's gameplay. Battles in the game can be made or broken by team synergy. Synergies are symbiotic partnerships formed amongst Illuvials based on mutual affinities or classes.
Illuvials are stronger in the Battle Arena when they work together as a team, so make sure to acquire synergising pairs to increase your chances of winning. Varied synergies grant your side different benefits, allowing you to outsmart your opponent—even if they have Illuvials with greater raw power than you.
Illuvium follows a fusion system for evolving Illuvials to their next stage. To evolve an Illuvial to the next stage, you need to collect three that have reached their maximum level. These three Illuvials are then fused into a single, more powerful creature.
The most effective way for Illuvials to reach their maximum level is to participate in many combat situations and gain experience to level up. This fusion system helps the game adopt a burning mechanism ensuring that there isn't an over-inflated economy of Illuvials in the market.
The Battle Arena mode of the game will be released shortly after the initial release of the game. Battle Arena is a mode in which players can challenge other players to win Ether. There are two planned arenas, both with different rules- Ranked Arena and Leviathan Arena.
In the Ranked Arena, players will be on equal footing. Experience levels will be normalized, and each Illuvial will have a point cost, making combat much more skill-based.
The Leviathan Arena will have no such restraints. Spectators will be able to wager on the outcomes of these matches as well. This is where players can assert dominance and show off their collection.
When the battle starts, each Illuvial will choose an opposing target to attack. They will collect energy throughout the battle as a result of attacks and damage. When they reach a particular threshold, they will activate a special Ultimate Ability that has the potential to affect the game's outcome.
These Ultimates have the ability to deal damage, strengthen friends or themselves, obstruct enemies, or strike with such force that foes are hurled around the arena. When one squad is completely defeated, the battle is over.
Illuvium has planned for a series of mini-games, the first of which is ‘Illuvium: Zero’. Illuvium: Zero is a base-building mini-game that introduces the concept of NFT lands in the Illuvium metaverse. NFT Land in Illuvium Zero will produce resources that can interact with the main game. There will be 100k plots of paid land in total, and the first land sale will offer 20k of these plots for sale in a dutch auction format.
The IlluviDEX is the native online marketplace of Illuvium. Players can use the IlluviDEX to trade NFT assets between themselves. The IlluviDEX is managed by the Illuvium DAO. The IlluviDEX is currently in development with plans to enable the trade of Illuvials, Weapons, Armor, and Imbues on the IlluviDEX.
When can I play Illuvium?
The game is currently available to a select group of players in its private beta test phase. There is an open beta planned for Q1 of 2023. The dates for the main game launch are yet to be announced.
Illuvium Token Economy
Illuvium is powered by two tokens- ILV and sILV2.
- ILV Utility
ILV is the IlluviumDAO's ERC-20 governance token. Holders of ILV can engage in governance by proposing protocol improvements and electing members to the 'Illuvinati Council,' which will vote on the proposals.
ILV token holders can also make a return by staking their tokens in the liquidity mining program. Staking rewards have a 12-month vesting period, or they can be claimed as sILV2 and utilised for in-game purchases right away. Finally, all in-game revenue generated from in-game purchases and marketplace transactions is transferred in the form of ILV to stakers.
- sILV2 Utility
sILV2 is a synthetic ILV token that is used exclusively within the in-game economy. The sILV2 is pegged to the value of ILV and can be used to pay for travel and shard curing within the game. Moreover, sILV2 cannot be used for any other transactions, including the transactions on the IlluviDEX marketplace.
ILV Token Launch
ILV has a total maximum supply of 10 million, out of which a total of 6 million ILV were distributed initially. Another 4 million ILV will be slowly distributed over a period of three years through yield farming and in-game rewards.
From March 30th to April 2nd 2021, 1 million ILV (16.67% of initial supply and 10% of total supply) were distributed to the public through a Balancer Liquidity Bootstrapping Pool. The remaining tokens were distributed privately as follows:
Pre-seed investors- These investors received 500,000 ILV tokens (roughly 5% of the total supply) at the rate of $1 per token. Since they took on the highest risk and supported the project, they were given cheap prices.
Seed investors- These investors received 1.5 million ILV tokens (roughly 15% of the total supply) at the rate of $3 per token.
Team- The founding team was allocated 1.5 million ILV (roughly 15% of the total supply). These tokens were locked for a period of 12 months which were unlocked in March 2022.
Treasury- The project treasury also called the Illuvium Vault was allocated 1.5 million ILV (roughly 15% of the total supply).
The ILV token is currently trading at $471. The token reached an all-time high of $1916 during the bull run for gaming coins in November of last year. The token is currently trading sideways maintaining its price between $450 to $700.
Where to buy $ILV?
According to Illuvium’s official website, the best DEX to purchase Illuvium would be SushiSwap as the official liquidity pool of the project is hosted on the platform. ILV is also available to purchase on centralised exchanges like Binance, Kucoin and OKEx.
Can I stake $ILV?
Yes, there are two primary ways in which ILV can be staked. Both methods require you to stake on the official website of the project. The first would be to stake only the ILV token. The second would be to stake the liquidity token of ILV/ETH pair.
The platform requires a minimum lock duration of 1 month when depositing tokens. The longer the lock duration, the higher the yield rewards redeemed. Any rewards claimed also has a 12-month vesting period before they can be received as ILV.
The Illuvium DAO is officially made of ILV token holders. The DAO also primarily functions as a decentralised gaming studio. The Illuvium DAO has an elected list of representatives called the ‘Illuvinati Council’. The council members acting as community representatives vote on proposals after debating.
The DAO governance is handled via two types of proposals, Illuvium Configuration Change Proposals (ICCPs) and Illuvium Improvement Proposals (IIPs).
ICCPs are used to update System Configuration Variables, which include council values, marketplace fees, capture mechanics, and balance changes. IIPs are used to make improvements to the protocol, such as new contracts, new systems, expansions, and character sets.
Proposals are submitted to the Github repository and will be posted on the Illuvium Proposal space. There, they are voted on by the Illuvinati Council and recorded on-chain. Proposals must reach a supermajority agreement to be enacted.
In order to place checks and balances, the governance mechanism utilizes quadratic voting to reduce the voting power of large ILV holders. Furthermore, despite the council reaching a consensus, an ExecutionerDAO is set up to act as a backstop for the protocol in case of emergency.
Illuvium raised a total of $5 million dollars in the pre-seed and seed funding rounds from a range of investors which include Framework Ventures, Delphi Digital, IOSG Ventures, and Moonwhale Ventures among others.
As a project still in the development stage, and one that is involved in the play-to-earn space, one of the biggest risks that I see for Illuvium is a failing game economy. Most play-to-earn AAA gaming projects in the past couple of months have seen declining economies. Even Axie Infinity which is touted to have one of the best gaming economy models had seen its game economy crashing hard.
Gamers, strictly those in the blockchain gaming sphere, look at blockchain games as alternate sources of income. While game developers insist this shouldn’t be the case, it is what it is. In this light, it remains to be seen how well the community would react to an actual AAA game on the blockchain.
For a couple of years now, there have been a lot of play-to-earn games in the crypto industry. But none of them can truly be called engaging or well-designed. I personally have been playing quite a number of these games over the past year and I can shamefully admit that all I’ve had to do was click a few buttons on the screen to earn some crypto.
There were hardly any games that I could play for hours on end and actually strategize over. But don’t get me wrong, this is not to say there aren’t ANY good games currently in the industry. There are definitely a few fun and interesting games that have been developed or are currently being developed by major game studios like Animoca Brands, Sky Mavis, Gala Games, etc. But I’m not entirely sure how many of them would qualify as AAA games.
This is where Illuvium comes in with its claim to be a ‘AAA game on the blockchain’. While I am absolutely in love with the game design and graphic models of Illuvium, I’ve remembered to take it with a pinch of salt keeping in mind the brutally short life span of games in the blockchain and play-to-earn space.
Disclaimer: These are the writer’s opinions and should not be considered investment advice. Readers should do their own research.