Caught up in the Hearthstone hype? While you’re waiting for that beta key, you might want to check out Ubisoft’s Might & Magic – Duel of Champions. The online TCG was released in March on PC/iPad and already has three expansions under its belt, including last week’s release, Forgotten Wars.
While the basics of the game will be familiar to TCG veterans – you summon creatures and cast spells in the effort to reduce your opponent’s hit points to zero – Duel of Champions offers a nice twist on the formula that helps it stand out from the crowd. Creatures are played on a 4×4 grid, and there are strict rules regarding where they can deploy and where they can attack, adding a tactical aspect to the game that makes it feel like a real battlefield.
The tutorial teaches you the game in nice, bite-sized steps, ramping you up from the basics all the way up to full games. This continues in the form of the campaign mode, which pits you in a series of duels of increasing difficulty against computer-controlled opponents. Along the way, you’ll earn gold (in-game currency) and seals (cash-shop currency), with which you can improve your deck or buy new decks altogether.
At some point, though, the NPC opponent starts cheating, and cheating hard. “Deck construction rules? Nah, screw those, I’m going to put in as many of a card as I want. Oh, and I’ll start with a creature in play, too.” I understand the need to increase challenge, but I would have preferred to see it done with better decks than outright cheating.
Once you’ve honed your PvE skills, and maybe tweaked your deck, you can head into PvP matches, either against friends or random players. Ubisoft has what looks like an extensive tournament system in place, though most of this year’s qualifiers have already come and gone. The finals will be in Paris during Paris Game Week Oct. 30 to Nov. 3.
A clash of good vs. evil
I’ll admit I went into this review with a little trepidation; I’ve seen a lot of bad TCGs, and I was worried that this would resemble a typical, fly-by-night, make-a-quick-buck-on-the-craze effort, but I was pleasantly surprised by its professional appearance.
Truth be told, I like how Duel of Champions plays more than I do Hearthstone and other basic, “summon stuff, kill the opponent” TCGs. The battlefield is a nice addition, and there are plenty of abilities that take advantage of positioning in a way that most games can’t. The interface is clean, attractive, and easy to navigate.
All those abilities are a lot for a new player to pick up on, though, and I found myself constantly having to right-click enlarge cards to remember what they did. With 16 cards, as well as decks, discard piles, and other UI elements, it’s understandable that their basic view can’t be as big as, say, Hearthstone’s, but mouseover views or small icons for special abilities would speed up (my, at least) gameplay.
Still, that and the issue with the campaign I cited earlier are minor gripes. The most glaring issue with Duel of Champions comes where you would least expect it – in the deck builder. For some reason, Ubisoft decided that, in order to use a card in multiple decks, you had to “own” multiple copies of that card. In other words, if you have a rare you want to include in multiple decks, you’d have to take it out of the first deck and put it into the other.
I understand that this more accurately mimics how a “real” TCG works, but that’s missing the entire point of bringing it online. No other online TCG that I can think of utilizes this system, and for a good reason: it’s awful. I asked for opinions on my Facebook and the responses – some from people who have actually worked on online TCGs – ranged from “terrible” to “gross” to “blatant money grab.”
I asked Ubisoft about this and they admitted that it was something they were looking to change, based on player feedback. Until they do, I’d still recommend the game – it is pretty fun – but can’t suggest you get too heavily invested in it until this issue is addressed.
Speaking of investment… the smallest purchase is $5 for 250 seals, and the largest is $100 for 7,000. Decks cost 1,100 to 1,550 seals, which works out to a rather exorbitant $15.71 (cheapest method) to $31 (most expensive method) for a deck. You can also buy gold, at a rate of $5 for 25,000 up to $100 for 700,000, and deck prices via that method are a little more reasonable, working out to be as low as $8.93 for the basic starter decks you choose one of for free when you begin.
Pack prices are a little friendlier, with basic packs of 12 cards in the $2.50 to $3.50 range and Premium packs (offering better chances at rare cards) about a dollar more. You can also buy packs in bulk (a.k.a. “boxes”) for a further discount.
You do get a free deck for starting, and you earn enough gold and seals along the way to buy more. I’ve got nearly enough to buy two more – one with seals, one with gold – through my few hours of gameplay. Still, when you do the math, it comes out looking crooked – doubly so when you realize that you’ll have a tough time putting a new deck together without buying a preconstructed deck, thanks to the card restrictions on deckbuilding.
As I said earlier, Might & Magic – Duel of Champions is a fun game, and I could even come to grips with the cash shop by playing for free and using my accumulated wealth to buy the occasional deck or pack. Play for free, challenge friends, and have a good time with a well-designed, deeply strategic online TCG.
But the deckbuilding restrictions are a major downer for me. Playing around with decks or building new ones is the heart of the TCG experience, and unnecessarily hampering that in the name of “realism” is a bad way to go. I’d say DoC is worth checking out, but it’s a tough to recommend it too highly until this issue is dealt with.
By Jason Winter