Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Duel of Champions: Game Design Review

Duel of Champions is an online card game by Ubisoft based around the Might and Magic franchise sharing the same units, factions and art style of the main franchise.  I 've played quite a bit of Duel of Champions now, probably 100+ hours and own approximately 4000+ cards at the time of this post.

What I liked:
Core game is solid- As a card game DOC is pretty solid. You have 6 different factions each with a different feel and a variety of tactics. Personally if this was a real card game which you could buy, I would definitely buy this with a caveat. It has to be a "Living Card Game" similar to Fantasy Flight where you buy set packs rather than buying random boosters.

Card Art- The card graphics are solid really appealing and quite large full of fantastical detail.

Interface-  A solid interface with good solid buttons which feels solid. Interface gives it a very professional feel to the whole thing. They've recently revamped the searching and deckbuilding so its easier than ever before to look for cards. It is meant to be played on both iPad and PC and the interface feels like a solid compromise.

What I disliked:
Hero centric gameplay can be unbalanced- The game is centred around Heroes and many Heroes will have certain advantages making you play in a particular style. For example, you have the Necropolish Hero fleshbane that increases all Incorporeal creatures health by 1. Clearly you have to play the deck with incorporeal creatures. Incorporeal creatures are weak against decks with lost of magic creatures so if you get such a match up you know you're almost certain to lose. Because of this, there are certain Heroes that are viable at higher levels of play while others end up 'gimmick' Heroes. I'm not sure if there's a way to get around this per se except maybe to create more balanced Heroes but I wonder if it might be possible to play best 2 out of 3 or with a side board.

Randomness- Because of the randomness of the draw, sometimes you will get a bad hand with no low level cards making it difficult to make a come back if you lose momentum during the battle. It doesn't often happen if you build your deck right but I wonder if it would be possible to tweak the rules so you always start with a certain number of low cost cards. This is something that has always plague these sorts of card games so I wouldn't necessarily hold it again this particular card game.

Free2play Economy- Duel of Champions has gone through numerous economic changes with a significant change with the release of Base Set 2. The main and biggest problem of the game is the Free2play economy and way cards are given to you.

In the game you have gold (currency you earn by playing), seals (currency you purchase) and Wildcards (bonus cards you earn or you get in certain superpacks you have to buy through seals) Unfortunately, as with any F2P game I personally felt there's still way too much grinding to purchase packs. Furthermore, what you get in the pack is completely random. There is no way to actually to buy cards just for one faction. Like the Stronghold faction and want to increase the cards? Sorry you'll buy the booster pack which will give a random set of cards which may come from any faction. And like a real life collectible game, the rarity is all random so good luck trying to get those rare cards to complete your deck!

Until recently, you had to pay 50 000 gold to buy starter deck for each faction every single time. Only the most recent update have they deemed fit to change this, now you will get a started deck if you defeat an opponent using that faction. Of course, there are also rarer cards for each faction meaning which you'll have to hope you randomly get them.

This is where the Wildcard feature comes in, some time ago they put in a feature where you can sacrifice Wildcards to get the cards you want. Older cards are extremely expensive in terms of Wildcards and Wildcards are hard to earn if you're a F2P player. Overall this leaves older players having to pay to complete their old collections although I think its okay for newer players as they should only be buying from the Base Set 2 sets anyway which cost gol.
There is also no trading in the game meaning the only way to get those rare cards are to either hope they appear in those booster packs or grinding very slowly for wildcards and redeeming in the store.

The combination of all of this and lack of alternative ways to earn specific cards means that I actually ended up not really bothering playing the game for long periods of time. The game is fun but once you hit a certain level, not having those cards starts to hurt your game and deck building abilities.

Lacks Online innovation and social space- For a digital card game, its very traditional. The card game mechanics are easy to grasp and could well be played as a physical card game. But what's even stranger is lack of online innovation in the game. For example, it lacks proper chatrooms, card 'crafting', trading, ability to share your decks with friends and player created avatars. There are premium cards which are nothing more than normal cards with a foil colour on them. I would have thought selling alternate art cards would have been top of the list!

The entire game feels very sterile in a sense and lacks a certain vibrancy about it. It doesn't feel like my account or that I have a vested interested in the game for lack of a better description.

OTK and No creature decks- There are some decks in the game where the opponent will play zero creatures and use spells and direct damage to deal damage to your Hero. These are the infamous One-Turn-Kill decks and No creature decks. There is no real way to play against them because most decks are designed to interact with creatures not fight against spells. So all you do is wait and rush the opponent down and hope the opponent hasn't pulled the right cards to wipe the board. Supposedly the Base Set 2 update fixes this but unfortunately some players have figured out some combinations of these. Beacuse there is no real way for you to interact with the cards the player uses (since most spells are instant) its really down to dumb luck and how fast you play rather than how well you play reducing the game to way more luck than strategy.

As a game, I give it thumbs up, I don't know if it's necessarily the most balanced card game out there and there but it packs enough complexity and variability to make me happy. However, as mentioned I feel the digital aspect of the game really lets me down. It feels too traditional at heart and F2P economy leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I do recommend you try it out anyway but I wouldn't blame you if you leave after playing for a couple of weeks.

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