Duelyst Review: Not Another Hearthstone Clone

There seems to be a terrible affliction circulating around the gaming community that creates massive generalizations throughout genres in videogames. Apparently every FPS evolved from Call of Duty, all MMORPGs steal ideas from World of Warcraft, every MOBA is League of Legends, and any game involving cards is a Hearthstone clone.

These generalizations are usually less about actual game mechanics and more about mainstream popularity of the aforementioned titles. That being said, Duelyst is a riveting, strategy card game that is not just another Hearthstone copycat.


Standing on its Own

So if Duelyst isn’t just another form of Hearthstone then what is it? Duelyst is a combination of turn-based tactical-strategy and basically any customizable card game. Think Final Fantasy Tactics (minus level progression) meets Magic: The Gathering (or literally any other fantasy card-drawing game).

In Duelyst, there’s a 5×9 grid where players control a General, place creatures, and can summon spells. Each general, or creature, can only move a certain amount of spaces and there are generally restrictions on where you can place new minions. Each of these mechanics in itself is not unique but when combined they create something special.

By taking the general CCG gameplay and moving it to a grid allows players to adapt their playstyle on the fly. If the enemy is constantly going for the face (only attacking your General), players can simply move away and try to regroup. Obviously, this doesn’t always work because of mechanics like provoke (an offensive version of taunt) or airdrop, which lets you place a minion anywhere, but it does give players more freedom than simply sitting there and taking it.


Intuitive Teachings

Duelyst recently left beta at the end of April, but it already has a nice variety of game modes. Currently, these include: Practice, Season Ladder, Solo Challenges, and The Gauntlet. At one point there was also an unranked mode and it would be nice to see it return if for no other reason than to have an easier way to complete daily quests. Each of these modes are fairly self-explanatory. Practice allows players to test out new decks against AI opponents (it also unlocks starter decks), Season Ladder is the ranked mode, Solo Challenges teach basic game mechanics and strategy, and The Gauntlet is a three-strikes draft mode.

Normally, these modes wouldn’t mean much besides The Guantlet and Season Ladder, but Solo Challenges managed to leave an impression on me. While the initial “challenges” were rather rudimentary, the later stages displayed a few incredibly powerful combinations. Instead of setting players up with basic knowledge only to get slaughtered by veteran players, the Solo Challenges actual give newcomers a fighting chance. Not only do they teach how to properly use and counter special abilities, but they also show deadly one-turn kill combinations and how to turn the tables when behind.

This biggest downfall at the moment is a lack of unranked mode. However, anyone familiar with turn-based strategy games or CCGs shouldn’t have too much trouble moving through Bronze rank. The biggest issue is that there isn’t a “safe spot” to farm daily quests. There are a couple of good reasons for not having it at the moment, however. Currently, Duelyst doesn’t have a huge playerbase and having two similar game modes only splits the population. There was also an issue where veteran players were taking extremely powerful decks into unranked mode to farm new players. Neither of these issues were good for the game, but hopefully a reworked “unranked” mode will appear in the future.


Gameplay 9/10

I absolutely adore the gameplay in Duelyst. Out of every CCG-hybrid on the market right now, Duelyst has the most in-depth strategy. Including a physical General with decent mobility and a grid overlay creates way more strategy than a standard card game could ever hope to achieve.

Furthermore, it manages to do this while keeping things simple. Players don’t need to go digging through rulebooks or wiki guides to try and figure out what their opponent is doing or the types of combinations they’re setting up. That doesn’t mean there aren’t complex strategies that can do massive amount of damage in a single turn, but there aren’t cards so specific that they cause confusion (like in Magic: The Gathering).


Innovation 8/10

Clearly, there are similarities to Hearthstone, and other strategy/CCGs, but most of those didn’t even originate there. Obviously, there are drawing mechanics, persistent damage, artifacts, and hero powers, but Duelyst should be looked at as a whole and not its individual parts.

Duelyst is essentially a digital translation of classic table-top games, but with more fair mechanics. This is the closest thing to Warhammer, or HeroClix, that we’ve ever had in a digital format. However, it’s been designed to be player friendly by using mechanics that most are already familiar with.


Community 9/10

As someone who has been involved with Duelyst since the Beta in November, I’m surprisingly shocked at how positive the community has been. Until the official release of the game, the Beta forums were incredibly helpful regarding feedback on factions, deck builds, and even how to use specific units. Since those forums were shutdown, the Reddit sub-forum has become a hive of activity. It generally lacks the typical trolling of most Reddit sub-forums and usually has a lot of very constructive feedback regarding the state of Duelyst.

In-game players are generally respectful, but there also isn’t an open chat system. Communicating in-game is restricted to a few emotes or short phrases, but most players start the game with “GL HF” and end it with “Well Played.” Outside of matches, players can talk to each other once added to the Friends list. Out of my hundred or so matches, I’ve only experienced a handful of bad-mannered opponents.


Graphics/Sounds 9/10

Personally, I’m over the retro look for many recent indie games, but I couldn’t help but fall in love with the style in Duelyst. The pixelated graphics make the game feel more personal and brutal than simple cartoon sprites should. Furthermore, the animations are visceral and explosive, displaying a sense of power without an overabundance of gore.

In the sound department, Ben MacDougall provides a sufficient variance of soothing melody and action drama. Just like with the gameplay, the visuals and audio in Duelyst might look simple but underneath there’s so much more.


Value for Money 9/10

As far as digital card games go, Duelyst has one of the more fair business models. Anyone who’s played Hearthstone will immediately recognize the pricing, but it goes a little deeper than that. On average, players can easily obtain 100 gold per day, which is the equivalent to a single booster pack or “Spirit Orb.” In terms of cash, each pack is approximately $1.50, but that decreases the more Spirit Orbs purchased. Additionally, The Gauntlet costs 150 gold to enter and there isn’t a cash variant.

Although pricing might be similar to Hearthstone, the actual odds of obtaining high-end cards isn’t. It’s been estimated that players can obtain a “Legendary” level card every 4 or 5 Spirit Orbs. I’d say that this is fairly accurate, but I’ve experienced droughts and have opened multiple legendary Spirit Orbs in a row. Furthermore, the disenchant rates are slightly better as well. For example, a Legendary card only costs 900 to craft and will disenchant for 350.


Overall 9/10

Duelsyt is a digital strategy game perfect for players who are looking for a little more depth and a lot less RNG. Besides the drawing mechanic, there are few aspects of Duelyst that rely on randomness. That, combined with a visible grid, grants players the control they’ve been looking for in a digital strategy CCG. Finally, this added depth doesn’t create a hindrance or bog down gameplay, as most games rarely take more than 10 minutes to finish.

That doesn’t make the game perfect, however, and there are definitely a few issues that I would like to point out. First, decks are composed of 40 cards (three of each card maximum) and generals only have 25 life. This makes it incredibly difficult to pull out very specific strategies through a single game.

Compared with Hearthstone, where players have 30 life and 30 cards, matches of Duelyst are often quicker and usually don’t last much longer than turn 10. Recently there was a change that reduced end of turn draws to one card, rather than two, and this substantially hurt agro decks that relied on cycling cards. Moreover, decks that relied on having specific, key cards in hand to pull off a killing blow were also hurt with this change. These problems could be alleviated by reducing the overall deck size to something more suiting the shorter game duration. I have yet to witness a game where either player came close to running out of cards.

Finally, the variety of cards is still lacking at this point in time. Each of the six factions only has 34 different cards and two different Generals. There are also 123 neutral cards, which possess varying degrees of usefulness, but most factions are still limited to 1 or 2 strategies. For example, Lyonar is basically limited to Zeal decks and most Songhai are based around backstab. That doesn’t mean other variations don’t exist, but there aren’t nearly as many options for the ones that fall outside the meta. This is being slowly remedied as new cards are released each month as rewards, but it will definitely take some time to build up a significant variety.



+Beautiful pixel art
+Epic soundtrack
+Intense strategy


-Lack of card diversity within each faction
-Deck size and card balance need tweaking

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About Nick Shively

Nick is an eSports and RPG enthusiast. He can normally be found in the deepest parts of a dungeon or in the arena slaying opponents. Nick has been a gamer since an early age and involved in the industry since 2011. He obtained a degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2015.