It’s no secret that Might & Magic: Duel of Champions, the free to play collectible card game (CCG) from Ubisoft, has some stiff competition these days. With Magic: the Gathering Online (MTGO) still going strong and the recent release of Blizzard’s Hearthstone, there are plenty of other places for CCG enthusiasts to spend their time and money. But with its surprising tactical depth and interesting new mechanics, Ubisoft has managed to find a happy medium for Duel of Champions somewhere between the endless depth of MTGO and the fast-paced accessibility of Hearthstone.
No game is perfect, however, and a few minor (yet nonetheless bothersome) issues with Duel of Champions could make it difficult for the title to reach the mass market appeal it would take to give its heavyweight competition a real run for their money.
PLAY YOUR WAY
In Duel of Champions, both players use their decks (composed of one hero card, eight event cards, and 50 to 200 spell, creature, and fortune cards) to reduce their opponent’s life totals down to zero. Nothing we haven’t seen before at first glance, but Ubisoft has added enough deceptively simple tweaks to the standard CCG formula to make Duel of Champions a highly strategic and unique experience.
The first step to creating a deck is to pick a faction. This will determine what hero card you have access to, which will in turn dictate which kind of cards can be used in your deck. Hero cards are an interesting mechanic that further differentiate decks and playstyles from one another, thanks to their unique starting attributes, life points, and special abilities.
The play space is divided into two lanes per side, with four spaces in each lane for opposing players to place their creatures. The front lane is for melee, and the back lane is for ranged characters. Flying characters can be placed on either lane. During their turn, creatures can attack the next opposing creature in their row or move to a different spot on the board. If defending creatures survive this attack, they counter-attack using their strikeback stat. If there’s no defender, creatures can attack the enemy hero directly. This limited range of attack for creatures, along with the strikeback mechanic and creature movement, gives otherwise standard CCG creature-on-creature combat a good deal of tactical depth, and more importantly, gameplay unlike anything else on the market.
On the bottom of the playing field are two event cards. These cards, which range in function from doing damage to every creature on the board to allowing both players to draw a card, come from a pool of both players’ decks, and can be used by either player. This makes for tense choices when deck building, since you have to weigh the value of all your event cards both for your own deck and your opponent’s. It’s an interesting mechanic, but not one that’s very fleshed out so far. In most matches I played, people seemed to be picking event cards defensively, hoping to minimize the potential damage their opponent could do with their events, rather than picking them based on synergy with their own decks. Hopefully, this problem will be solved as more event cards are added to the game.
AN UPHILL BATTLE
As much fun as Duel of Champions is once you’ve figured it out, it’s not perfect. The tutorial is lackluster and bare-bones, explaining only the essential systems, and leaving you to figure out some of the game’s more advanced mechanics the hard way. To make matters worse, the game’s combat log is text-only, making it difficult to reference after the fact. Coupled with the occasionally confusing and muddled menu design, this gives Duel of Champions a steep learning curve for anyone without a good deal of competitive CCG experience, forcing players to learn through trial and error or wiki reading. There is a practice mode that allows players to battle AI, friends, or random opponents, but it generally feels like a waste of time, as it offers no XP or gold rewards.
The single player campaign received a much needed expansion in a recent game update, injecting new life into what used to be the game’s most sorely lacking play mode. The plot is barely-there and completely forgettable, but for solo players, particularly those looking to understand the game’s subtleties in a no-stress environment, it’s a welcome addition. The AI opponents provided have incredibly specific decks, which are good for introducing you to particular card mechanics, but not really for teaching you the kind of strategic thinking required for online play. This could be a turn-off for more solitary minded CCG players, but it’s the online duels and tournaments where Duel of Champions is really intended to shine.
(SORT OF) FREE TO PLAY
There are two currencies in Duel of Champions, gold and seals. Gold is earned with every victory, and can be used to buy some packs from the store. For newer packs, bulk purchases, or temporary resource-gain boosters, however, seals are needed. Seals can be earned by leveling up, unlocking certain achievements, and of course are available for real money in the game’s store. Making your way through the tutorial and first few levels should generally give you enough currency to make yourself a relatively competitive deck. The XP and Gold boosters available for purchase are on a per-match basis rather than a timer, meaning you don’t need to use them in one sitting.
Cards cannot be traded to other players, but the “Altar of Wishes” allows for players to purchase desired cards for a set amount of “wild cards”, which come as a bonus with every pack purchased from the store and the occasional achievement. Conversely, cards you don’t want can be traded in for gold (and the chance at winning a premium card) in the “Infernal Pit”. Overall, the economy feels fair: earning the cards you want feels completely attainable thanks to the Altar of Wishes, but the temptation to splurge and buy packs is still definitely present enough to make opening new packs a rewarding experience.
THE MIDDLE GROUND
It’s difficult to discuss a game like Duel of Champions without mentioning the two card-shaped elephants in the room: Hearthstone and Magic the Gathering Online. But with over 600 different cards and counting, not to mention its unique gameplay mechanics, Ubisoft have managed to carve themselves a spot in the market somewhere directly in between its two rivals. But with a steep learning curve and an ever expanding roster of cards, Might & Magic: Duel of Champions might have some trouble attaining the kind of mass market appeal enjoyed by its hugely popular competitors. That being said, if you want a CCG with some serious depth, customization, and collectability, this could very well be just the game for you.
Check out their trailer down here:Related: Card Game, F2P, Review, Ubisoft