As I get to the end of my first fortnight playing Duelyst I thought I would reflect on the experience and share some thoughts about the game. The below is a bit long and self indulgent, but I hope to make some interesting points within.
First and foremost I have enjoyed playing this game a lot. I got the game on the 11th of September and in the days since I have played over 100 hours of the game on Steam (this doesn’t include the hours I’ve played the game through Chrome). I would estimate I have played the game on average around 50 hours a week, which is over 7 hours a day. That’s an absurd amount and I need help, but it does speak to how much fun the game has been to play.
Duelyst is an excellently fun game. I cannot recommend it highly enough to others and I am surprised it is still as niche as it is.
I am perhaps the ideal audience for the game, having previously played many major CCGs/TCGs/LCGs, my favorite being Pox Nora, another game that combines the experience with strategic board play. While Duelyst doesn’t have everything that Pox Nora had going for it, it does play faster, has far superior UI and technical implementation, and is a lot cheaper to get in to. It is, overall, a better product.
I have mostly played Songhai over the month, having first started out with the newbie suggested Lyonar, and ranked up to Diamond in my first week, I have since tooled about there trying various factions and decks for my entertainment. My leveling deck was an Arcanyst one, which I didn’t see many others playing on the way up, but it’s slowly been tooled around to a more entertaining all out spell rush deck with around 10-15 units. This is entertaining to play, however not so great for going further to S-Rank - or at least I haven’t made a big push to get there yet.
I’ve added to my collection over the weeks but it is still very limited. I have at this point almost zero legendary cards, having dusted them for spirit to round out my Songhai collection. I am still a long way from completing my Songhai cards, but I have enough to get by, which is pretty nice considering my contribution to the game so far is US$10 via the first time option.
I’m looking forward to playing the game more, but I do have some worries and issues with the game, and I’m going to expand on my thoughts in specific categories below.
The Strategic Game
The in game experience is game is one of the best I have ever seen implemented. It is fast, mostly bug free, good looking, skillful, and plays without any technical issues. The experience at the heart of the game is a lot of fun and does everything I could want for to date. Some of the card abilities and interactions are unclear to a new player, and it would be great if those tips the game offers were also in a readable manual somewhere at the least, but on the whole I was able to get up and running in the game and playing it without much frustration or confusion.
The tutorial experience and challenges are very well done and really useful in the learning process.
The two game modes currently available are different and fun.
The only issues I would raise with the ranked ladder have been well covered in discussion, but suffice to say the manner in which the ranking system works could be much more transparent. Despite that it works well, is fun, and mostly importantly is free. The season structure is enjoyable as is the idea of season rewards.
Gauntlet is something I have seen less discussion on, and it an area where I have more thoughts to offer.
Firstly, deck building in Gauntlet is less interesting than I feel it best could be. Pulling options from random neutral or faction cards of a rarity is ok now while the pool isn’t too large, if you have a good idea about the
faction you’ve picked you can pick somewhat strategically depending on the options provided, however the randomness of the actual rarity can cause significant variance between Gauntlet runs. I can only assume these %s are based off those from the card generation via orbs, but I think having them tighter would be more interesting for Gauntlet. If every player picked 15 common, 10 rare, 4 epic and 1 legendary cards each time around, with a much smaller chance of each card being bumped up to the higher rarity, it might be a more interesting drafting experience.
Likewise if 2 of the 3 picks each time were always of your faction and only one was a neutral card I think this would create some more interesting choices in deck construction in Gauntlet.
These are just thoughts however, as a whole the experience works pretty well and is still mostly based on the skill of players in building and playing their decks. I really enjoy this as I feel that it offers a different game experience to the ladder system.
Cards and Decks
This is the first area where I start to have some not insignificant worries about the game. At the moment the card pool is pretty good and offers some interesting deck building options, however I can see some potential for big issues does the line if they’re not preparing for them.
Firstly, the neutral card pool is both a blessing and a curse. It is an interesting way of ensuring decks between different factions are different but have some overlap, but it is my least favorite implementation of this goal in a game. The mana systems of M:tG/Hex are well known for their positive and negatives, but while they are more flexible they’re not really appropriate for Duelyst.
What I do think could have worked, and which I much preferred, is Pox Nora’s half/full faction system, where decks needed to either be an exact 50/50 split between two factions, or all from the one. This resulted in a much wider variety of decks, however this would also involve a significantly more complicated set of card synergies and could be difficult to balance, so I can see why Duelyst didn’t go in this direction.
However as a result you end up seeing certain neutral cards far more often than you do cards of the various factions, and it can become quite boring, especially with certain cards. Korn isn’t that powerful a card, but every time someone drops it on me I just sigh a little inside, because it’s been done so many times already, and because it isn’t doing anything different in person X’s deck than it was in person Y’s.
As a result I would much prefer it if the neutral card pool was balanced to be almost all support cards and ‘poor man’s’ versions of faction cards (for the other factions to use) rather than ones that might define a meta. Especially as the neutral pool grows cards in it that are widely applicable will be over-represented in decks, and I think this makes a less interesting and diverse play experience.
Secondly, and most significantly, the crafting and spirit system just doesn’t work for me, to the extent that it is almost broken.
Yes, the spirit system is good in that you can get any card you want if you have enough spirit. But at the same time it is the ONLY way that you can get cards outside of dumb luck, and given the value loss through disenchanting, this means the cost of getting a specific card for your collection is very high. Worse than this, it means that once you have a specific card or deck built you are stuck with it - it is prohibitive to trade them and try out a different deck because you lose so much value in disenchanting.
Ironically this means that while the game is fun and free to play for those who are very new, anyone who wants to go beyond that is unable to do so except at a very slow pace, or putting in a huge amount of money in to the game.
As the same time, those who have a full collection, or have been playing for a long time, have very little incentive to put more money in to the game. This seem counterproductive to the long term health and growth of the game, and I am really confused by Counterplay Game’s plan in this regard.
If I play for a few hours every day I can earn about 1-2 orbs for free, this means that unless content is added to the game faster than I earn spirit (more than one Epic card per day) , I will eventually have everything and simply start stockpiling spirit. I will have no need or incentive to ever contribute money to the game.
On the other hand if I play once a week I can maybe get one orb a week, meaning I will need to throw in US$15 a week just to keep pace with what the regular player is getting for free. If the game is balanced around making sure the regular players need to be incentivized to put in more money, this means the casual player will need to throw in significant money on a regular basis to get a decent play experience.
This seems to be the opposite of what a game should try for, the barriers for casual players should be low enough to participate, while more experienced and frequent players should still need to invest in the game as they will be the lifeblood of it.
The value of being a more experienced play and putting in more money should be that you don’t have to trade back and forth between cards, or that you have a collection of value. Given that Duelyst has no real card value as other CCGs do then the game needs to re-address what it is giving the casual and regular
How these issues are tackled in other CCGs I’ve played is through two systems that duelyst currently lacks:
The number one system for allowing casual players to explore and participate in these games is via trading. By this I mean that players with a modest collection can turn the cards they are bored playing with in to other new cards that are interested in playing with. Casual players can simply trade all the cards they do have for the subset of cards they want to play at that point in time, and play effectively. In Duelyst you cannot literally do this, but you can essentially do it via the disenchanting and crafting system. However while other TCGs typically have direct trading or independent markets that take a margin, Duelyst’s disenchant system has a huge margin that destroys the effectiveness of this as a system for casual players, no direct trading, and no independent market.
Even if there is a trading house fee, trading cards lets you explore the game bit by bit for a much smaller cost, and over time you will slowly build up more of a collection if you put in a little bit of money here or there. In Duelyst the cost of disenchanting is so great that even if a casual player puts in a little money here and there they will still end up behind - effectively locking them in to the faction or card pool they first went with, and denying them the ability to explore the rest of the game.
Game modes that only play with a subset of the total cards.
The second way other games deal with this is through providing play modes that deal with only a subset of the total game pool in some way, be this through drafting, set rotation, pauper systems, etc. Duelyst has one of these systems, in Gauntlet, but I would suggest that long term this is not enough.
The above then leads in to a look at the cost of cards and other items in the game, and this is an area where I most disappointed with Duelyst and least inclined to see myself playing the game long term. Frankly the game’s current monetary model - combined with/as a result of the crafting system - is set up to prey upon time poor whales, and offers no rewarding options to new players.
I would be happy to put in money each month to the game if if got me somewhere interesting, but Duelyst has not convinced me that it will do this.
By my understanding the average value of an orb is 220 spirit, while the cost of an orb, at its cheapest, is around US$1.25. Essentially this values any legendary card in the game at around US$5. So to complete my Songhai legendary collection I would need to spend around US$120 - this would be slightly less if I’m lucky enough to pull some of those cards, but essentially that is the cost.
Meanwhile, if I keep playing as much as I have, I will get around US$3 worth of spirit a day for free. So I can either play for 40 days, or spend $120 up front. Even then, no matter which way I go, I’ll only be able to fully explore one single faction in the game. This is a huge time or money investment in to a game for such a limited return.
The system is out of whack and doesn’t seem very friendly to new or casual players at all. It is either telling me I have to throw hundreds of dollars at it, or just play heaps. Or play Gauntlet.
Given those options I will just treat it as a F2P game and not a serious competitive one.
Given this I cannot find a compelling argument as to why I should put more money in to the game at this point. This is not a system I want to reward, and it doesn’t speak to a diverse and changing metagame for players outside of the early adopters or whales. It will only be exacerbated over time as the card pool grows and grows.
It would be much better if this balance was redressed, and the cost of buying orbs was much lower and the rewards for frequent players were also lower. It would be much much better if the spirit and disenchanting system was reworked to allow reasonable ‘trading’ and let players move their collection around to explore more of the game.
I would be happy to throw $10 a month at this game and $30-40 every time a major expansion came out if it would offer me the ability to participate in more of it what it has to offer, but I’m not going to pay that much just to play one faction, and I’m not going to pay that much when the cards I am buying have no trading or resale value.
This is a very good game, with the potential to be a great one, but these concerns will stop me spending money on it in the short term.
All that said, I’ll still be playing Duelyst – a lot – because it’s an excellent game and I’m really enjoying it.
P.S. I should also say that I was a bit offended and annoyed when Counterplay Games went and gave away 20 Orbs to new players via Humble Bundle, but still only let me do my $10 for 10 as a one time thing. Not only because I missed 20 free orbs, but because it speaks to a business plan that looks to hook new players and turn them in to whales, rather than support and value the existing customer base. This is an exploitative mobile gaming mindset and gives me significant misgivings.