CCG Week: Drakenlords13 Sep 2016 8
My history of playing collectable card games is somewhat of a limited list. Like most children of my generation I was hooked on the Pokémon Trading Card game. Also, like most children of my generation, I had no idea how to play it. Instead my focus – and the focus of many - was on collecting them all (that shiny Charizard eluded me for years). Years later I would pick up the game boy version and would finally begin to understand the rules, though I also wondered how on Earth I would have ever understood them as a child.
Long after that I stumbled across the criminally underrated Metal Gear Acid for the PSP. I have an appreciation for the style and tone of MGS, but that series and myself have always had a complicated relationship when it came to the controls I.E I think they are garbage. The tactical turn-based approach that MGA brings was a refreshing and risky approach to a series where a standard had been set.
Finally we get to Hearthstone, a game that has the depth, characters and lore of the Warcraft series, yet is simple enough that idiots like me can grasp the basic mechanics to get by without feeling overwhelmed. There are a ton of cards with different decks you can build to suit your playing style, and it is about as far as I dip my toe into the CCG well these days. There was also quick go at Gwent, the card game in Witcher 3: Wild Hunt that my housemate swears by. I tried it once and had no bloody idea what was going on.
Still, I daresay it leaves me well suited to talk about Drakenlords, a fantasy-based collectable card game by Everguild ltd. This is one that has its roots firmly planted in the core elements and general fantasy tone of a post- Hearthstone, so much so that doing a feature without mentioning Blizzard’s CCG juggernaut at every turn is going to be a challenge (and I imagine this will be recurring theme for CCG week).
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and with Drakenlords, Everguild created a world full of dragons, vampires, elves and other fantastical creatures you would be familiar with. Over on Drakenlords.com you can find extra levels of world building – its standard stuff: conflict between different races and entities known as ‘Drakenlords’ with the power to tame and control dragons. It is hard to make a compelling story within the confines of a CCG, so credit to Everguild for trying.
You collect cards (or what look like tombstones in this case) with the idea of having different decks that perform different jobs, which you stack with the particular class you want to use. After each victory you unlock new cards with the ability to purchase decks to speed up the process. There is a range of cards across the board using all the various creatures with offensive, defensive, and status changing abilities. If you can think of a card in Hearthstone, it is probably here under the guise of another name. Battles see you draw a card each turn, with your mana increasing until you reach the limit of ten, and you keep going till either your or your opponent’s warlord (lead card) is wiped out.
One mechanic where the game tries to spice things up a bit is the ‘traits’. These come in various forms, from vampires who use Blood Link, which gives health to your warlord every time they take damage, or Coward cast on you, leaving you unable to attack the warlord. Some of these will be familiar, but the key thing is that certain battles will see particular traits used, meaning you need to mix up your deck occasionally to see victory. It becomes apparent early into the game that you are usually not well equipped to deal with certain traits that some enemies will heavily rely on. There is the option to purchase decks of cards, but it would be nice if the game played fairer.
The biggest issue in general is the spike in difficulty. Within 5 games of the main campaign, defeat is not tasted; rather it is a full on brick to the face. And it only escalates from there at what feels like an alarmingly unfair rate. Using the free to play model on the surface seems like a reasonable model, but there are gems as well, which you use to unlock branching missions. This would be fine if these were permanently unlocked, except, as you can probably guess, they have to be unlocked again with each failed attempt to beat the level. And considering the aforementioned difficulty spikes, and sometimes the sheer need to just go into a battle to see what you are up against, it becomes a combination of sheer attrition and a heavy wallet to supplement the many gems you are going to need if you want to see everything the game has to offer.
Online is simple enough and works well. You can randomly challenge an opponent or connect with friends to play. It is all the standard stuff you would expect and the experience is solid. The UI is laid out in an easy enough manner, but hey, if you have played Hearthstone, you should know what to expect.
I am curious to see the rest of the articles released this week on Pocket Tactics, because I wonder if my lack of knowledge on the genre traps me in a level of ignorance, but it is impossible to dispute the similarities on display here, both in gameplay and in presentation between Drakenlords and Blizzard’s behemoth. I spent the whole time with the game thinking, “I have done this before”, and at no time did it ever manage to drag me out of that state of mind.
The story mode presented is at least novel, but the general area of play remains the same. The area I can at least applaud Everguild on is creating a game that will play on my iPad. Where Hearthstone is unreasonably RAM-intensive to run, Drakenlords played fine with no real major performance issues – even on a four year-old device. But that is clutching at straws to find differences. It is hard to offer the game as an alternative, because an alternative typically has at least one key difference in the gameplay. The best I can say is that if you have never touched a CCG before, this is a good place to start in understanding how these kinds of games work. Though the aforementioned difficulty spike will throw people off quick enough.