Review: Loot & Legends17 Aug 2015 1
When Card Hunter debuted on PC to rave reviews, I deployed the wisdom of experience and waited to get into it until the likely iPad release. I can't claim to have been burned by a gem as radiant as FTL, but the iPad app is dramatically preferable to me. With a game as respectful of pen-and-paper RPGs as Card Hunter, I feared the abandonment of my characters and their hard-earned +1 Swords of Microtransacting. The name of its iPad counterpart, "Loot & Legends", only helps reinforce that decision, with the game's distinctive take on loot sitting right up front, like a big-haired nuisance at a theater. Only, in this case, the loot mechanic is so welcome one has to imagine that one has been forced to attend the opera to make the metaphor work. Also that the big hair blocks sound completely and somehow manages to play For a Few Dollars More on the back of it.
Speaking of dollars, before we even get to the gameplay some of you will want to know that, yes, L&L is free-to-play and full of microtransaction "opportunities". You can get to at least the final chapter without buying anything or grinding at all, but you'll see many invitations to support the developers, some of which are a bit more effective than others at appealing to our biases. The game includes purchasable gold and pizza as consumables, as well as a loot club membership which makes winning battles more rewarding. They're all effectively different methods of getting more loot faster, though.
The only reason I didn't hate it was that I was never prevented from doing anything I wanted to do, nor felt punished in any way by the monetization structure, and you get all of this stuff in the normal run of play. It's tough not want to support a developer who clearly has big plans for continued support for a free game, but if the multiplayer which eventually came to Card Hunter does show up in L&L, the intersection of microtransactions and social obligations makes my inner awkward introvert quake with anxiety. also, I lack an outward persona, so that'll really just be me doing the quaking.
Loot & Legends offers a sort of goofy campaign which plays off stereotypes of pen-and-paper RPG players, and an arena mode which pits you against a party of AI-controlled heroes. The campaign is always available, but the arena only gives you free plays once every two hours, which relegates it to a secondary role, though extra plays are cheap. In either case, you proceed to a tactical battle in which each of your characters draws from their own deck to give them options for movement and actions each turn. These battles are the focus of the game, and they include the usual trappings--range, line of sight, terrain, various attack types, et cetera.
It takes some time to encounter really interesting, diverse challenges, but the variety in card types and enemy abilities eventually pays off with some difficult fights which you'll want to tweak your party to meet most effectively (though the vulnerability of enemies to particular strategies is oddly divorced from their nature--a fireball hurts a fire imp as much as a giant cockroach, for example). Most of the cards of a particular type (say, polearm or arcane) simply reward you for using more cards of that type, which produces distinct archetypes but limits deck-building creativity. Still, there are the usual positional concerns as well as some interesting questions about when to time various attacks and which targets to focus on.
Developers Dropforge have done a marvelous job of balancing player focus between the battles and the equipment screen, which offers enough customization that it would threaten to overwhelm the experience of each card were selected individually. Instead, each piece of gear you equip adds a set of cards to a character's deck--carrying your rapier into battle simply means having a chance to draw the cards it offers (a marvelous mechanic I believe I first heard about in the description of the prototype of Thornwatch, but have never encountered in a playable game before). As an old hand at Magic, I found the customization aspect fairly straightforward, but I can appreciate keeping it in check--deck-building has a few too many similarities to kudzu already.
It's hard not to lament the need for developers to adopt microtransaction-reliant models, but babies need bottles (/treasure needs guards). Loot & Legends works hard to stay just on the right side of inoffensive. Both the battles and the deck-building offer enough options to give your mind something to chew on, but not so much as to cause anyone to choke. The bugs present at this point never caused me to lose any progress, and it looks likely to improve over time, not only in stability, but also balance and features. If the gameplay is less exacting than the RPGs it so consciously evokes, perhaps those of us who once played them have grown to prefer games which waste less of our time.
Loot & Legends was played on an iPad Air for this review.