Might & Magic Duel of Champions Review (PC)

Despite a slew of excellent titles in the last few years, Ubisoft haven’t exactly been popular amongst PC gamers, thanks to a combination of delayed releases, dismissive comments and a DRM scheme so maligned the public nicknamed it after the company. So when the publisher announced last year that it was making a big push in the free-to-play market, a certain level of cynicism was understandable.

Amongst the e-sports, FPS and RTS titles Ubisoft announced for the F2P market, Might & Magic Duel of Champions went somewhat under the radar. Which is a shame, because not only is it a perfect example of free-to-play done right, but a damned good online trading card game to boot.

The mechanics may be straightforward but the tactical options are endless.

Setup is pretty easy: simply head over to the game’s official site, login with or create a Uplay account and grab the launcher, which then downloads the relatively small (just over 150MB) game executable. Once up an running, choose a familiar M&M faction from Haven, Inferno, Necropolis or Stronghold - a fifth faction, Sanctuary, is available as part of the day-one expansion Void Rising - which determines your hero and starting deck, and you’re off and running.

The game’s on-screen layout is similarly straightforward. Your hero is always screen left with the battleground laid out horizontally between you and your opponent, each player having two banks of four deployable positions. There are a further four spaces separating the armies for the placement of certain spell cards to contain the opposition’s attacks or defend your troops in that column.

Your army of creatures are broken down into melee, shooter and flyer categories. Melee must be placed closest to the battleground’s centre to form your front line, shooters in the second line of four, while flyers can go in either line. Creatures attack the opposing unit in front of them. If both enemy spaces are occupied, melee and flyer units can only target the front line, while shooters can attack either line. If no opposing creatures are present in that column, your units are free to attack the opposing hero directly.

Each match begins with your hero being dealt six cards from your deck, each having a cost in resources as well as minimum requirements for your three attributes: Might, Magic and Destiny. During each turn, you can level one attribute up by a point or choose to draw a card, and expend resources on deploying a creature or spell card on the battleground, or use a fortune card to influence your forces. Available resources increase after every turn, and there is also a mutual pool of event cards drawn from both players decks, often with effects for both sides, that you can choose to utilise.

Creatures have an attack rating and health points, and some have the ability to retaliate and deal damage whenever struck. There’s also a wide range of special movement, immunity and damage bonuses amongst the huge menagerie of creatures, as well as the ability to control movement, buff or inflict wide scale damage using spells.

It’s a relatively straightforward system even for newcomers to online trading card games, but Duel of Champions’ simplicity of rule set belies the huge amount of tactical options on offer. Duels are rarely one-sided affairs, with momentum swinging back and forth throughout and victory still achievable even when on the precipice with the use of the right card. The result is that Duel of Champions is easy to grasp yet also surprisingly deep, immensely satisfying and at times maddeningly addictive.

The cards boast variety and are lovingly illustrated.

It helps that the cards themselves are an inspiring collection, encompassing a wide range of play styles depending on your faction and deck build. Simply flicking through them in the game’s deck building section is enough to get the mental juices flowing, and you can lose many an hour creating variant decks. There’s plenty of fan service for long-term Might & Magic players as well, and the card art is generally of a high standard, available to be admired at any time during play by right-clicking on any card to view it at full resolution.

Duel of Champions also boasts one of the better, fully featured tutorials found in the genre, taking you step by step through each game mechanic in thorough fashion, as well as an enjoyable if too short single-player campaign - again steeped in M&M lore - that ratchets up the difficulty level smoothly while exposing you to the wide variety of different play styles amongst the factions. Progressing through the campaign will provide an excellent foundation for when you turn to the real meat of the game: the online competitive play.

This can be played as straight-up duels for Leaderboard ranking, or daily tournaments for a chance at winning a share of a central Gold jackpot. There’s also a practice mode against AI, friends or online players for testing out new strategies or decks. There are healthy Gold and XP bonuses on offer for Dueling, and even if you lose performance bonuses still come into play.

The online matchmaking system is fast - I rarely had to wait longer than 15 seconds to be matched with an opponent - and an apparently accurate judge of skill level (measured as your ELO within the game), resulting in evenly balanced matches that ensure even the neophyte feels competitive. A two minute time limit per turn means the action moves swiftly, and those who play online on a regular basis will find themselves with a more than respectable flow of income to expend in the game’s shop.

Duel of Champions utilises two different forms of currency, Gold and Seals, with the former mainly being for the purchase of smaller reinforcement packs and consumables and the latter for expansions or the large “box sets” containing hundreds of cards. Real world prices are fairly reasonable, with €9.99 buying you 75000 Gold or 750 Seals, and you can convert Seals into Gold, though not vice versa.

The campaign may be short but it provides good preparation for multiplayer.

The shop boasts a fairly comprehensive selection to expend your hard-earned pennies on. Consumables are limited-time boosters for XP and Gold earnings. A wide range of card packs are available - including the expansion Void Rising - which, while varied in pricing, all feel well within reach without breaking the bank. You’ll be able to afford a handful of new cards by the time you’ve finished the tutorial alone.

Entire decks will set you back a fair bit more, but even then they’re not out of question for the in-game earnings of a skilled player. Indeed, although I was supplied with several premium currency codes as part of the review process, I only ever needed to use one to enable me to explore the options in the shop: between working my way through the campaign and online dueling, I found I had a healthy enough in-game income to allow me to scratch my card-collecting itch without ever again touching my wallet.

While those willing to invest significant sums of real-world money will have a wider collection of cards, Heroes and Factions to choose from and be able to boost their in-game income rate, there’s never a sense that it’s a shortcut to victory, with player skill and deck build always the determining factors in any match’s outcome.

The lack of an auction house also avoids skewing the game’s economy in favour of the more financially endowed. Instead, Duel of Champions boasts the Infernal Pit, where players can sacrifice unwanted cards, receiving in return a set amount of Gold based on the categories of the cards, as well as the chance to earn bonus cards of varying worth. It’s another example of the thought that Ubisoft Quebec have put into maintaining balance within the game.

It’s also worth noting that the iPad version of Duel of Champions is functionally identical, with the game’s interface translating well onto the touchscreen, and PC and iOS players can duel against each other. Like the PC version, it’s a free download, and you can login with the same Uplay account profile and continue your progress.

It’s a neatly handled example of cross-platform play, and being able to continue dueling or meddling with your decks when away from your computer is an addictive bonus. It’s just about compatible with the first-gen iPad (though you’ll want to close all background apps when playing) but an iPad 2 or later is recommended for the smoothest experience.

Ubisoft are to be applauded for grasping, as Hi-Rez Studios did with Tribes Ascend, that the secret to a successful free-to-play title is building a healthy player base first and foremost and watching the income flow from that, rather than nickel and diming gamers for even basic content. It also helps if your core game is any good to begin with, and Might & Magic Duel of Champions is most certainly that. In fact, I’d heartily recommend it to fans of the Might & Magic series or online trading card games in general even if it had a price tag attached.

Top Game Moment: Battling back from defeat by unleashing a string of Death Seal spells on my foe’s superior forces after a 25 minute slugfest of a match.

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By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Jan 21, 2013
I am definitely trying this one out. The business model seems to be fair and balanced on first sight and lord knows I love a good strategy game ^^
By pr00h (I just got here) on Apr 27, 2013
here are some codes (you can add all of them for like 6 free boosters and 10k gold in the shop of duel of champions) Love the game so far youre getting a lot for nothing thats for sure