Duelyst review for PC

Platform: PC
Publisher: Counterplay Games
Developer: Counterplay Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: Yes

While I’ve played a number of online TCG and CCG themed titles over the years since Hearthstone revitalized the online card game world, I don’t think I’ve come across one that I’ve enjoyed quite as much as the recently released Duelyst from Counterplay Games. This was a title introduced to the world via Kickstarter a couple of years back, and now fully released on PC as of April this year. While it certainly bears some resemblance to titles like Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering, it also puts a neat little spin on things, by changing cards into actual, moveable units displayed on a playing grid, adding another layer of depth to the whole affair.

Duelyst is a 1 vs. 1 experience, both against other online players and the A.I. in a variety of challenge and practice modes. Each player takes turns playing cards from their hand, moving deployed units, attacking, and playing spells. Each card has a cost associated with it, which drains your mana pool when played, which in turn refreshes on your next turn and increases by one point. It’s much like Hearthstone in this regard, a playstyle which keeps the tempo of play steady throughout, allowing you to build up to placing either stronger units, or more units, over time.

duelyst 001There’s a hefty number of cards available in the base game. You’ll get access to a number of starter decks based around various factions, complete with lore details if you care to delve into the story side of Duelyst. As you play with these starter decks, you’ll unlock base cards to further customize your burgeoning collection, and as you start to make your way through the ranks online, or complete the daily quests, you’ll earn gold to purchase orbs (think packs) with 5 additional cards to unlock. Again, this isn’t too far removed from the Hearthstone formula. Of course, that makes total sense, considering how well this is proven to work.

Where Duelyst really changes course is with how playing cards affects the battlefield. As I mentioned before, cards that represent characters or creatures are actual units that get deployed. Prior to even playing your first card, each player will have one unit designated as a General. Their General will have a high HP pool, and a limited attack, along with a special power that recharges over two turns. The idea here is to defeat the enemy General in order to win the match by completely depleting his or her HP. Generals can move just like standard units, giving some risk and reward to their placement.

duelyst 002The other units you play have a variety of hitpoints and attack strengths to them, along with a solid list of special abilities. Some cards will trigger effects when deployed, others when they die, and some when they’re close enough to your General. Some enemies can attack twice, others will spawn additional units when damaged, and so on. Card effects are easy enough to read while playing, and the text takes up little space with minimal explanation. Also worth noting is that the units themselves look absolutely awesome. They’re all sprite-based, with neat animations that differ from one another, and they’re all quite colorful and unique.

In addition to units, you can play cards that are designated as spells, which can often power-up your own units, spawn additional smaller units, create damaging spaces on the playing board, and so on. There’s a decent variety here, and to flesh that out even more, you’ll have artifact cards that tack on to your General and provide additional properties to that specific unit.

duelyst 003Deck building is easy enough to customize with a number of standard decks to start with that can be outfitted with unlocked cards as you play more of Duelyst. Each deck consists of 40 cards, and allows for up to three multiples of each card regardless of rarity. This is another area in which Duelyst differentiates itself from Hearthstone a bit, you can actually have three copies of a Legendary card in your deck if you want. Surprisingly, this doesn’t seem to make the game feel unbalanced or unfair.

For modes, you’ll primarily be playing the Season Ladder mode that resets each month. Here you’ll work your way through the ranks against other live opponents. Your placement at the end of the month will also net you rewards, so attempting to climb the ladder is certainly a good idea. There’s also Practice, which is where you’ll start off against the A.I., the unique and fairly tough Challenge mode, and finally The Gauntlet, which is a draft mode that’s again fairly similar to Hearthstone’s Arena.

Again, I’m absolutely enjoying my time spent with Duelyst. I’ve still got a lot to play and check out, and I’m a far cry from being good at the game. But the content, cards, and gameplay is all rock solid here, with what I hope will a promising future via expansions and additional patches and updates. If you’re at all a fan of CCG or TCG games, whether digital or real, I’d urge you to check out Duelyst. You won’t be disappointed.

Grade: A+