Unearthed Prophecy, the game’s fourth expansion, came out earlier this week and after spending several hours fiddling around with the latest cards, I’m already in love with it.
Duelyst is a collectible card game that deviates from other heavy-weights in the genre by borrowing the grid-based elements of a strategy RPG. Instead of dropping minions into the vague battlefield of a Hearthstone or The Elder Scrolls: Legends, Duelyst has you control a General unit inside a 9x5 grid with the minions you play occupying space and moving in limited ways just like pieces on a chessboard. While this emphasis on positioning has always helped set the game apart in an otherwise crowded field, Unearthed Prophecy doubles-down on its importance with a number of new cards whose abilities are triggered or augmented by shifting formations.
Take Flamewreath for example, a minion that deals two damage to anything on an adjacent square every time it’s moved. In Duelyst, as in Hearthstone and Magic the Gathering, the default is to not let minions move or attack the same turn they are played. Minions who do have abilities like Haste or Charge which lets them act early, usually have some other draw back as a result, like a higher cost to play or less health. Flamewreath doesn’t have a similar ability, so even though it deals damage every time it moves, it can’t move on the same turn it’s played.
But Flamewreath is part of the Songhai Empire, a faction in Duelyst that’s all about teleporting stuff. It’s main general, Kaleos Xaan, has a cool down ability that can move a friendly minion up to two spaces from where it is. In addition, cards like Mist Dragon Seal let you teleport a friendly minion anywhere on the board as well as buff it, all for only one mana. Together, that means you can deal a massive amount of damage to the heart of an opponent’s attack for only six mana. A big part of what makes card games fun is surprising whoever you’re playing against with a slick combo that completely flips the table on who’s winning, and Flamewreath is perfect for that.
But it also benefits from playing off how Duelyst uses space to create friction between players. Minions can be used defensively to protect the player’s general or be placed in the rear so they aren’t killed before they have a chance to move, attack, and/or trigger their ability. And the Songhai faction specifically has an ability, Backstab, where minions do extra damage when they attack an enemy from behind. Unearthed Prophecy introduces a handful more of these units that are low cost, and I’ve spent the better part of the week playing around with them in a quick-paced, low-mana cost deck that caters to the shifty, ninja-like qualities of the Songhai Empire, a faction that I hadn’t previously spent a whole lot of time with. Just over a year since it was released, Duelyst feels revitalized and fresh, with a more rounded-out library of cards that takes advantage of the game’s unique, hybrid-mix of card mechanics and tactical gameplay .
Outside of the expansion itself, however, the big news is that the game, which was originally developed out of a Kickstarter project several years ago, has now been picked up by publisher Bandai Namco. On the one hand, this means the game will have more support and Counterplay’s staff will be able to focus more of their time and attention purely on patching the existing game and designing new expansions. But Bandai Namco’s involvement also introduces outside expectations that could always interfere with the overall creative vision, especially for something that’s free-to-play like Duelyst.
Keith Lee, who previously worked on Diablo III before co-founding Counterplay, tried to quell those fears in comments he made to Engadget. “Bandai Namco will often offer really good suggestions and insightful feedback since they play Duelyst frequently and they even run their own office tournament brackets,” he said. “But, ultimately, final creative decisions rest with us.”
The first major change to come out post-collaboration has been the introduction of a new currency to the game: Diamonds. Like a lot of virtual currencies, players can use them to buy card packs outright, rather than waiting to accrue in-game currency through completing matches and daily quests. Unfortunately, the currency is sold in arbitrary amounts (not an unusual move), such that you’ll always have some left over depending on how you spend it. For instance, you can buy 1,500 diamonds for $15, but it only costs 1,450 to purchase ten card packs from the new expansion, leaving 50 left over. The small change left many in the Duelyst sub-Reddit less than impressed when it was first revealed.
However, the upshot of this partnership with Bandai Namco could hopefully lead the game to arrive on mobile platforms sooner rather than later, a development the game’s community has been waiting on for a long time now.