Saturday, August 18, 2007

Legends of Norrath - First Week Thoughts

Well, I've got to say, I'm impressed. When I learned about Legends of Norrath at the recent Vegas Fan Faire, I was, frankly, kinda ticked. I haven't played a collectible trading card game in probably around a decade, and I hadn't been missing it. Not that TCGs were always bad - the strategy aspect is very appealing to me - but they got awfully expensive back in my college days, and they never seemed worth getting back into.

Now we have this new wave of ONLINE TCGs. Online? What the hell? This isn't like solitaire, where I'm playing with the same "deck" over and over, and at worst the computer version keeps me honest. This isn't like video poker, where once the deck is "shuffled" via randomization, the play-the-odds aspect is exactly the same as regular poker.

No, the idea behind a trading card game, and one of the defining aspects that made it so much fun to begin with, was the rush of opening a pack of cards and seeing what's inside. You take your cards, file them away, and they're collectible, so maybe you take the rare ones you don't absolutely need and place them in protective sleeves to retain their value - like a baseball card collection only geekier. So to collect virtual cards in this same manner seems....wrong. To me.

I can't say I necessarily would have given LoN a fair shake had I not attended the Fan Faire. But since I get to try it early, free (optionally), and - even if the game turned out to suck - got some chances at making server item discoveries (of which I amazingly have ZERO, despite playing EQ2 non-stop since beta), I figured I should take advantage of the offer :)

I always said about EQ2 that the graphics were great, but had nothing to do with why I have yet to find a game to take me away from it. The gameplay is what's most important! LoN gets major kudos in a similar regard: I may not like the notion of an online TCG, but so far I'm very impressed with the gameplay!

LoN offers a really interesting dynamic that I never got out of TCGs a decade ago. Magic: the Gathering, for instance, was all about building an army and slaughtering the other guy. Star Trek's TCG had combat between cards you laid down, but winning was focused on completing missions. (It was also terrible - just the fact that the Red Alert mechanic ever existed means someone should be shot)

LoN offers you a choice of paths: Try to slaughter the other guy, represented by an avatar with personalized stats (unlike MtG, where everyone starts with 20 health points and no stats), or be the first to complete 4 quests of increasing difficulty. You can choose to build a deck focused on one tactic or the other, or make a balanced deck that can flexibly take either path.

I spent most of the last week on tutorials and scenarios. The scenarios are a sort of short, single-player campaign not unlike other computer strategy games, wherein you must use the resources available to you to tackle opponents who have various themes, tactics, challenges, and special abilities.

A few of the scenarios are amazing, while others are amazingly frustrating. Droon was the first such bastard. ANY fight he gets into, he gets 4 points of damage absorption, which makes him extremely hard to EVER hurt (doing more than 4 damage in a combat is tough), and nearly impossible to kill. Beating him by questing isn't impossible by any means, but you still have to build an army to hold his army at bay, so you can't just go with a 100% questing deck. The best thing I can say about Droon is that he made me learn all the ins-and-outs of the deck builder utility!

There were some other tricky scenarios, some more fun in their challenges than others, but the worst has to be the last one. Ok ok, the last scenario in a campaign SHOULD be the hardest - I'm aware of that - but Miragul's ability to resurrect (at no cost) ANY unit out of his graveyard once per turn makes him just god-awful. It isn't hard to start the game accelerating faster than Miragul and get a couple quests under your belt, but once he gets up to 6 power and lays down Mayong Mistmoore, there's pretty much no stopping him. I'm going to have to try making an all-combat deck of extremely cheap creatures and see if I can just out-attrition him.

Frustrating as some scenarios may be, however, they really are fun, and definitely help get your brain buffed-up for when you take on other humans.

Speaking of humans...I finally played against another human last night. Good times! I managed to win, but it was close - both our avatars were down to 1 hitpoint when I finished him off with a Kick, for which I felt kinda cheap. I'm very much looking forward to more matches, and especially some tournament action. I hope there'll be a test of the tournament system near the end of beta, too, so we can see how it works (and maybe win a sweet carpet? ;)

So, what are the downsides of Legends of Norrath? Well, as I said, the gameplay is very engaging, and of course there's bugs, but bugs get fixed. The only thing that really bothers me about LoN is tangibility. I accept that, at this point, I'm just some old coot who only looks back fondly on how things were "back in my day." That said, it still bugs me!

I think it's the way the cards are marketed and "packaged" more than anything. The Legends of Norrath store (link here***) shows booster packs in little tear-open plastic sleeves and starter decks in colorful, art-laden boxes. But that's not even that bad compared to the "case of booster packs' you can buy. There's actually a little picture of a store display box full of booster packs, and you get a small discount for buying 36 at once. ($2.75 per pack instead of $3)

I used to pay $3 per booster pack for Magic cards, Star Wars cards, and any other TCG I once fiddled with. But had I kept those cards, I could still go to them 20 years from now and they'll be there, waiting for me to get nostalgic. I could invest hundreds of dollars into LoN, and 20 years from now they'll be so much digitized dust in the wind.

Simply put, $3 per booster feels like way too much for virtual property, and what makes me REALLY mad is that I like the game enough to have already bought a few anyway. Grrrrrr.

There'll be free boosters that drop off of mobs in EQ1 and EQ2, but we won't know how rare they'll be until LoN goes live. Mayyyyybe it'll turn out that they aren't terribly rare, and perhaps even that LoN will prove to be a dandy, lower-profit marketing tool to get more EQ subscribers rather than the other way around. I'd LOVE that, frankly. IF, in fact, those dropped boosters aren't very rare after all, I'll quit my bitching about the price for purchasing extras, I promise ;)

*** (might have to be logged into a Station account to view this page)


Maelie Jade said...

That's how I feel about it too. (The virtual part, that is.)

I love that it's online and that there's no having to keep track of HP and stuff, but...

I really want packs and if drops will be as rare as they say they will be, I know I'll end up buying them.

EQ1 has been going for years and years... but who knows how long EQ2 will be going?
What happens to all of that money spent on in-game cards when it ends for good?

Robo said...

Go defensive on that last mission.
A priest deck can finish on full health, just throw the units out to blow and quest him out.

Almeric said...

It's true that the mechanics of the game wouldn't lend well to being played with real cards. Smedley noted at the Fan Faire, for instance, that Wizards of the Coast has patented the "tapping" mechanic (turning a card sideways to show it's been used), so they'd have to come up with something new to denote stuff like that. Playing LoN with real cards would be an exercise in patience while dealing with 3-jillion little glass or plastic counters all over your cards.

I just think the boosters should go for about $1.50, to make up for their EVENTUAL inevitable disappearance.

And Robo, thanks for the tip - I'll give it a try soon, though now that I've started playing against other humans, the scenarios seem a lot less enticing ;)