Can Gameloft's TCG handle the competition?
Given the enormous popularity of the TCG genre on the various app stores, not to mention the suitability of touchscreen devices for this sort of gameplay, it's no surprise to see Gameloft capitalize on the success of its other releases in the Order & Chaos universe with a take on this genre.
Order & Chaos Duels is a deck-building game that has much more in common with last year's excellent Magic 2013 rather than, say, the likes of Rage of Bahamut. Starting out in the game, you select your preferred style of Hero - mage or warrior, elf or undead - and are given a selection of class-appropriate cards to head out into battle with.
On the campaign battlefield itself, you face off against a series of specialized opponents. Combat is round-based and begins with players using a limited mana pool to play their Minion cards. Each card has its own special flavor, whether that's an instant spellcast which debilitates the opposition's behavior in some way, or a direct damage ability. Certain cards add defensive capabilities to your Hero too, and knowing when to defend and when to go on an unflinching assault is at the core of this particular game of cat-and-mouse.
Strategic combat continues until you or your opponent's Hero character sustains too much damage, and there's a delicate balance between building defenses, using Hero abilities, rearranging cards, and constantly adapting to the behavior of the AI opposition. There's a fair sprinkling of luck involved too - more so than in Magic 2013 - and while it can sometimes be tough to win the fight fair and square, every loss will teach you a little more.
There's much to be said about the visual flair of this Order & Chaos game. We can't recall a TCG where the card characters themselves were animated, let alone to such a polished degree. Characters frozen in time hold rippling magic in their outstretched hands, for example, and the battle environments themselves are fully animated. Delighted though we were last year with the extraordinary strategic depth of Magic 2013, we have to admit that Gameloft have pipped even the masters of strategy card gaming when it comes to presentation.
Concerns we have about the game are split into two different areas. First, we're unsure about the balancing between different Hero classes - our glass-cannon magical Hero struggled a great deal even with the tutorial, and often became overwhelmed by the opposition before we could form even a basic defense. The difficulty curve, combined with the card balancing, can vary wildly between characters and matches.
While there's a multiplayer component to the game, it's hard to ignore the fact that with a suitably stuffed wallet you could take something of a pay-to-win approach to dominating the ranked leaderboards. Different card packs are available to buy from the in-app purchase store, and more lavish expenditure is rewarded with more powerful Hero cards.
We can't predict the future of the game in the long-term, and only time will tell how the ranked multiplayer system works out in the coming months, but as a free offering the single player campaign is more than worthy of exploration by any strategy card gamer. It's perhaps the most polished example of the genre we've played since last year's magnificent Magic 2013 - although newcomers to TCG tablet gaming will almost certainly want to exhaust that particular title first.
What's Hot:Beautifully presented, a diverse collection of cards to gather, and decent strategy overall.
What's Not:The game's balancing is a little off, and this could quickly become an expensive game.