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Friday, November 16, 2007

Legends of Norrath: Initial Impressions

I finally got around to trying Legends of Norrath a week ago. I'm surprised it took me so long because I'm definitely into collectible card games. I've played it a good deal but I haven't yet challenged many real human beings or tried trading or tournaments yet. So this is just the start - I will follow up on this post.

The important thing to make clear is that this is a great game. I've played it every night since I first tried it, sometimes for extended periods of time. I'm always excited to log on. The general design of the game is excellent. I love the aspect of dual win conditions (you can win either by questing or defeating the enemy avatar). It plays very smoothly and has a perfect pace. I find it fun and challenging and the artwork is definitely beautiful. There is a nice variety to the cards and a good number have very interesting effects which allow for strategic play.

I just think SOE did a fantastic, polished job and I can't wait to log on again. So the slight negative comments I'm going to make should not dissuade you from trying this game. If you are an EQ or EQII subscriber (meaning you get a free starter deck) I strongly urge you give it a play. But nothing is perfect, so here are a handful of issues I had:

The Tutorial: When I was playing through the tutorial, I quickly developed a headache. "They made this game way too complicated," I thought to myself. "They should have gone the route of making it accessible to all." But don't worry, those impressions weren't accurate. The learning curve is actually modest and you'll figure things out very quickly in your first few actual games.

So why did I think it was so complicated? It's the tutorial's fault. It's split into way too many segments and it needlessly muddles things. The tutorial tackles each type of card individually (items, abilities, quests, etc.) in too much of a vacuum. The important thing to teach is the gameplay. I promise you, the game is much much easier to learn when you actually play it through, because you understand the flow of play and how things relate.

I understand the concept of the tutorial. It is attempting to give you the basic knowledge you need about each type of card and then tie it all together at the end in the summary lesson. But that's way to late in my opinion to tie it all together. That should be done throughout.

Players would be much better served by being led through an actual continuing game. The tutorial should force you through a number of turns. And when a new type of card comes up, say "items," it should then explain that card in the context of the larger game. Then the tutorial could tell you to raid and explain how combat works, again in the context of the actual game. Having eleven tutorials is needlessly off-putting and really doesn't help.

The Scenarios: The scenarios are absolutely great and a ton of fun. I love the fact that some force you to win using a certain victory condition and familiarize you with different styles of play. The whole thing is well-written and enjoyable. I absolutely love what they did in Scenario 14 by connecting the story and events in the game to actual cards. The way they used the Altar and the Rift are just terrific. I absolutely loved playing the scenarios through and I strongly urge SOE to add more from time to time. I was impressed that they took the time to make these so enjoyable.

My negative on the scenarios is really minor and related to lore. And it's very rare that I ever get tweaked about lore. But, okay, here it is. In EQII we basically never see Lucan or Antonia (unless things have changed). I always felt this was a mistake, though I know it is trickier to do then it sounds. It would have been nice to be more connected to the central characters.

So am I now going to complain because the scenarios are chock-full of Lucan and Firiona Vie? Yes, a little. The problem with introducing legendary characters like this into an MMO or any other type of game is that we have pre-conceived notions and expectations of them. So when we play through the scenarios and see Lucan and Firiona have rather pedestrian stats, it's a little disquieting. I realize that this is necessary to keep the game balanced but it definitely is an issue. I also thought it was weak to use Firiona as the classic damsel in distress. It's just cliche and not really suited to the character. Just nitpicks, as I said.

Card Text: The "flavor" text on the cards is fine. But that's about it and that's the problem. I don't think the writing is weak by any means but it just doesn't reach out and grab my emotions like some of the Magic text does. I think it can really help draw you into the game if superbly done.

Again, none of the card text in Legends is terrible or even bad. But it's just my personal belief that writing flavor text for cards in these type of games is just about the greatest, most exhilarating job any fantasy buff can ever have. You have such an opportunity to be hilarious, dramatic, beautiful. To me it's almost the poetry of geekdom.

I'm designing my own episodic flash-based card battle game (still in the pen and paper stages) mainly for the golden opportunity to write flavor text. And it is hard, a heck of a lot harder then you might first think. So I appreciate the difficulty. But I just beseech whoever it is out there penning the prose: put your heart and soul and lifeblood into it. And enjoy it, because it's a fantastic opportunity.

Business Aspects: In general I think the price is right. It's great that you get a free starter deck if you are an EQ or EQII subscriber and great that you can play around a bit even if you're not. I think the booster decks are quite fairly priced. So, overall, I really like the model. I just have a few issues with it, one major and one minor.

The major issue I have is that there is no benefit for Station Access subscribers. If there is and I don't know about it, I apologize. But for those out there who are passionate enough to pay the quite high price of $29.99, I think it's almost absurd not to take advantage of this opportunity to reward them.

Would it be that big a deal to give Station Access subscribers a free booster pack a month? I certainly don't think so. They're paying you enough money and interest has to be waning considering Vanguard and some of the other "titles." This is a golden opportunity to make these subscribers feel good about the cash they are handing over every month. In the end, it might even make SOE more money to be a little generous here as perhaps fewer people will go back to a one-game subscription.

Again, if there is a benefit, I apologize. I didn't see mention of one. But if not, this probably bothers me more about Legends then everything else put together.

On a more minor note, it would be nice if the booster packs could be somewhat tailored to each class. It's pretty lame to buy a booster with only a few Mage cards in there. Okay, I think this will be alleviated when I start trading, but I still think it might be nice to have class-based boosters.

Well, that's it. As you can tell, pretty minor nitpicks and on the whole a wonderful job by SOE. The main thing to know is that the game is great and you should give it a whirl.

Two questions for the more advanced players out there: How is the balance between the different classes? How is the balance between the two victory conditions when playing a live opponent (do people mostly win by questing or by knocking the opponent's health down)?

I hope to meet you on the fields of battle in Legends soon.

13 Comments:

Blogger Lars said...

I agree that the tutorial was worthless. When I was playing the tutorial, I thought I'd never get the hang of it. But after I tried a few scenarios, I got hooked.

The game seems pretty balanced. Some of the racial abilities used to be unbalanced (particularly with Wood Elf and Gnomes), but they fixed (nerfed) those some time ago, so people actually utilize different strategies now.

There's a wide variety of deck styles; some players try for quest victories while using cards or abilities to avoid combat (the gnome's ability to do so used to be unbalanced); others go for direct damage; yet others try to swarm the opponent with raids by cheap low-cost monsters.

I've only done one tournament and the only thing that really bothered me there was that some people signed up only for the loot cards, so I ended up in a few battles where I won for no other reason than the other guy wasn't at the computer.

11:59 PM  
Blogger Anskiere said...

You'll have to find me sometime and we can play a few rounds, Aggro. I've amassed over 1100 cards... because I'm just batshit insane, anyway.

1:33 AM  
Blogger Aggro Me said...

Anskiere - Wow...I think you definitely have me beat in the number of cards department! But I'll definitely play a few rounds with ya sometime this week. Let's play on vent so you can fill me in on the strategies.

Lars - Thanks for the report. I'm very glad to hear that:
1. The game is fairly balanced
2. SOE has been actively addressing balance issues
3. People are using a variety of deck styles (that's a great sign)
4. Another vote for a tutorial revamp! Glad it wasn't just me.

I seriously think it is important to have a great tutorial so you can hook new players into the game right away instead of scaring them off.

2:55 AM  
Blogger cyan said...

I absolutely love the game and play at least a game or two a day. I think they did a superb job, and already have some money set aside for Forsworn (is it bad I am more excited about Forsworn than I think I was about Kunark?)

I played 2 booster draft tournaments over the weekend. One thing I don't like about the original tournament format was that it took so long. 8 rounds in a swiss tournament meant you had to be there for 4 hours, where as with the new draft tournament you can only have to be there for 3 hours and generally people finish up the rounds much quicker than that.

Before the draft tournaments I was really wondering if the game was not as skill based in "playing" as skill based in "building" (and having the money to build a good deck), but after this weekend, you can really see that skill plays a much larger roll than I first though because a lot of the poeple that are in the top X that they list, were whipping some ass in the tournaments (with drafted decks). All and all, I really love the game and find myself playing it more than EQ2 these days.

Also be sure to check out our Card list, I have a bunch of stuff coming also for tutorials and the like on the site also:

The Deck: Legends of Norrath Cards @ EQ2-Daily

Also look me up Aggro, I am always up for a game.

As for batshit insane, does having almost 2 full sets of Oathbound count? :)

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anofi - Everfrost said...

I've never tried a TCG before...and I have to say that while I got hooked pretty quick, I don't fully understand what I'm doing. Been stuck on scenario 8 for several weeks now; I even bought a few booster packs and played around with deck building to try and get past it, but no luck. As a total noob, I'm reluctant to post about my ignorance on the forums...even some of the strategy explanations there are over my head, lol. So while I agree that the game is very cool, someone who has never attempted this kind of thing before can get easily left in the dust by the tutorial & scenarios.

I need an Obi-Wan Kenorrath to teach me this stuff--apparently grad school is actually making me *less* smart. =P

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Mantees said...

Too bad that as an european I am not allowed in the prized tournaments :(

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*Peeks*

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