Yugioh Duel Links is a horrible mess and I want Hearthstone to learn everything from it.
When Hearthstone was released in 2014, it brought a resurgence of Digital card games. With so much hype behind them, it would only be a matter of time before Konami, the distributor behind one of the largest physical card games, Yu-Gi-Oh would make their return to the digital platform. They did so with the mobile game Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links which was released for mobile in 2016 and for Steam in late 2017.
I wasn’t originally planning on making an article on Duel Links. It didn’t seem like it would be relevant enough. But then PC Gamer went and did an impression article calling it lackluster. They are not wrong on that, in fact they are being way too generous. But the reasons they state for this are wrong, to the point where I had to bring up my own thoughts.
When people hear about Konami today it usually relates to the abrupt end of their partnership with Hideo Kojima and the tagline “Fuck Konami” that spawned from that event. My history with the company goes much further back though. Back to Yu-Gi-Oh Online, one of the first major digital card platforms. It was my first experience with a digital TCG, and I had even managed to collect enough cards for a few decent decks. It wasn’t that easy, the game was rather expensive. But all of that would go to waste when Konami closed it down in 2012, erasing all the collections and investments made by their customers. Fuck Konami.
For this reason, before Duel Links it had been years since I last touched an official Yu-Gi-Oh Client. But something about Duel Links was different. It seemed that Konami was at least trying to deliver some effort, trying to present something different, something that could be better paced than what the live game had turned into after 20 years of power creep.
I say try, because Duel Links is still not that good of a game. In terms of gameplay it does everything worse than Hearthstone.
Seriously, everyone should play this game if they want to know all the shortcomings of a paper card game on a digital platform. Like enemy interaction on your turn, something that works fine on a table but completely ruins the pacing in a digital match. There is a reason Hearthstone doesn’t do that.
Made for mobile doesn’t even begin to describe Duel Links on Steam. It uses only a third of its window space effectively and you can only go full screen through the configuration files. As far as PC ports go, it is so lazy it surprises me that the game doesn’t pull up an on-screen keyboard whenever it needs text.
Business wise it left Hearthstone in the dust. Three expansions a year is too much for you? How about 12? Once a month. Only about 70 new cards on average a month, or twice as many a year as Hearthstone. Oh and they cost about twice as much per card. Fuck Konami.
You like RNG? Duel Links has literal board wipes and skill powers dependent on whether you highroll a die or win a coin flip. Imagine Life Tap, but instead of paying two health for one card every turn you pay all your life but one and roll a die to determine how much you draw. That is a skill in the game.
One of duel link's best features is the one that means you don't have to play it.
With two currencies, Gold and Dust, Hearthstone manages to present a simple system that delivers all that is needed. One for card packs, one for crafting. It is simple, should be the golden standard that everyone follows, right? Nope! Duel Links runs with a ridiculous 20 different currencies, going from seven different keys to unlock legendary duels, to 11 currencies for individual card purchase.
Konami also did the impossible and made Duel Links have a ranking system that is even worse than that of Hearthstone. It is only based on winstreaks. Win four in a row to rank up from Platinum. This means that in theory you could have 75% win rate over a 1000 games, and still be stuck in Plat if you only ever manage to get winstreaks of 3. Fuck Konami.
I have over a hundred hours on this game in the last couple of months, most of this is having the game run in the background autoduelling standard AI opponents. That is right, one of this game’s best features is the one that means you don’t have to play it. Just let it do the grinding on its own.
So what does all this have to do with Hearthstone? Well, while duel links fails to deliver on all the main gameplay components compared to Hearthstone, the concepts presented in its wide range of subfeatures are really interesting. A lot of them would be valued additions to Hearthstone.
The Pack System
The pack system of duel links was heavily criticized by PC gamer as unintuitive and inferior to that of Hearthstone. I couldn’t disagree more.
The booster box system is good. Unintuitive, only in the sense that it actually provides you with the info about its nature. Hearthstone's pack system is just as complex, it just doesn’t bother showing you info about how long you are into the pity timer, or the fact that legendaries cannot duplicate. It is upfront simplicity vs hidden complexity.
Alright, so here is a question. How does one figure out how many packs they need to buy to get all the cards from an expansion pack in Hearthstone?
Well first you look at your current collection, make some estimates on your current pity timer and factor in the chance for getting golden cards, epics and additional rares. Then you realise you don’t have half of those numbers so you give up and look up someone that has already done the maths. Thanks to Polygon we have a decent estimate: About 400 packs. That is with crafting, so if you want to save the dust for golden cards then you can end up buying over 750 packs and still be missing epics.
How many packs does it take to get all the cards in a full booster box in Duel links? At most 200. I never needed to look up any percentages or try to do advanced math. It just tells me. What the booster box system delivers is a promise: after the given number of packs (here 200) you will have these cards. In the given quantities. Guaranteed. The only thing that is random is the order in which you are getting the cards.
To give an idea of how it works, look at the box of cards to the right. These are the cards you can get from the packs you buy. As you get them they will be removed from the box. Eventually you will have them all.
This system is everything I want for Hearthstone, because it actually tells all you need to know about the general expectations from the developers and about your personal luck. 100 packs in you are expected to have half the Ultra Rares (The highest rarity cards). If you are below that you can expect to see a surge of those. No matter what, you will have one of each in the end.
Now of course there is a catch here. Duel Links Ultra rares are not like Legendaries in the sense that you can only have one of them in your deck. Meaning that for a lot of them you will need to go through the booster box three times for a playset. So when they say 200, they actually mean 600 packs to go through. Fuck Konami.
But the core concept of the booster box system, if properly implemented, would still be a vastly improved system over what Hearthstone currently has. It fully informs the player of their progress and how much they can expect to grind/pay.
It just also so happens that the quantities Duel Links went with matches perfectly with the demands of Hearthstone. You get one of each Ultra Rare (Legendariy), two of each Super Rare (Epic), as well as a large number of duplicates for Rares and even more for Normals (Commons). This is exactly how I would expect a fair booster pack system for Hearthstone to work.
The question is whether or not Blizzard dares to be open about their expectations. How many packs do they expect each player to buy for a complete collection? And how would the community react when that number goes public? That could easily be a reason why Blizzard would be very hesitant on giving out that number.
Replays, Decklists, Social features, Oh my!
I give Konami a lot of trash but the one thing that cannot be denied is the wealth of subfeatures in Duel Links.
Between the corporate control and poor PR of Konami, somewhere deep down there still lies a serious game developer that knows about relevant features and gets them implemented. It shows in Duel Links and there is so much to talk about, starting with replays.
A lot has already been said about replays, and yet never enough. It is far and away the most lacking feature in Hearthstone. Duel Links has them too, it has been a standard feature of most Yugioh clients. You can only store five replays at a time, and only for a limited period, eut even this helps so much. Just being able to reenact that one clutch play, maybe store it on video for a YouTube highlight. Right now, only players who record all their gameplay can do that.
Replays are far and away the most lacking feature of Hearthstone
Another thing about this is the public “street” replays. Duel Links promotes a selection of replays based on the game scores. You are encouraged to watch at least one replay daily for some gems, which is honestly not the worst feature. You can also see the full decklists of both players featured in the replay.
Speaking of decklists, Duel Links does a really good job of providing you with a lot of them, so you have good opportunity to get inspiration. First there is the deckboard where players can submit decks and upvote others. It is kinda like having the interface of Hearthpwn inside the client.
Duel Links also features a duel log which records your recent results. It features the classic problem of highlighting loss streaks, but what it also features is the ability to see the decklists of your opponent. Again, really nice for inspiration, or to see what exactly was going on with some crazy nonsense deck.
The final feature to highlight from duel links is the duel rooms. It is perfect.
It is like a digital room, featuring tables where players can sit down and start a game. Other players can jump in and spectate the games at will. Like a custom game lobby, but for multiple games at once.
The potential in this feature for the tournament scene alone, would be staggering. Gone would be the days of fiddling with friend requests and battletags, when you can just hand over a room ID for the top half of the tournament bracket. Duel rooms also has a local chat which would allow for some coordination in client.
Then there is the streaming potential. Viewer games, while standard in team games like Heroes of the storm, is almost completely absent in Hearthstone. It is just too much hassle to manage. Duel rooms changes this allowing viewers of a stream to join in and play vs the streamer or other viewers. It is pretty common to see this from Duel links streamers.
It is questionable how much this could scale with the larger communities of Hearthstone streamers, but it would still be a decent way for up and coming streamers to engage with their limited viewerbase.
So Much Character
The final part that absolutely cannot be denied about Duel links is how they nailed the identity of the characters included. The voice acting and general writing in Duel Links are both superb.
The presentation of the Characters is on a completely different scale than than in Hearthstone.
They inserted multiple different voice lines for the start of duels and many voice lines are unique for matchups between characters that have a past relationship in the show. This is as opposed to having the same tired, opening line for every single game.
With Malfurion and Tyrande, Blizzard has shown that Hearthstone is capable of having the same type of interactions occur but they don’t use it at all.
Thrall and Garrosh, Medivh and Guldan, ARTHAS AND JAINA! There are many characters with personal ties strong enough to warrant personal introduction dialogues, but only the Twitch Prime exclusive hero skin gets one.
Heroes of the Storm does something similar with its hero dialogues at the start of the game. HOTS support a similar number of languages and uses many of the same characters as Hearthstone, leading me to believe that Blizzard should be capable of delivering this for Hearthstone, if they were willing to. That might be a big if.
It should be noted that Duel Links only support three languages for Audio, but being from the never-supported region of Scandinavia it is not really something I notice myself. English or bust, as per usual.
Playing both Hearthstone and Duel Links is like watching two parallel worlds. Hearthstone has the gameplay nailed down, no doubt with the very same polish that created an esport for millions. But on the feature side it is so lackluster, almost a disgrace among Blizzard titles.
On the feature side Duel Links is everything I have wanted for Hearthstone. Strong social features, excellent tools for the community and esport, along with an informative pack system and strong distribution of decklists.
But you just can’t have the best of both worlds. Duel Links' business model is ridiculously exploitative. Its gameplay is garbage. Just this month they released cards that allowed for an FTK deck. That is a deck that can win on the first turn, before player two even have a turn. Fuck Konami.
To be fair, Konami is not shy from patching Duel links and has already adjusted the game balance accordingly (another thing Hearthstone should really take notice from). Ideally though, no CCG should ever get to that point.
I am a Yu-Gi-Oh dweeb. It was the game started my interest in card games. My passion for that game cannot be destroyed but I still take the damage from the endless greed of Konami.
Playing a month of Duel links was like therapy. It makes you appreciate the better gameplay and business model of Hearthstone when you have seen just how bad it can be. There is much that can be improved, but at the end of the day, Hearthstone is just so much better as a game.
Thank you, Blizzard, for an excellent game. And Fuck Konami.