I have to admit, straight off the bat, to a shameful lack of knowledge about Yu-Gi-Oh!. Pokemon? I’m an expert. Even Nexomon and Digimon I have a working knowledge of, but the world of Yu-Gi-Oh has always been a closed book to me. Until now that is, with the release of Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel, a new free-to-play game from Konami. Promising not only an in-depth campaign mode for single player, but also cross-platform multiplayer battles, can it deliver on its promise and entice me into its world? Well, it’s time to grab a dragon…
Now, first off, and in these reviews I usually like to touch lightly upon any narrative that is found to be lurking in the game in question. And this is going to be a pretty short paragraph this time around, as there doesn’t seem to be very much in the way of a story to go at. Now, those of you who have read my ramblings about games before will know that I am partial to a game with a story, but given the nature of this game, it is forgivable that the story seems to be “Beat all of the people!”.
What I can tell you is that Yu-Gi-Oh is based on a popular manga that was created in 1996 by Kazuki Takahashi, and that Konami has been making video games about it for almost as long.
So, onto the actual way the game looks, and again, with no frame of reference, I have to say it all looks jolly spiffing. The cards are the heroes here, with beautifully drawn artwork, and so many variations it makes my head spin. Seriously, I thought the Pokemon TCG was complicated, but that is a walk in the park next to Master Duel.
Trap cards, summon cards, sacrificing some creatures in order to summon others, it’s enough to make a newbie have their head put into a spin. Still, the actual game screen is pretty nice, being an arena with spaces to place all the cards you could ever want. The sound is okay too, with stirring music in the menu screens and crunching impacts in the combat phases. All in all, it looks and feels very nice indeed.
Now, onto the meat and drink of any game like this, the actual gameplay. Having literally not a scooby what I was initially doing, I decided, like any sensible person, to play the tutorial first. And you know what, it does a pretty good job of teaching you what to do, the basic mechanics. These seem to be that you are given a hand to begin with, and after every turn you can draw another card. There are monster cards that can be summoned in either offensive or defensive positions. You can only summon one of these a turn. There are also various trap cards that you can place face down on the arena, and if your opponent performs an action that triggers your trap, you get to do what the card says, which usually results in one of their cards being destroyed.
So, basically, you take it in turns to lay cards, then attack, and rinse and repeat. Each duelist has a certain amount of HP, and if an attack from your monsters isn’t absorbed by your opponent’s defence or monsters, you do damage directly to their health pool. The first person to reduce the other to zero HP wins. All clear so far? Brilliant. You are now at the same point I was after beating the tutorial.
So, after playing through some missions, I decided I was doing a good enough job at beating the AI that I might be ready to try and take on a real life opponent. Well, it turns out that I’m not. Without a word of a lie, even in the lowest possible tier of competition, the opponent I faced not only unleashed some absolutely crazy combos, but they pretty much destroyed me in the first turn. Somehow, and I’m sure it was all within the rules, they managed to summon one monster, which summoned two more, which were then used as tribute to pull even more powerful creatures out; I was left a much chastened old man, weeping gently on the sidelines. What this is getting to is that the online world of Yu-Gi-Oh! is completely brutal, and they do not take any prisoners. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend going anywhere near that world until you have a much better hand than the starter one you are issued with.
This leads me onto the microtransactions part of the game, which is understandable given that it is free-to-play. You can buy various denominations of gems in order to power your deck up, with values all the way up to £80. Obviously, the more powerful decks cost a lot to purchase and even individual cards are not cheap. Of course, looking at these decks is as confusing as the rest of the game, and even after buying a Dragon deck that I liked the look of (you earn in-game currency from working through the single player, so no actual money was harmed in the making of this review) but even with this shiny new deck in my hand, not knowing the ins and outs of how the cards interact with each other, I was again unceremoniously spanked.
The problem with Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel is the insane amount of time that you would, as a newbie, have to dedicate to it in order to be competitive. The tutorials are a good start, but they are only a start, and the finer points of deck building and battling can only come with experience. What was most telling for me is that in looking for ways to be competitive, I came across a user quote that basically said “The most powerful card in my deck is my parent’s credit card” – the pay-to-win ethos is very strong here. Obviously it is fully possible to eventually make a good deck without paying, but it feels like a long and painful grind to get there.
On the whole, if you have a lot of prior Yu-Gi-Oh! knowledge, and the time to invest, Master Duel is most certainly a good game, deep down. For the rest of us lesser mortals, the bar to entry is set ridiculously high, and feels like the world it holds is basically impenetrable.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel can be downloaded from the Xbox Store