Duelyst Impressions

If you enjoy deck-building, strategy, and ladder-climbing, Duelyst is for you.


Sleek UI
Art Style
Strategy and Movement
Neat Cards/Combinations
Free-to-play Model

None, really…perhaps it’s a little too derivative, but that falls somewhere in a grey area.

In light of the recent announcement of its open beta, it seems only fitting to share my opinion of Duelyst. The crew at Counterplay Games have been fastidiously working on this project with a steady stream of updates, often in response to player feedback on forums.

Well, just what the hell is it? The simple answer would be it’s part CCG—if you immediately think Hearthstone, that’s about as close to the target as it gets—and part tactical, grid-based strategy game like The Banner Saga or Final Fantasy Tactics. You play the cards in your deck with the purpose of defeating your enemy’s general by reducing his 25 health to 0. You build a deck with cards you unlock, either by playing through some single player matches and challenges, leveling up one of many generals, or earning enough gold to buy spirit orbs which can then be opened to reveal a set of cards which will always contain at least one rare. Does that sound like Hearthstone? I mean, it basically is Hearthstone. Even the UI and unlock animation is a little too similar, but then again, it’s all very satisfying, so if it ain’t broke…There are, however, a few key distinctions that set it apart from its contemporary.

First of all, there’s the most obvious: the grid is crucial. It allows strategy to come in the form of card placement and movement. A card can only be placed adjacent to another card, unless it has the special attribute “airdrop,” which means it can be placed anywhere on the map. There are cards that spawn multiple copies, which can open up the possibility of creating a bridge of units in order to drop a more powerful one in an advantageous position. There have been numerous games where my general was on the verge of collapse, but a few clutch cards and some defensive movement left me looming triumphantly over the corpse of my fallen foe. Movement is critical to the game’s playstyle, and in some ways, it alleviates the issue of random chance in games of this nature.

Clean UI

Clean UI and environments.

Another welcome addition is the ability to swap out a card at the start of every round, not just the mulligan round at the start of each match. This is a small change to the formula, but it’s one that leaves a large footprint. Obviously, this is a change that affects decks that haven’t been fully-realized more than those with all the right cards. One major issue with a game like Hearthstone, just as an example, is that it’s far too luck-based for those who haven’t spent substantial amounts of money or time building a proper, competitive deck. Why alienate such a large portion of your player base? Perhaps it’s only to encourage them to spend more money. Duelyst’s mulligan per turn, with a card increasing the mulligan count to two per turn if it’s in play, means it’s possible to cycle through cards more quickly, drawing those that are more appropriate for specific situations more often.

The matches are quick, ranging from somewhere between 5-15 minutes depending on the level of ass-whoopery being doled out or received.  There are a few potential balance issues from the start when you’re working with limited decks, but that’s just par for the course with a game like this, although the prevalence of Mech decks can be a little frustrating, as the powerful Mechazor that’s summoned after playing 5 Mech cards can seem impossible to deal with; I suggest saving a Crossbones card for these pesky situations in order to kill that sucker outright.  The silver lining here is that Mech decks are cheap to build, thus their ubiquity, as are other cards and decks if you have a specific idea in mind.  The game’s free-to-play business model does not force anyone’s hand unwillingly towards his/her wallet.  It’s nice to see more developers embrace a free-to-play design without falling into the obnoxiously aggressive built-in advertising and general underhanded sleaze that once was synonymous with it, and still is if you consider the mobile market.  Perhaps the non-invasive business mentality has something to do with the fact that the game was initially kickstarted with a buy-to-play model in mind, but after crunching numbers, Counterplay decided that the game would buckle and suffer under the weight of continuous updates, therefore the best option  was to switch to microtransactions (a decision which has sparked the ire of many early backers, but such is the internet).  Anyway, for a nice head-start, I highly recommend doing all of the tutorial challenges before anything else.  Not only do they provide a welcome gold bonus, they’re fun little puzzles designed to show you the capabilities of some powerful card combinations.

The game’s art direction demands attention as well. The hand-drawn artwork is absolutely beautiful—I’m actually using a piece as my desktop wallpaper because…damn. It’s so pretty, in fact, that it makes me wish the entire game just used the same aesthetic. The pixel art used for units and spell effects is all very well done, but that isn’t the issue: it’s the clashing of two commendable styles that don’t really play nice together. Or, maybe it is indeed the hand-drawn art…we need more of this in our lives:

Duelyst Artwork

The artwork is incredible…

If you like games like this, it’s as close to perfect as a beta can get.


  1. Jason says:

    do you have a suggestion for which deck is easiest to start with? i’ve only played a few games but i’ve lost all of them terribly.. lol

    • Eric Wetzler says:

      I would make sure you’ve done all the challenges, and then if you want, start building a very cheap Mech deck. As for what faction, I did well with Vetruvian, Vanar, and Abyssinian when my cards were lacking. A lot of it comes down to which one suits your playstyle, though. For example, as Vanar, you need to be a bit more aggressive.

      Stick with it, level up a couple factions to unlock some more base cards, and just experiment and have fun with it.

Leave a Reply

Recent Podcasts

Recent Tweets