In ‘No Pay 2 Play’, we review free video games (whether they’re riddled with microtransactions and season passes or not) and then answer the golden question: is it worth adding to your game library?
Developed and published by Konami for iOS & Android in 2016 and Steam in 2017. Achievements included.
Is it really free?
This game has a LOT of different currencies. There’s gold, which is nigh useless and which you’ll have millions of by the time you’re as into it as I am, several different kinds of stones which you use alongside fold to buy cards from the card trader (the ingame card store), several kinds of keys which you use to duel Legendary Duellists, and Gems, the premium currency which is harder to come by – but the game doesn’t actually have an option to buy gems with real money outright, only as parts of bundles with card packs.
There are several ways to obtain cards in the game – by duelling regular NPC duellists in the world, by battling Legendary Duellists at the gate, by playing special events which drop unique cards, and by buying them with gems or real money at the store. 1 pack of cards costs 50 Gems, or 99p, and contains 3 cards, so just pulling 30 cards will set you back either 500 Gems or £9.99, a pretty pricey amount considering how rare gems are in the game. For those who want to skip the rigmarole, there’s also prebuilt decks you can spend gems (one time) or real money on to jump right in with, the newest of which have tended to be pretty powerful in their own right.
That said, the game gives you a lot of gems to start with, and you can, with enough patience, scrape together enough gems from events and such to get enough card packs to complete a whole deck. That can be used for a fair while if you don’t mind being occasionally beaten into the ground by everyone who happens to be playing the current meta. If you want to meta-chase with some frequency, you can kiss any hope of not spending money goodbye, since the meta does change quite frequently and, as stated before, the one-time purchasable prebuilt structure decks often end up quite high up in the meta. If you’re a more casual player who doesn’t mind the grind too much though, you can feasibly get by and still have fun without paying.
What’s it all about?
It seems like every primary school had that phase of everyone playing Yu-Gi-Oh. Nobody was paying attention to the rules and were just throwing together decks out of whatever you got from the boosters, before going through the same “someone goes running to the teacher and the entire game gets banned” rigmarole that happened to anything cool in school. So, from that point on, you’ve probably either had a load of Yu-Gi-Oh cards sitting around in your room gathering dust, or you’ve evolved into one of those guys who has a stupidly intricate knowledge of trading cards. I’m going to assume the former in the majority of cases.
Chances are you’ve spent a fair while not playing the game and have forgotten most of how it works. Enter Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links, a mobile game released in 2017, which also had a PC release in 2018. At its core, Duel Links is a condensed version of the Yu-Gi-Oh card game, the rules of which are far too arcane and cryptic to relate here – but don’t worry, the game makes it easy enough for you to learn how to get back into it. When you first boot the game up, it gives you a choice of starting character – Yami Yugi or Seto Kaiba from the first Yu-Gi-Oh series, and walks you through a very simple starting duel, enough to relate to you the very basics of how the game works.
As for the gameplay itself, it’s a condensed version of the real game, with a smaller playing field and deck size, as well as a lower starting Life Points counter, which I find suits the mobile game format a lot better than the full game. It tightens duels up and makes each match a little more fast-paced as well, resulting in quick and easy duels that are perfect for when you don’t have much time to spare. The cards you can use are also somewhat condensed, with a far more limited selection compared to the real game – though this actually works to the game’s advantage as there are fewer rules to remember and less gameplay mechanics to grapple with.
There’s also, at present, three different Worlds to play in, based on the various entries in the television series: Yu-Gi-Oh, Yu-Gi-Oh GX and Yu-Gi-Oh 5Ds, the latter two having been added in 2018 and 2019, respectively. These are unlocked as you continue playing, and each Zone have their own exclusive characters with their own Skills, of which you gain more of as you level up. For instance, Seto Kaiba in the Yu-Gi-Oh zone has the option to begin with a Field Spell on the Field which boosts the attack power of Dragons, his favourite monster type. Syrus Truesdale in the GX area can add a powerful Fusion card to his Hand if his Life Points are below a certain threshold. Akiza Izinski in the 5Ds area can start with a certain Plant-type card in her Graveyard.
As a result, the game gains a certain dimension that the physical card game doesn’t, in that you can mix and match decks with skills and experiment to see which decks work best on which characters, as you judge what kind of deck your opponent is playing based on the character they have set. In addition, during duels the characters will, in an effort perhaps to replicate the duels in the TV series, shout out what it is they’re doing whenever they do it, which, to me, makes the game far easier to follow as the opponent’s character steps through their turn.
The base game, I will admit, is a bit repetitive and you’ll very easily get bored of duelling the same annoying CPU decks in the PvE mode, and you’ll sometimes be equally as tired of battling with the same old meta decks in the PvP mode. Where the game really, really shines is its events. Every so often the game will run special missions for the player to complete, usually themed around events from the TV shows. For instance, one of the legendary duellists may be trying out a new deck of to play against. As such, a new character may be introduced, with new cards made available to unlock. In one event players could play a board game with special dice battles, or in the more extravagant events you may be duelling a unique opponent with special rules in play (as I’m writing this there is an event on in the 5Ds area where you have to Duel against an “Earthbound Immortal” with anywhere up to tens of thousands of Life Points, necessitating that you – and other players – duel against it across multiple sittings, slowly whittling its LP down to 0).
If you need any reason to play this game, it’s these events. When they roll around they always give you a new reason to come back to the game, a new goal to overcome and cool new stuff to unlock. The events also never need real money to play, so even if your deck is a couple of banlists back and you don’t really play the PvP, you can still play and enjoy them without dropping too much cash.
All in all, Duel Links is a little bit of a cashsink, but aren’t all trading card games anyway? Its simplified nature compared to the real card game, alongside its more limited content pool, makes it far more accessible to players unfamiliar with the real thing, and the content from the TV series also makes it a good entry point for those looking to get into the wider franchise. Aside from that, it offers enough content through its events and such to not get too monotonous and to offer you a bit of purpose besides the PvE and PvP gameplay, so while it might hoover a bit out of your wallet sometimes it’s definitely worth playing.