This week saw the release of the much anticipated Lord of the Rings card game on Steam Early Access. If you aren’t familiar with Steam Early Access, it’s a way for developers to release early copies of their game for testing and also a bit of a cash infusion. We were given a review code of the game that gave us access to the Istari Founder’s Pack (normally $29.99) and can share some thoughts about the game at this point. There is also a brief gameplay video we recorded at the end of the article.
For those hoping to play their beloved Lord of the Rings LCG on their computers and tablets, you are in for a bit of a disappointment. Asmodee Digital didn’t translate the game directly, instead, opting for a more distilled down version of the tabletop game. To be honest, my first impressions left me feeling like I’m playing a mashup of the Lord of the Rings LCG and Hearthstone. I can definitely feel the influence of the latter here.
For the game play, the game comes with the first quest unlocked, which is a series of 5 linked, narrative missions. Players have a deck of 30 cards ranging from events, to allies, to upgrades. You can customize your deck in the deck builder, but until you unlock a lot of cards, you won’t have much to work with. In addition to the deck of cards, players use 3 heroes during the game. Every character or monster has attack and health values, with some also having special abilities. The gameplay definitely has a hearthstone vibe as you are using your units to attack others, play cards that have a cost (only once type of currency is used), with even some of the visuals feeling inspired from that Blizzard title.
Most scenarios have a special goal that players must overcome, with some having a variety of ways you can beat the mission. For the most part, these challenges are beat by using a third stat on a character, willpower, but are basically attacks vs the challenge. That same stat can also be used to play Fate cards.
The game is cooperative (solo only right now, with coop coming in the future) VS the Sauron AI. The AI plays similar to you, but also has some special cards and rules, such as his own treachery deck. His monsters work similar to yours, and he has to pay for cards with the same type of currency you do.
Over all the game play was relatively solid and smooth, despite this being an early access game. I did encounter a few bugs here and there, nothing game breaking, but some were frustrating nonetheless. This is all to be expected with any early access game. Just be aware of that before you plunk down your hard earned money that Asmodee digital still has some polishing to do.
The Lord of the Rings game decided to take the freemium model, which I can honestly say, I’m never a fan of. With the Istari bundle, I had enough Valor Points to unlock all 5 hero packs and quest lines for the first series of missions. Those would normally be about $1.99 or so each. However, even after all of that, there still are cards left locked (about 30 or so). Those can be unlocked by spending Valor Points, which at this point there is no way to buy. Since I spent my Valor Points unlocking the quest packs and hero packs (instead of paying cash), I don’t have enough to unlock most of them. Those cost ranges from 375 points for a common card, to 3000 for a legendary card.
What this means is you’ll be doing LOTS of grinding to get the rest of the cards. I assume at some point Asmodee Digital will be allowing players to buy Valor Points, but I don’t see a straight way at this time. Each quest line takes about half an hour to play though and can earn around 275 valor points with the maximum score. Yet players can only earn Valor Points from them once a day. Unfortunately, this encourages players to play the game in a specific way to maximize their Valor Points, rather than playing for fun or trying different approaches.
Their freemium model doesn’t seem all that predatory at this point (unlike other free-to-play games); however I’d much prefer the single purchase route. Let me pay for the core game and sell expansions packs at reasonable prices and I’m happy. Having to grind to get cards or missions is not something I enjoy in the slightest, and I haven’t even touched on their Palantir lootbox system (see the video above).
Overall, I Think the Lord of the Rings Digital Card Game is a good start, if not setup to eventually suck your money or time via grinding. If you are OK with both of those, it’s a fun game. If not, move right along at this point.