Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel Review – Heart of the UR Cards

    Title: Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel
    Developer: Konami
    Release Date: January 18, 2022
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Konami
    Genre: Monster Battle

Common sense is to assume the worst when a game gets suddenly dropped in the middle of the night after months of buildup and no previous announcement about a release date. Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel has somehow violated all common sense.

I’ve been an on-off Yu-Gi-Oh! player since my early childhood, having picked the game back up in earnest a few months ago when my local tournaments opened up for regular play again. During the pandemic, most in-person events have been canceled, including the first three Championship Series events scheduled for this year. In that time, players have ended up handling the store shutdowns in one of two ways – playing using their paper cards and a webcam against people on Discord or using one of several unofficial “duel simulators,” also on Discord. These applications are free to use and allow users to construct decks out of any cards in the game and lobby up with their friends to test their skills.

Master Duel main menu

Konami themselves have never released a competing product, instead sticking with a series of one-off and primarily single-player titles that allowed the player to duel against a long series of AI-controlled opponents. They have Duel Links, which has been around for several years and is meant to be a speedier, condensed version of the main game, but its history left players divided when Master Duel was announced last year. A free-to-play duel simulator with professional production values sounded awesome, but would it lean as deeply into the gacha-type gameplay system of its sister game?

The answer is a little bit of yes, and a little bit of no, but overall, my experience thus far with Master Duel has been that it’s just what it claimed to be, up to and including the polished, lush graphics one would expect out of an official product.

MD Screenshot 2

Upon logging in and downloading the full game, players are presented with a relatively sparse options menu. The first and largest will queue the player up for a ranked match against a similarly-ranked stranger. This works pretty much the same way as the Player-Vs-Player rank-climbing system of Duel Links, but there will be many who are disappointed to hear that there is no option for a true best-of-three match with side-decking involved. Instead, every game is a best-of-one. You can also find your friends and duel them specifically, but obviously with fewer rewards than matchmaking.

The second option allows you to customize and edit your deck and is also where players will find the ability to search for and craft specific cards. Unlike the myriad of currencies and availabilities in Duel Links, things here are fairly straightforward – cards are divided into four rarities, and you simply exchange thirty orbs of the appropriate rarity to gain a copy of any card. This is extremely easy to understand, and crucially, it allows players to quickly get into building the deck they want to play rather than having to spend resources to slowly work their way up.

MD Screenshot 1

That ties into option three, the game’s light solo mode. In comparison to the more robust offerings found in the paid Yu-Gi-Oh! games, solo mode here focuses on introducing players to individual monster archetypes, mainly through small lore dumps and sessions with loaner decks. While it’s neat to get to try out different decks risk-free (and several of these levels reward you with the deck to be used in multiplayer mode), the tutorials aren’t very sufficient to demonstrate deck capabilities. Further, the card ratios are not ideal, meaning you’ll probably have to keep restarting until you get a usable starting hand.

Lastly, we have the dreaded shop, and it goes without saying that this is where most of my issues with this title arise. However, it has less to do with the game demanding money and more because of the obscure nature of how the card shop functions. Currently, there are three pack options available – one with current meta archetypes, one with older classic strategies, and one that appears to contain every card in the game. Pulling a Super- or Ultra-Rare card from an archetype out of one of these packs will unlock a pack option geared more towards that archetype, but only for twenty-four hours, which seems intended to create a fear of missing out in the player. Though you can also unlock the pack timer by simply crafting a Super-Rare, and Master Duel doesn’t give you that information upfront. This can lead to a player doing a lot of sub-optimal pulls without realizing that they could be spending their hard-earned gems more efficiently. This system frankly sucks, and I would like to see it adjusted in the future.

MD Screenshot 4

I’m also not thrilled that basically all decks will require a similar amount of resource investment, not because I don’t want more people playing with very good decks, but because it makes it somewhat hard to justify building a middle-grade deck just because you like the way it plays. I’ve played many different budget-oriented decks in the paper game that cost me very little to put together. Still, in Master Duel, it’s going to be the same amount of work as making a meta-competing deck.

Master Duel is currently a reasonably barebones experience that delivers on what it needs to but not anything else. I am impressed by the focus on allowing players to get right into the swing of competitive duels by giving them the tools to quickly put together whatever deck they would like. The presentation is immaculate, aside from many typos in the game’s original text. I love the pacing of the flashy animations that lend a lot of weight and satisfaction to every blow struck on your opponent. I only wish there were more differences in how easy it is to create older, less-competitive decks than the new stuff being played in stores in 2022.

Oh, and Konami, please update the ban list. We’re starving.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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