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Legends of Norrath: Oathbreaker Review

Updated Wed, Jun 25, 2008 by Cody Bye

By Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

In the 90s, trading card games were the wave of the future. Anyone who was even slightly interested in roleplaying games or fantasy worlds during that day and age had a set of Magic: The Gathering trading cards, and games were eagerly played out in card shops and kitchen tables. The fascination with trading card games has continued into the 21st century, but the interest in the paper products has waned. Instead of the cardboard cutouts, online trading card games have taken over the spotlight and have even grown into the predominant medium for many trading card companies.

One development studio that has embraced the digital trading card game concept is Sony Online Entertainment’s Denver studio. Just last year, SOE Denver’s development team released Legends of Norrath: Oathbound an online trading card game that takes all the excitement and strategy of the original EverQuest and creates a multiplayer experience that truly rivals the hay day of tabletop trading card games.

Another 250 card expansion set has hit Legends of Norrath.

Over the last few months, I’ve been closely following Legends of Norrath, watching as players enter and win the Championship Qualifiers or simply group together in random matches to take out the epic bosses of yesteryear in hardcore “raid” experiences. It’s been a wonderful trip, and you can check out all of my experiences with the various sets in each of my reviews.

Recently, SOE Denver released their latest expansion set: Oathbreaker. Weighing in at over 250 cards, Oathbreaker continues to follow SOE Denver’s pattern of 250 card expansion sets and also introduces a new raid, two avatar races, class-based theme cards (like the “unarmed” Monk, Coercer, Templar, and Beastlord), and a new card mechanic. Veteran players will be excited to see the latest upgrades to the raiding system – the latest raid requires that you have the four different archetypes in your party – encouraging players to create a deck of each archetype to insure that they’re ready for any raiding challenge.

As always, the new cards are incredibly well-drawn – perhaps some of the best in Legends of Norrath history – and truly exemplify the quality of the artists that are employed by SOE Denver. From commons like the Vampire Noble to rares like Thubr Axebringer, each card has an amazing amount of personality and artistic flair. This set also features the faces of several people from the community, including three of the championship qualifiers. You can see their mug shots right here.

While my previous reviews have discussed the intrinsic value of each particular set, I wanted to step back a bit from my experienced status with the game and also take a look at what SOE Denver has done to improve the quality of play for gamers that are new to LoN. Hopefully my synopsis will help shed some light on the game for EQ addicts that have yet to take the plunge into Legends of Norrath.

What Can Veteran Legends of Norrath Players Expect?  

With the release of Oathbreaker, SOE Denver has really begun to diversify each of the four archetypes that are available to deck builders. Though the general gameplay mechanics remain the same for each archetype (fighters are good at avatar combat, mages at direct damage, etc.), each archetype has been honed and the archetypes themselves have their own variants.

LoN continues to be one of the more complex trading card games on the market.

As I’ve stated in my past reviews, I’ve always preferred to play a pet-toting Necromancer. While the first few sets didn’t really cater to my desires for full-fledged Necromancer warfare, this third expansion set has really enlivened play for the pet-conjuring mages on the servers. This expansion set includes a variety of different cards for players that are looking to create their own themed decks, and I would wager that there are already a number of unarmed Monk decks floating around the games.

From a gameplay standpoint, Legends of Norrath continues to be one of the more complex trading card games on the Internet. While many may see this as a problem with the Legends of Norrath card collection, it really hasn’t affected the gameplay of the players. For example, the latest card mechanic that the developers have introduced really integrates well with a number of other mechanics that the players have come to expect. Essentially, the players of LoN know and understand that each new set is going to be introducing a new mechanic to their game, and so veteran players adjust their decks accordingly.

That said, the meta-gaming in Legends of Norrath continues to be one of the more intense and complex meta-gaming adjustments of any online card game. With each set containing 250 new cards, players frequently scramble to find the best strategy during the first few weeks of play. Scouring through 250 cards is no small task, and unless you have a encyclopedic memory you may find yourself faced against a strategy that is totally unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. This element of the game can be frustrating, but at the same time it’s a thrill to see an opponent deploy a strategy that is truly unique.   

Why Should Gamers Look Into Legends of Norrath: Oathbreaker?

If you’ve ever played any of the EverQuest titles, you’ll find something in Legends of Norrath: Oathbreaker that appeals to you. Although this particular set focuses on the Coercer, Templar, Monk, and Beartlord, all of the classes still get their own particular cards to play with. As I mentioned earlier, several of the archetypes have seen significant upgrades in this set, but SOE Denver always tries to include a little love for everyone.

Even if a gamer isn’t interested in collecting the cards or checking out the in-game loot, players can still participate in the free expansion scenarios (which now include four different campaigns) that can be completed by even something as simple as a starter deck.  These scenarios can be adjusted for various difficulty levels, and so it makes it an easy choice for new players looking to get a feel for the game before they jump into a true LoN match.

http://legendsofnorrath.station.sony.com/community.vm#

The developers at SOE Denver have done a terrific job balancing the game thus far.

One of the most interesting pieces of Oathbreaker isn’t in the set so much as the timing of its release. Right now, SOE is celebrating EverQuest’s “Living Legacy” program, which encourages gamers to jump back into the world of Norrath and take a trip down memory lane to see some of the old sights and sounds. While LoN may be a new entry into the EQ franchise, they’ve also jumped into the fray and have a complete scenario dedicated to the “Living Legacy” events, allowing players to run side-by-side with legends from EQs past. I’ve played through the Living Legacy event, and it is just at the right difficulty level for a new entrant into the LoN experience.

The Final Words

However, Legends of Norrath does remain one of the toughest games to be competitive in on the market. Players that don’t have access to the biggest, rarest cards often don’t stand a chance against the players that have been toiling with their decks since day one. In a recent match I played against, my competitor was in awe at a particular card combination that my mage had just pulled together, allowing me to one-shot a raid boss. Although I’m nowhere near the most competent player in the LoN ranks, it did raise a warning bell for me that the newer players in the game may not be experiencing the sort of organic deck development that many veteran LoN players have had.

Finally, I’m still worried that the Legends of Norrath card game is growing too quickly for its own good. With 250 cards in each new set and multiple new mechanics, avatars, and card types introduced in each set, the balancing act that SOE Denver has been pulling off may soon be toppled with one errant card. Luckily, Legends of Norrath is a digital card game, which gives the developers some leeway, but I can’t imagine the uproar that would occur if a broken strategy allowed a player entrance to the GenCon championships.

In general, Legends of Norrath continues to be an entertaining experience for gamers that are interested in a little diversion from their favorite MMOG and wax nostalgic about their trips in Norrath. As each new set hits the LoN client, I’m consistently blown away by the art direction for the game and the clearly functional game mechanics that the SOE developers have created. Hopefully, the card game will continue to gain in popularity with each new set, but that’s a piece of the puzzle that remains to be seen.

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