A little over a year ago I discovered digital CCG Eternal card gamee and praised his robust solo content. Since then, I’ve played over three hundred hours, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the fact that I’ve spent so much time with the game has made some of its flaws more apparent to me.
In particular, I hit a wall in Gauntlet, my favorite game mode, and the more I looked into the problem, the more I realized that this has been a problem with the game throughout its history – and it’s a big problem The problem is more difficult to solve than it seems at first glance.
Let me quickly recap: The Gauntlet is a single-player mode where you play a series of games against seven AI decks. The final deck is a boss fight that includes some unique mechanics, with the boss’s deck designed to take advantage of those mechanics. The gauntlet ends when you beat all decks or lose once or twice (depending on your rank), and you receive rewards based on how far you got.
I play PvP occasionally, but I prefer the gauntlet. I like the predictability of not having to wait for my opponent and the ability to go AFK in the middle of the game.
Gauntlet’s difficulty automatically increases as you rank up and achieve more victories. For a long time the difficulty felt good. Due to my improved skills and increasing card collection, it became more challenging and felt tough but fair.
But after playing the game for about a hundred hours, I noticed that the difficulty got a lot crazier. Enemy decks flood the board with units faster than you can react, or completely disable you by sending out removal and control effects. Not every game feels hopeless, but it does make it significantly more stressful.
To make matters worse, once you reach master rank, you lose all mercy for losses. At lower ranks it takes two losses to fail a gauntlet, but at Diamond and Master ranks it only takes one loss. This can be really annoying in a game where you pretty regularly lose just because of bad luck.
In fact, I would say that the vast majority of my losses in the Gauntlet have come from games where I drew too few or too many power cards. Yes, you can mitigate this risk through good deck building, but you can never completely eliminate it.
As I prepared for this column, I began keeping track of my gauntlet wins and losses, but stopped counting after completing more than a dozen gauntlet runs without a single win. To be clear, I’m talking about running the gauntlet, not one-on-one fights; I still win a comfortable majority of individual games. But here too, only one defeat is needed to end a masterful gauntlet.
Adding salt to the wound increases the difficulty with higher ranks, but the rewards do not. You’ll only get any worthwhile rewards for winning the last two games of a gauntlet anyway, and even if you win the entire gauntlet, the rewards are hardly great. Unless you get lucky with random chest upgrades, a completed gauntlet won’t even give you enough gold for a single card pack.
Some people can win Gauntlets consistently, but it takes a lot of skill and a very strong, well-tuned deck. Building a deck like this can take a lot of time and money, and I don’t think it’s particularly fun to limit yourself to such narrow designs. For me, half the appeal of a Versus AI mode is not being a slave to the meta. I like building weird jank decks and theme decks based on characters and factions from the game’s backstory.
My greatest joy in these games is crafting new decks, but given the high difficulty and low rewards, I increasingly find myself in the situation where I rarely earn enough new cards to build new decks, and when I do, they are These decks are usually chewed up and immediately spat out.
The only relief comes when a new set is released, as this also resets the Gauntlet ranks. We went through this recently with the release of the Battle Lines set, and it was a huge relief to be able to release all of these fun but subpar decks that I don’t normally get to play. But all too quickly I found myself back in the championship ranks, and the next set was probably almost a year away.
With all of this, you may be wondering why I still play at all. Partly it’s because I still find the core gameplay very entertaining. Sometimes I don’t have another game that’s good enough to kill 10 minutes here and there. This is partly because I’m not the most reward-hungry player.
By far the most important reason, however, is simply the lack of competition. There is no other digital CCG that offers such robust solo gameplay in such an engaging package. Magic arena has no solo content to speak of, Hearthstoneis too limited, Elder Scrolls Legends is in maintenance mode, the user interface is in Shadowverse drove me crazy, and Legends of Runeterra has reduced its PvE (and I find anything to do with Runeterra disgusting anyway). If another game came along with the depth and polish of this Forever but more worthwhile solo content, I would probably switch to that, but so far there is no game like that.
In researching the problems with Gauntlet, I found that complaints similar to mine span nearly the entire history of the game. So it doesn’t seem like developer Dire Wolf Digital is particularly interested in addressing the issue. And as much as this frustrates me, I also have to admit that I have a lot of sympathy for the studio in this regard.
Usually the logic in free-to-play games is that people who don’t pay are happy with those who do. Because Gauntlet is a single-player card-earning mode, a Gauntlet player theoretically provides neither income nor content to other players. I understand why making the glove more attractive isn’t a priority.
Some people will say this is another example of developer greed, but this is a game with a small player base, from a small publisher, without the name recognition of a Runeterra or a Magic: The Gathering. Apparently they are barely staying afloat. It’s not greed to want to keep your game lively.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that the current paradigm is pretty shitty for us Gauntlet fans, and just because Gauntlet players don’t have to pay doesn’t mean they won’t. Gauntlet players have the same incentives to spend money as PvP players, and perhaps even more so since PvP tends to be more rewarding overall. Before I reached the difficulty wall I was so close to a whale Forever as far as my modest finances allow. Since then I have drastically reduced my purchases as I feel like the game is not worth my investment.
Before writing this, I spent a lot of time thinking about how DWD could make improvements for Gauntlet players without jeopardizing the game’s success. I kept coming back to the idea of monetizing Gauntlet somehow, but that would be very difficult to do without pissing people off even more.
The idea I ultimately settled on was to sell some “glove boosters” that would give higher rewards per game (not per gauntlet run, or we just resent the frustration of failed runs). If they weren’t too expensive, it would be a way for Gauntlet players to support the developers while getting more rewards for the mode we love, and it wouldn’t change anything for people who don’t buy the boosters.
In theory, once the glove becomes a revenue stream, it becomes easier to justify dedicating development resources to improving the experience. Ideally I would like to see a selectable difficulty level with rewards that scale according to the challenge, but I know that would be a major overhaul and perhaps hoping for too much.
But even a few simple quality of life changes would help a lot. Obvious examples include allowing players to maintain the two-loss limit at all ranks or making opening hand draws more forgiving to players.
I realize that improving the gauntlet is a difficult problem to solve, and given how long the status quo has existed, I don’t think change is very likely.
But in case anyone from Dire Wolf Digital reads this, I would at least say this: Forever It’s been around for almost a decade now, and aside from the new decks to play against, almost nothing about Gauntlet has changed in that time. But the card pool has expanded tremendously since release, making it much less likely to complete a collection as a Gauntlet player than it used to be. I think the developers could afford to be at least a little more generous without breaking the game.