“The Battle for Earth Begins!” states the cover artwork. “Defend the world with the AUTOBOTS or destroy it with the DECEPTICONS”. These words should be enough for any die-hard Transformers fan to strap themselves in for a lengthy campaign of trading card game fun with their favourite battle ready robots… The game promises a lot, and for a while, you might be fooled into thinking that you were finally playing the game of your dreams, but while the mobile app for iPhone and Android is visceral and fun, the game play is ultimately flat and unrewarding.
While the promise of playing as my favourite Transformers faction sounds great, the reality is that it doesn’t matter which side you ultimately choose to go with. As you play the game you will collect cards from both factions and most of the time you will battle with a mixed collection of faction cards. And although you may start playing with an Autobot leader, you might collect a rare Decepticon card and your deck will automatically place the strongest cards to the top of your playing deck. This means you never feel like you are playing on the side of good or evil, and because you can play through both factions story lines simultaneously, there’s no sense of loyalty that comes with choosing one side over another.
Transformers Legends is a great looking looking game with colourful artwork more reminiscent of the series from the 80’s than Michael Bay’s more recent grungeification. Each transformer is represented as a Collectible Card and the the visualisation of each robot is stylised in a pseudo-3D/lenticular styling. This means as you rotate your phone, each transformer shows depth of their design and the effect is very cool.
Collecting new cards and sifting through lower value “common:” cards and hoping for a “rare” card is what will keep you coming back for more. The Transcoding of two cards into a more valuable card lends the game some sense of strategy about which cards to retain, upgrade or sell.
The navigation and layout is still a little convoluted and confusing. The two main things you will be doing in the game are battle based or managing your collection. Entering battles is straight forward and take up the bulk of interface, but managing your assets is relegated to a separate area with it’s own confusing collection of upgrade, transact and team management functions. It’s here where the interface falls flat – especially when you’re attempting to upgrade your robots, sell items and manage your decks.
The sound effects, soundtrack and overall audio treatment get me every time – especially on the game loading screen when you hear the classic transformation sound effect and the quintessential autobot to deception transition sounds. Check out the sound wave below (yes, pun intended). The sound effects keep you fixed in the transformers world and go a long way towards making the gameplay appear more interesting than it is.
Overall, if this game didn’t look and sound fantastic, it would be far less likely to be played more than once then deleted.
This is where things start to fall down a bit. The aim of the game is to build up your own powerful deck of robot cards so that you can win battles against increasingly difficult to beat “boss” robots or other players in a PVP environment. Battles consist of pitching your deck of robot cards against another set of robot cards, either as part of the story based narrative “boss” or against other players. Your deck of 3 primary and 6 secondary cards will be pitted against a rival deck of similar configuration or sometimes, just a single “boss”. Theoretically, the better specced your cards and the higher you have leveled up, the more likely you are to win each game. Theoretically, that is…
Maybe I just don’t know enough about how modern Card Collection Games (CCG) are played but it seemed that every battle was somewhat random in it’s out come. Once a battle has commenced each deck trades blows while a health bar grinds down from full health to death. Cards attack each other, rockets are fired, random bonuses appear from nowhere and at no point is it clear what is actually taking place. At the end of the round you’re none the wiser about why or how your won or lost. So, you just take your cards into the next battle and start again.
One one level, this is really bad because it’s never clear which cards are performing the best or why they are performing well. On another level, this totally sucks because you don’t actually do anything other than watch the battle play out. I guess this keeps the game moving quickly but it means my only real participation in the game is collecting cards, upgrading them and then crossing my fingers as I hope to progress my way up the level order.
And that’s the fundamental problem with the game – it isn’t really a game: it’s an appetite for distraction. It’s a novel play thing rather than any great strategic game where practice, timing or tactical calculation has any outcome on the game.
Cost to play
Transformers Legends is free to play and there are plenty of opportunities to upgrade your to a better collection of rare and premium robots and weapons by purchasing CyberCash through in-app purchases. Thankfully, there is a lot of scope for playing the game without needing to buy CyberCash and the grind to get there is relatively fun and engaging.
What is extremely odd is how Mobage has structured the currency value, offering no incentive to buy larger packs of credits like most developers do. The real world cost of buying 100 CyberCash credits ($0.99) is effectively the same as buying 5200 CyberCash credits ($51.99). This is simply ludicrous! I’d be happy to spend $10 on credits if I knew there was a real benefit to buying in bulk, something My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic does very well (what am i doing playing that? longer story, don’t get me started).
Overall, playing Transformers Legends will only cost you the time to grind.
Room for improvement
It would be infinitely better if there was some kind of risk/reward system for going into battle against another player. If there was a chance that I could lose my card to a player then I might structure my deck differently. If there was a chance I could win a card from a player, I might be more tactical in the battles I chose to undertake. The fact that nothing changes and your deck remains the same makes the whole battle against another person a completely superfluous exercise other than the random chance you might gain some experience and level up.
If i’ve chosen to be an Autobot. I should be battling Decepticons and collecting more Autobots. This would add some gravitas to battles I have against the AI or another player and would give me some sense of a larger more epic battle taking place, and give me some perspective of my role within that. Having a deck with mixed cards is just bizarre.
In the end I can’t help but feel that the grind of collecting and upgrading my deck is a complete waste of time (obviously) but without any real game reward for my effort. That said, I still find myself going back to the app again and again for some simple card collection and level grinding, hoping that maybe this time there will be a rare card waiting for me in the Space Bridge.
A fun waste of time that is visually stimulating, but don’t expect any long term gratification unless you have the perseverance to get under the hood and work out how the game mechanics work.