I’m Done with Transformers Legends

This “free-to-play” title has become the epitome of “pay-to-excel” which creates an unfair disparity between “payers” and “grinders.”

Transformers Legends is a “trading” card game (trading with peers is as of yet unimplemented) where you curate a deck of Transformers to battle other players and event bosses. I’ve played Magic: The Gathering for years (often in the digital client), so I was into the idea of a card game with a subject near and dear to my heart. I’ve collected Transformers well into my adulthood, and the artwork in the game is simply fantastic.

Mobage, the company administrating the game, recently made changes to the general flow that really hampers my ability to enjoy Legends. Every other week, they push out a six-day special event, where defeating bosses accrues points, and your ranking at the end of the event provides different tiers of rewards. The rewards have facilitated a major power-creep problem, where every event is introducing a handful of new cards that are stronger than the cards previously available. In order to keep up, you have to rank well enough in the event to pick up that upper echelon of strength that is available.

The mechanics of the event involve the expenditure of exploration energy allowing you to scan mission areas for event bosses. You then decide how many battle cubes you wish to spend on the fight. One cube lets your team battle at base strength, two cubes provides three times the power, and three cubes bumps you up to five times your standard output. Your allotment of cubes and energy is finite, and you have two ways to replenish your cache of each:

  1. You wait for them to recharge on their own — two and a half hours of waiting, mind you — or
  2. You use up recharge items from your inventory to instantly refill your available stock.

Grinding used to work for those of us willing to put in the time and effort, because each boss you successfully defeat gives you rewards like medals redeemable for cards, exploration energy recharges, and battle cubes. The first two days have bosses easy enough to handle on your own, so you build up a decent cache of resources for the rest of the week. Up until the last three events, if you were willing to play for six to eight hours on the first day (which sounds silly as I type it out), you would wind up with 250 - 300 cubes, which was more than enough to sustain a top 500 ranking. So why is it not enough anymore?

To help you out with the event, they introduce two new characters that receive bonuses to their damage (three and five times their base power, respectively). They used to be rewards as you reached higher point totals, and they’d occasionally show up as you redeemed card medals. I haven’t seen one — meaning a single alt or robot mode of any 3x or 5x card — over the last three events, and I’ve cashed in well over 3,000 medals. That means that I have to spend real-world currency on them, and I don’t want to. My expectation is that if I’m willing to play harder and longer on a free-to-play game, I should remain inherently competitive. 

Right now, if you want to hop into the game and drop twenty dollars on cards, and spend a handful of hours upgrading said cards, you can build a team that outperforms the deck that I have been grinding out for six months. What exactly is my incentive to keep playing without paying?

Spoiler alert: there isn’t one. I have almost 5,000,000 in-game credits, 4,000 character medals, and 3,000 weapons medals to redeem. I surmise that I could wind up with a couple of the crème de la crème by going through all of these medals,but I’m too pragmatic to fall for it; the next handful of events will usher in cards that will dwarf any that I happen to stumble upon.

This free-to-play “trading” card game is a weak facade to the underlying “give Mobage money” app, and I’m done playing along. I’m going to stick to games with explicit up-front costs and move on with my life. I know these micro-transactions are the future or mobile gaming, and I’m growing very worried that true free-to-play software is going the way of the dinosaur.

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