Dragon Front – Early Preview

Dragon Front is an upcoming CCG developed exclusively for the new Virtual Reality headset device, the Oculus Rift. Produced by Oculus Studios and developed by High Voltage Software, Dragon Front appears to be taking on the Hearthstone style of digital card games but as a fully 3D, virtual experience. There’s no release date yet except for the tentative “later this year” answer as given by the developers.

Set in a hybrid fantasy/steampunk world of monsters, magic, and machines, the game promises a fully-realized strategy card game, with 280 characters, 80 different encampments, and more than 100 spells. Details on gameplay and mechanics are far and few between right now, but I’ve taken a very close look at the trailer and extracted all the hidden clues present to build a fuller picture for you.

So let’s dive in and see what this intriguing new title has for us! Read on…

battle1

Yes, it’s fully 3D, and you can look around in every direction… Or can you?

Gameplay

My first impressions are that we do not have a Hearthstone clone on our hands here, thankfully. There is ample evidence in the video to show that things are very different here, even if a lot of the concepts are similar. The developers would not have done well to simply mirror the Hearthstone format since we’ve had more than enough clones now and are beyond oversaturated in this genre with those types of games. The developers have a chance here to use the VR tech in a unique way, so I hope that their game design is similarly innovative. There are some clues that this is the case.

Firstly, there is a 4×4 grid which is used as the battlefield, with a front and back row for each player. This already sets it apart from Hearthstone by making it much more reliant on positioning and allowing for ranged attacks from the rear rows. One of the cards you can see in the trailer has an effect to do with hitting units with a ranged attack, so I’m guessing it’s possible to attack units even if you’re not directly in contact with them. We also see “Deathrattle”-style effects: in the image below, we see a unit’s ability trigger when other units die. That should make for some interesting combos and plays.

card-view

Viewing a card is fully 3D, and you can peer around inside the card as if a window into a box where the character is moving around. Is it just a gimmick?

Players each have a fortress which functions as their life counter. It’s currently unclear how units are able to damage the fortress directly if there are units in the way on the battlefield, but it’s possible that you have to attack through two clear slots to hit the fortress directly, or perhaps it takes damage somehow when your units die. We’ll have to wait and see.

Each faction has a unique legendary champion unit which can be summoned. Undoubtedly they are going to be extremely powerful, but that’s not all — an interesting piece of info we have is that the champion gets cheaper to summon the closer to death you are. This is a great catch-up mechanic, or at least ensures that the final moments of a battle are momentous indeed.

Decks are built to a 30-card specification exactly, from a range of available units, battlefield-modifying constructions and also instant spells. The battlefield modifications, called fortifications, are shown to have either buffing or hindering abilities, so you can use them to enhance your own battlefield or obstruct your opponent’s. One of the fortification cards has a “trap” effect, showing that the opponent will have no idea what it actually does until they summon a unit onto that square. I love this idea of trap fortifications — let the shenanigans begin!

commander-view

The field of view seems to be quite limited to just panning left and right. This isn’t too remarkable when VR is supposed to take advantage of a 360-degree view. I do hope there’s more to it than just this.

Features

So what do we know so far about what’s going to be included in the game itself? Well, we know that there are going to be different factions, each with their own cards and legendary champion unit that can be summoned. There will be two factions at launch, with a few more already in the works. It’s to be expected that the various factions will focus on different strategies and play styles while also having a unique visual look or theme to them, hopefully.

With over 260 cards at launch, that’s a pretty decent-sized base set to begin building with, especially as they’re claiming they only belong to two factions so far (and likely some neutral-type cards as well). We’ve also been told that they’re working on the next few updates of downloadable content, with new factions, champions and even new landscapes to play on. I’d love the addition of more battlefields, because the same one can start to get a bit boring after a while.

We don’t have much info about play modes other than 1v1 is the only mode planned so far, so no crazy 3+ multiplayer battles just yet. Also, there are likely to be leaderboards and tournaments of some kind, we just don’t know yet. There will definitely be card crafting and deconstruction though, as seen in the trailer. This should help free-to-play players build a broader collection over time, but let’s hope the crafting rates are less oppressive than those that Hearthstone has come to have.

dragon-front-paper-prototype

The developers first prototyped the game on paper, which is a good sign that they’ve made sure to have a working game design before trying to implement it digitally.

First Impressions

It’s exciting to hear that a CCG is going to be one of the first titles available on the Oculus platform, and we’re acutely looking forward to exploring the game in further depth!

The game certainly looks impressive, but I’m not convinced that it’s using the VR tech to the fullest. Being able to look into the card frames or tilt the battlefield a bit is certainly cool, but nothing that couldn’t be done just by tilting a phone or tablet. I’m hoping they’ll truly take this opportunity to do more with it, perhaps by taking you down to the battlefield itself, among your units where you can look all around you, including behind you. That would be awesome.

Similarly, while it may be too early to pass judgement entirely, the game design looks solid but is nothing groundbreaking in terms of new mechanics or ideas. There appear to be a lot of derivative elements with maybe one or two interesting implementations of those elements. It comes across as a very “safe” choice of CCG, which is eager to please and be commercially successful without taking too many risks in game design or mechanics. That’s OK, and it’s likely going to be a huge success — but I doubt it’s going to replace any of the juggernauts of the genre anytime soon or be considered anything particularly groundbreaking outside of its VR gimmick.

I’m still excited to check this out, as I’m hopeful that the next generation of VR tech is going to open up some spectacular possibilities in all genres of gaming. Whatever the outcome, Dragon Front will forever be known as the first Virtual Reality CCG. Let’s hope it’s a good one!

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Zac Phoenix
Author: Zac Phoenix View all posts by
Zac Phoenix graduated with First Class Honors in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics and has been playing strategy card games since childhood. He has a keen interest in the underlying mechanics and player interactions of trading card games, as well as tabletop game design in the digital space. He also designs card games in his spare time.

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