Despite my best attempts, I never managed to invest myself in Zenimax The Elder Scrolls Online to a significant degree. When I first lived ESO in 2014, I remember comparing combat to the feeling of “swinging around a pool noodle – with no feeling of impact on enemies”. It felt like Zenimax was taking a step back from what Bethesda Softworks had built. Yet almost every year I crawl to ESO and give it another shot. I think, “Maybe this time it will click. Maybe now I’ll get involved. Maybe after the last update it got better. Yet, despite buying every new expansion or logging in after every major update (i.e. One Tamriel), it still didn’t appeal to me like so many other players in the world. So far.
Believe in the heart of the cards
That is, until the last extension high island introduces a new card-based mini-game: Tales of Tribute. I’m usually a sucker for TCGs in real life, like Magic: The Gathering, pokemon, and even by Final Fantasy own TCG. I also like digital collectible card games, like Foyer and Legends of Runeterra. But my passion is, and always will be, video games. So, when a game includes a card-based side activity (Gwent, Triple Triad) you can be sure that I will invest myself – sometimes wrongly (I still have not beaten The Witcher III because i spend all my time playing Gwynt instead of advancing the story). Did I buy the high island expansion just to play this new mini-game? You bet I did.
What I didn’t expect was how much Tales of Tribute (or just Tribute as they often call it in-game) would captivate me with such a relatively simple premise. You see, Tribute is neither a CCG nor a TCG since there is no collection or exchange element; it’s just a CG. There are no new packs to open, no deck building, no theory to have here before matches, so if you like this level of meta in your card games, then Tribute may seem missing. In place, Tribute resembles a game of chess in that both players have access to the same “pieces” on the table, but it’s a matter of forethought and planning (and a bit of luck) that separates novices from experts.
A tale of two tributes
The way Tales of Tribute begins is that each player has the exact same small starting deck of cards. By using these cards, you can earn gold each turn to buy cards in the center of the table called Tavern. These cards are from a universal deck, determined by the two bosses each player has chosen at the start (more on bosses later). In this way, players begin to customize their decks by adding cards from the central area and shuffling them into their own deck. To win, a player must That is accumulate at least 40 Prestige points during the match – and retain more than their opponent’s in the next round – Where winning the favor of each of the four patrons.
Each turn is an exercise in resource management between balancing Gold and Power, with the ultimate goal being to increase your Prestige. Prestige is earned by converting “power” at the end of each turn, although a few exceptions allow you to accumulate prestige directly, such as using a boss’s ability. It’s an effort to maximize the amount of resources you can generate so you have the most options available for your turn, whether that’s acquiring more cards or taking advantage of client abilities. Each of the four patrons chosen for a match has a unique ability that can be used at the cost of one resource. For example, the Saint Pelin boss ability is to move an agent card from your discard pile to the top of your deck at the expense of using two powers for that turn.
Bosses are Tales of Tribute’s version of mana types (à la Magic: The Gathering) with each “color” corresponding to a specific playstyle or tactic. For example, the patron Duke of Crows and his cards are distinguished by the color purple. These purple cards combine well to allow players to draw more cards. For example, instead of a paltry starting hand of just five cards, I was able to get a dozen cards in a single turn. Likewise, the Psijic boss Loremaster Celarus and its card abilities allow players to scrutinize and even rearrange the early cards in their deck, letting you set up combos for the next turn. These are just two of the four clients each player starts with, and there are four of them. After patrons to be acquired in-game through quest rewards or by collecting shards from several bosses in the new area.
PvP or no PvP? …or PvNPC?
Playing against Tales of Tribute NPCs, found in almost every tavern in town, is a great way to get familiar with the maps and systems when first starting out. Especially when going up against the Novice NPCs, who I’ve noticed rarely use clients during matches. In fact, in about 30 matches I’ve played against NPCs, only one has used a patron. Most of my wins against NPCs are by gaining favor with all four clients, which is much faster than trying to rack up 40 prestige, but I felt like it got in the way of my playstyle when I faced other players. In every PvP Tribute match, the winner was always the one who gained prestige first and never via bosses, though most of the other players I encountered put the pressure on just in case anyway.
Pressure is about as intense as “combat” in Tales of Tribute. There are agent cards that act as your in-game “creatures” (to compare it to MTG again) but they don’t really fight or attack directly. Instead, these Agents can be used or “pressed” as an extra card in your hand to create same-suit (same boss?) card combos that provide additional benefits, such as gaining more power or winning additional gold. This eliminates the hostility of pitting agents against agents and acts more like an additional resource for making the best strategic plays for your tower. Sometimes I’d play an Agent card just to sacrifice it to quickly rack up Prestige, or other times as a type of wall to compel my opponent to spend their own resources to remove it from play – which seemed be the case for most players. did prioritize rather than letting my agents stay in play for an indefinite amount of time.
Another daily, just in time
Alas, it wouldn’t be an MMORPG without Dailies to complete, would it? And ESO Tales of Tribute is no exception: each day, players can choose new daily quests to defeat up to three other players, or scour the taverns of Tamriel in search of NPCs to destroy, uh, I mean, play against. You can hand in each day after winning against just one opponent, but the rewards aren’t as great as if you won all three. Each victory in Tales of Tribute grants a small Tribute rank experience, which will allow you to play against more difficult NPCs, as well as a bag containing random items inside (including gold, materials of crafts and recipes). It’s nothing to specifically aim for as part of the endgame or anything, but it was nice to get some new crafting recipes just by playing a side activity in ESO.
What I like most about Tales of Tribute is that players get an even playing field every game. It’s not about who built the best deck or who had more money to spend on getting specific game-changing cards (looking at you Liliana of the Veil) but rather who can make the best decks at every turn to get the most out of the hand they are dealt. I love that each match feels like building a new deck and I can adjust my playstyle based on how my opponent is playing. It takes theory and putting it into practice where you can see immediate results on how a new strategy or card combination might come out on top. ESO handles this well by not only offering player versus player matchmaking, but also including a range of NPCs to play against.
Play for the love of the game
Unfortunately, aside from the love for the card game, there’s not much incentive to invest heavily in Tales of Tribute. Honestly, if rewards are your goal while playing, it probably won’t be worth your time. Ranking is slow and there’s not much to earn other than random stacks and gold unless you spend countless hours playing competitive ranked matches. Even then, only the top 10% and 2% of players at the end of a season – determined by win rate – will earn special rewards, such as furniture for your player housing. There are a few achievements to unlock as well as transmutation crystals to increase your rank, but ultimately the carrot at the end of the Tribute stick doesn’t look as appealing as I’d like.
Thankfully, it’s hard to imagine Tales of Tribute going unsupported after being introduced to the world of Tamriel. You can be sure that in future expansions, the Zenimax team will introduce new clients and decks to acquire and might even introduce new ways to play – maybe a mobile version? Personally, I’m looking forward to more rewards for playing ranked competitive matches, such as exclusive outfits or pets. For now, there may not be enough to keep me hooked for too long, but I know that with Tales of Tribute I have at least one more reason to tune in to elder scrolls online from now on. If only to beat more novice card-playing NPCs.