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Pokémon TCG Live tested - a vital update for Pokémon TCG Online

The Pokémon TCG Live beta in Canada shows it'll be a sorely needed upgrade for Pokémon TCG Online, the trading card game's PC and mobile version

Pokemon TCG Live beta preview - Author screenshot showing a zoomed artwork of a flying pokemon

Recently, the Pokémon TCG Live game made its multiplatform beta launch exclusively in Canada (where I just so happen to live). A follow-up to Pokémon TCG Online, Pokémon TCG Live is about taking the physical Pokémon trading card game we all know and love, and putting it into the digital space so players can go toe to toe with other trainers all over the world, from whichever device they prefer.

Enter me: a lifelong Pokémon fan who is, to put it mildly, a TCG scrub. I tried Pokémon TCG Online at the tail end of its lifespan and it didn’t endear me, held back by abysmal starting decks and a poor progression system that left me feeling like I couldn’t try out the core experience without investing some hard cash. But, with the advent of a brand new game in the form of Pokémon TCG Live, now seemed like the time to dive in and finally get my feet wet.

One PC game client download and several days of play later, without any further ado, here’s a newcomer’s first impressions of Pokémon Live.

First up: Pokémon TCG Online players can be somewhat reassured. When you boot the game up for the first time, you have the option of migrating your account from Online. While you won’t keep your full collection, it does allow you to keep compatible, newer cards and a ton of cosmetics like deck boxes and coins.

Pokemon TCG Live beta preview - official logo graphic for Pokemon TCG Live

Getting into the meat of the game itself, there are two modes of play: casual and ranked. Both modes are PVP; there isn’t (yet) anything in the way of single-player content in Live. Both modes give your profile experience points, which give minor rewards on level-up. Ranked also raises your rank on the ladder if you win enough, which grants rewards at certain thresholds. At a certain point, losses also decrease your accumulated ladder points, so things get competitive quickly.

The UI is clean, much cleaner than Online’s setup. It’s less graphically intense, with occasional effects washing over the field, and player spaces denoted by red and blue. It’s a good compromise for the mobile audience, retaining a sense of visual interactivity without wasting too much processing power on 3D. You have a customizable avatar that shows up in matches, too. The controls are neat and intuitive, and I easily got into the swing of them within a few matches.

There are three types of currency: Coins, Crystals, and Credits. Coins are used to buy cosmetics like avatar clothes, deck boxes, sleeves, and coins. Crystals allow you to buy paid content from the store, like packs. Credits allow you to buy individual copies of cards in the deck editor, and are automatically accumulated when you pull extra copies of a card after the fourth one.

Pokemon TCG Live beta preview - Author screenshot showing items in the game's store

You get most Coins from matches, while Crystals and Credits are chiefly available through the Battle Pass and profile level-ups. Also, if you have physical TCG products, you can redeem their codes for equivalent packs in this game, just like in Pokémon TCG Online (though, as of this writing, the feature is down).

Speaking of the Battle Pass, this is Live’s quest system – you get two quests every day for a chunk of points towards each tier of the pass – which has its own rewards, usually packs.

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Players can spend 800 Crystals to unlock the ‘premium pass’, which gives out double rewards each tier for the remainder of the pass.

As some of these rewards are more Crystals, this is the smart move, especially because, as of this writing, the premium pass purchase netted me thirteen full weeks of double rewards.

Pokemon TCG Live beta preview - Author screenshot showing the character creation screen

The game seems more of a friendly entry point to Pokémon’s TCG than Online was. There are the minor things – like the avatar customization and the fact that the game allows you to skip the tutorials – but there are some more substantial improvements, as well. The most major one is the content of the starting decks.

In Online, I was handed a few painfully out of date decks that barely functioned, easily getting swept in any PVP match and against most of the NPC trainers. In Live, however, you’re handed ten full decks with meta-viable, functioning parts; they’re far from optimal as presented, but they have most of the keystone cards and you can head into PVP and not lose immediately even without fiddling.

Pokemon TCG Live beta preview - Author screenshot showing Pokemon TCG Live's deck builder tool

The deck editor has received a very welcome overhaul, too, more in line with its contemporaries. There’s a crisp UI and an easy overview of what’s in your deck and what you have in your collection side by side. Combine all this with an easier quest system, where you can complete your objectives (things like “knock out 3 Basic Pokémon”) in normal play, and you get into the meat of the game immediately.

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I found the experience much more welcoming, and I was able to get established, get playing, and get into tweaking and perfecting my deck within a day’s playtime – despite no solid experience with the game’s meta beforehand – using articles like Wargamer’s previous Pokémon TCG guides to help me out, of course.

Pokemon TCG Live beta preview - Author screenshot showing the game's battle screen UI

As a final note, I did have some complaints about the experience as-is, although I suspect they’ll be mostly ironed out with time.

There are lots of little glitches in the game’s current build that I hope will be fixed before release. I also hope that some single-player content is added eventually, if only some static battles for Crystals or something else – to give new players a little more wiggle room. Lastly, the music is serviceable, but extremely repetitive after a while, and I ended up muting it and playing my own playlist over matches.

Pokemon TCG Live beta preview - Author screenshot showing the post battle result screen and victory message

Pokémon TCG Live is shaping up to be a much friendlier and much more widely accessible entry than its predecessor; if you’re in Canada, you can give it a try for yourself now, and if you’re elsewhere, you have a fun time in store with this new platform when it hits wider release (“available soon on the App Store and Google Play – as well as Windows and Mac”, according to the official site). I’m excited to see where it goes!

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get owned in Ranked again.