Game Rant has been playing the Elder Scrolls: Legends closed beta and despite what it looks like at first, the game is much more than just another Hearthstone clone.
Gamers interested in slinging some digital cardboard certainly have no shortage of options. Hearthstone dominates the market, but Magic: The Gathering Online, SolForge, and Witcher 3's Gwent are just a few of the other card games competing for the niche market. Bethesda is preparing to join the CGC war with Elder Scrolls: Legends and Game Rant has been playing the closed beta.
For those unfamiliar with the project, Elder Scrolls: Legends is a digital collectible card game that takes place, you guessed it, in the Elder Scrolls universe. Players have the option to work through a campaign against the AI to unlock cards, play against real opponents for fun or in ranked matches with pre-constructed decks, or draft a deck in the Arena and play with a limited pool of cards. New packs can be unlocked as rewards, but there will also be in-game transactions that allow players to buy packs of cards with real world money.
As expected, there are plenty of easy comparisons to games like Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering. Players start with a certain life total (30 in this case) and use creatures and spells in an attempt to lower the opponent's life to zero. Much like in Hearthstone, players start with one Magicka (this game's mana) and gain one additional unit of the resource every turn.
Although there are no unique hero class abilities like there are in Hearthstone, some of Legends' foundations are still incredibly similar to the Blizzard CGC. The sound effects, the GUI, and even some of the keywords are very reminiscent of the Warcraft-themed card game. That said, Legends does also bring some very cool new features to the table and it seems the delays have made it worth the wait.
In Legends, the battlefield is divided into two lanes. This is part of where the game strays from the Hearthstone and Magic formula, though it is similar to the lane structure of SolForge. Players can place their creatures in either lane when they enter the battlefield, but the creatures can only attack opposing creatures that are in the same lane (they can also attack the opposing player of course). This introduces a very challenging new level of strategy, as players are forced to consider how to divvy up their forces, instead of just emptying their hand onto the battlefield.
In most games, one of the lanes is identified as a shadow lane and creatures played there can't be attacked by opposing creatures for a full turn (though they can be targeted by special abilities). This adds another layer of complexity to the lane mechanic, as players must also balance how many resources they want to place in the shadow lane. Splitting the board in half like this makes it feel a bit like managing two unique board states. This is great for players who enjoy a challenge and like the extra strategy, but could be intimidating to gamers who are new to CGCs.
Another set of mechanics that set Legends apart from the competition are Runes and Prophecy cards. Players start the game with five runes and lose one rune every time they lose five life. Every time a rune is lost, the player draws a card, and if that card is a Prophecy card type, the player can immediately play it for free. This adds a bit of luck and randomness to the game that will likely anger the more competitive players. That said, giving a player an extra card as they lose life helps keep both players invested in the game and makes it feel like there is always the chance for a comeback. The problem is that sometimes the Prophecy cards really do cause a major comeback and this is going to make people very unhappy when it costs them a game that 'should' have been theirs. The mechanic felt great to us and added a unique tension to every damage phase, but we also weren't battling through competitive ranked tiers.
The game's campaign has a story that is more entertaining than most CGCs and fans of the Elder Scrolls lore will definitely enjoy it. In addition to the narrative, the campaign mode also provides a cool level up mechanic. As players work through each match, they are occasionally faced with a moral choice, just like they would be in other Bethesda games. Instead of gaining or losing reputation with a certain character like they might in Fallout, players gain a different card or different card level up based on the choice they make. Deciding to save a wild wolf may add a wolf card to your deck, while deciding to put the pup out of its misery may add a card that destroys target creatures with power two or less.
Players gain allies as they work through the campaign and this unlocks new decks with different strengths and strategies. The game has five alignments (that are very similar to the five colors in Magic) and each of the unlocked decks will be built around one to two of the alignments.
Even without getting invested in the competitive scene and spending real money to buy packs in Elder Scrolls: Legends, the campaign provides plenty of entertainment to keep casual gamers busy. The game's Arena mode also provides a great way to play the game without worrying about keeping up with the metagame and building a copy of one of the top tier decks.
There are likely still plenty of bugs and balancing fixes on the way as the game's closed beta continues, but so far Bethesda is working with a very solid foundation. The game felt a little too much like Hearthstone at first, but once the runes, Prophecies, and lanes were introduced a few levels in, Legends really started to stand on its own. It's hard to make room for another card game in the rotation, but this one will be worth the energy.
Do you plan to play the Elder Scrolls: Legends when it is released? Let us know in the comment.
Elder Scrolls: Legends plans to release for PC and iOS devices before the end of 2016.