While it was once considered an entirely niche market, online card games have now become a staple on PC and mobile devices. What was once a genre almost completely dominated by Magic: the Gathering Online has blossomed into an attractive revenue stream for major video game companies, and developers have begun to take notice. Blizzard’s Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft totally changed the game by capitalizing on the elements of card games that could only be done in a video game medium, relying on RNG-based effects and smooth, crisp card animations rather than overly-complicated mechanics that reduce the amount of luck involved in a given game.
The results for Hearthstone have been incredible, and since then, new competitors have sprung up in an effort to cash in on the online card playing craze. Dire Wolf Digital, a studio that also did the Eternal online card game, was recently entrusted with turning Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls franchise into the next big online card game. The Elder Scrolls: Legends has been a popular card game since its release, and although the game may not have as much clout, Bethesda and Dire Wolf have carved out a place for Legends all the same.
The Elder Scrolls: Legends has been successful enough to warrant a major expansion, at least, and that’s what gamers got when Heroes of Skyrim released late last month. The world of Skyrim was seen by fans as the most obvious inclusion for an expansion down the road, and Bethesda delivered early – but was it the right time, and has the game improved as a result?
It’s safe to say that Heroes of Skyrim has shaken up the Legends online metagame, and has enticed a significant number of new players to give the game a look thanks to the iconic status of Skyrim. But it’s mostly just more of the same – which is fine, for already entrenched players, but will do little to make dedicated players of Hearthstone or other titles consider jumping ship.
For those unfamiliar, The Elder Scrolls: Legends is a game that has staked its reputation on being a hybrid of sorts – the same flash and nostalgia that fuels some of Hearthstone‘s biggest moments with gameplay that is more closely aligned with Magic: the Gathering‘s complicated, chess-like matches. That’s been Legends‘ selling point since day one, and it has definitely lived up to the billing, as its gameplay offers refreshing depth while still delivering an epic feeling.
Luckily for fans of the game, Bethesda and Dire Wolf are still very much aware of the space The Elder Scrolls: Legends occupies within the card playing community. Previously, RNG primarily existed in the form of Prophecy cards, which could trigger upon an opponent dealing an increment of five damage to a player’s hero and could swing a lost battle back closer to even. It’s a nice mechanic, though – one that makes the game a little more friendly to newer players while helping mitigate the skill gap between Legends‘ best and the tier below them. It makes for some good storytelling, too, when recounting how a match hinged on the flip of a single card.
Now, Heroes of Skyrim has introduced a few more cards with the word “random” on them, mostly centered around the introduction of the Shout mechanic. Shout cards level up whenever they are played (or whenever another card says to level them up), and they get increasingly more powerful to mimic the way that the Dragonborn learned and refined shouts over the course of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. The Shouts never really feel game-breaking until they’ve been played a few times, and even then they’re just powerful but not broken.
The ability of Dire Wolf to capture the feel of Skyrim in its new set is definitely the biggest draw toward the expansion as a whole. Werewolves have innocuous abilities – or none at all – until an enemy is damaged enough that they lose a rune, and then they become powerful creatures with aggressively slanted keywords. Dragons are, quite suitably, some of the biggest, baddest cards in the entire game, and can often win on the spot unless they’re answered quickly, which is how a dragon should feel.
One of the best examples of this marriage of Skyrim lore and cardplaying mechanics is the Grisly Gourmet, which transforms a weak enemy creature into a Sweet Roll once it’s summoned. It’s that dark gallows humor that made Skyrim so captivating at times, and Heroes of Skyrim really gets it when it comes to honoring the title it shares its name with.
While the set definitely makes for some entertaining callbacks to Skyrim, it also doesn’t really do much to push Legends forward, either. None of the mechanics feel as though they are a significantly different playing experience than ones that existed previously.
Still, lapsed Legends players and hardcore fans will view this as a can’t miss that freshens up the online meta and allows for more deckbuilding variation. The Elder Scrolls: Legends Heroes of Skyrim is an enjoyable expansion that will sate fans of the game until the next set releases and provide some memorable, lore-infused moments along the way, but it does little to attract a new player who wasn’t already interested to check the game out.
The Elder Scrolls: Legends Heroes of Skyrim is available now for PC, Mac, and mobile devices. Game Rant was provided with Heroes of Skyrim card packs for this review.