There was a time when I honestly didn’t think The Elder Scrolls Legends was going to launch at all. First announced during E3 2015 with several long months of silence following, Bethesda’s attempt at a digital card game was showing all the signs of the fabled “vaporware”. But here we are with our Elder Scrolls Legends preview, proving that it’s always best not to assume.
You begin the game by choosing your portrait. This can be changed later on for free, but each race provides a different bonus to the types of cards you will receive from card packs, so it is worth considering the deck style you like to play in card games when choosing, though you can change your mind later. Then you begin Act 1 of the PvE campaign. This acts as a tutorial to The Elder Scrolls Legends, and may feel a little dull if you have any familiarity with card games, but you must play through it to unlock certain things in the game so bear with it. It will, at the very least, introduce you to what Legends does differently to the competition.
What The Elder Scrolls Legends Does Differently to Hearthstone
Hearthstone is the bread and butter of the digital card game world, let’s face it. Blizzard knocked it out of the park with their foray into the genre and Hearthstone has become the game that just about everybody compares other games of the like to.
The Elder Scrolls Legends holds a lot of similar patterns to Hearthstone. Each card has a play cost and attack/health points, as well as abilities such as Guard and Breakthrough. Nothing new here. The resource in Legends is called Magicka, and like in Hearthstone this starts at 1 and builds each turn, unless you go second at which point you’re given an Elixir of Magicka card that has no cost and increases your Magicka temporarily by one. However, I found this card to be a little on the overpowered side considering it has 3 uses which can be used at any time. These consolation cards are supposed to balance out not going first, but in The Elder Scrolls Legends you’re given 3 separate uses for the no-cost card and so 3 additional Magicka to your opponent which I found to be a little unfair.
Most of the game will feel very familiar to Hearthstone players. The UI, deck builder, gameplay, modes, all of the things you might expect, really, but there are things about The Elder Scrolls Legends that set it apart.
The most obvious difference being the Lanes. Many TCGs utilize lanes, though usually these are front and back, with melee and ranged cards to work with. In Legends, they are left and right with room in each for 4 cards, and each lane gives different bonuses. In Casual Versus, the right lane becomes a Shadow Lane. Creatures played here go into a stealth mode and can’t be attacked for a turn. The left lane, on the other hand, doesn’t grant any special bonuses for playing cards there which does provide for some interesting choices throughout a game.
You also have 5 runes at the start of a game. These are situated around your portrait and one is destroyed for every 5 HP lost. When this happens, you will draw a card, and some cards have abilities that allow them to be played for free when they are drawn as a result of a broken rune. It’s a pretty cool mechanic that can well turn a game around for you if you draw the right cards.
Player portraits are also something a little different. In Hearthstone, the Hero you choose dictates the deck you will play. In The Elder Scrolls Legends, the race of your portrait unlocks a certain bonus towards the type of cards you will pick up from card packs. For example, the Nord “more quickly collects cards to relentlessly battle foes.” So it’s certainly worth considering what your playstyle is when it comes to card games. The deck types you can use in Legends can be used with any race, so that’s not anything you’ll need to consider when selecting your portrait.
Where Hearthstone cornered the card game market for people looking for a game that is easy to get into, I feel as though The Elder Scrolls Legends is the digital card game that Magic the Gathering always wished they could make. It’s a fair bit darker than Hearthstone with a more serious high fantasy feel to it, though that’s not to say there’s no humor at all, we all know how those Khajit can be, I’m sure.
The Elder Scrolls Legends plays like your typical card game with just a few nuances here and there. Cards have a cost, they have attack points and health points, and most have different abilities to build your decks around. With the exception of some of the PvE chapters, the game boards have two lanes, often with different benefits for placing cards in one or the other, and these can be used to great effect. With all of the different deck types and abilities and shadow lanes to play around with, there’s plenty of strategizing to be had here. It just doesn’t have a particularly unique game skin surrounding it.
I cannot in my right mind say that The Elder Scrolls Legends is innovative. It just doesn’t do anything new for the TCG genre. Even its unique selling points aren’t anything we haven’t seen before. The game’s lanes are reminiscent of other card game’s front and back rows, although the addition of shadow lanes does bring an extra level of strategic planning to gameplay. I absolutely found myself planning out which cards were best to go into the shadow lane over others and how that would affect my play on the whole.
Tough to judge in a card game with no chat system, though you can click your portrait to emote and the emoting I experienced was friendly, and anybody who has ever been near Hearthstone Ranked can attest that this kind of communication between players often doesn’t stay friendly. You can also add friends who you can play against in Versus matches, which themselves, at least in casual mode, don’t take long to pop at this time, so there is definitely a strong community of people playing Legends right now which is awesome.
While graphics and sounds for a card game aren’t the most vital part of the game to get right, The Elder Scrolls Legends excels in this area. The artwork on the cards is gorgeous, depicting all sorts of familiar environments, races, and creatures from the Nirn we know and love. The animations are also pretty great, from placing each card on the board, right down to the little glow effect that flashes when you click around it. Yes, I am easily pleased. The only thing in this area that I felt could have been improved upon was the defeat animation. I was hoping for a satisfying shatter, explosion, or some other grand animation, but it just burns out, which feels a little limp.
Then the music. Oh man, I had this one track in my head for an entire week. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a Jeremy Soule soundtrack, nor is it necessarily anything particularly “special”, however, The Elder Scrolls Legends has some lovely music behind it.
Value For Money 7/10
While you can purchase card packs for real money in the in-game store, The Elder Scrolls Legends is a free-to-play card game and you can unlock all game modes from playing the game, and buy card packs for gold, which is earned through completion of quests.
While at first glance The Elder Scrolls: Legends doesn’t look or play all that differently to the standard for a card game, there is some depth to the game that will appeal to those who like a challenge and a bit of strategy. The familiarity means that, while it might not grab you as being something new and unique, it is easy to dive into if you are at all familiar with card games in general, but with just enough new ways of doing things for there to be something here to learn. As with any card game, Legends is about crafting your deck, thinking over your plays, and planning ahead.
If you’re looking for a new card game to play, The Elder Scrolls Legends is a great choice.
- Great artwork and music.
- Versus is a lot of fun.
- There’s quite a bit you can do in deck building.
- Plenty of opportunity for strategy.
- We’ve seen it before.
- Elixir of Magicka is a little too strong right now.
Related: Bethesda, Card Game, elder scrolls, Preview, The Elder Scrolls: Legends