One of the game that Bethesda has been pushing since last year’s E3 is their free to play collectible card game, The Elder Scrolls Legends. Even this year, at last night’s E3 showcase, the game was featured prominently. It’s clear that the heads of Bethesda want me to play the game – so I gave it a shot.
It’s immediately obvious that Legends isn’t the most original game in the world. At a first glance, it looks similar to Blizzard’s Hearthstone, and after playing a few games that impression doesn’t exactly change. The playfield of The Elder Scrolls Legends looks very similar to Hearthstone (although to be fair, there aren’t exactly too many ways to lay out a virtual card game) but the cards themselves have a sufficiently distinct art style.
If Legends looks similar to Hearthstone, does that mean they also play similarly? In this case, the answer is yes. The backbone of Legends is the same energy system that Hearthstone uses. That is, every card costs a certain amount of energy (of Magicka, in traditional Elder Scrolls fashion) that comes out of the player’s pool. You start with only a single point, but gain an additional point to your maximum Magicka every turn, allowing you to play increasingly powerful cards as the game progresses. The cards themselves are divided between creatures, which are played on the field and may have additional abilities such as dealing damage when they die or powering up a friendly creature, and spells, which provide a variety of effects to either yourself or your opponent. Creatures have a both an attack power and a life value (they work exactly as you’d expect) and can also be a blocker, meaning that the opponent must attack it before attacking it’s owner. In addition, you have an ability that temporarily gives you one extra Magicka, but only has a limited number of uses.
The Elder Scrolls Legends isn’t all that diffirent from Hearthstone. If you’re familiar with one you’ll be able to jump into the other without much trouble.
Two areas that Legends differentiates itself is through it’s lane and rune systems. The play area is divided into left and right lanes; creatures are deployed to one or the other and may only attack other creatures in that lane. This obviously opens up a number of tactical options, since it’s like fighting of two battlefields at once. Even after only a few short games I found myself placing high-defence creatures all in one lane to effectively block it off, forcing my opponent to either place their high-damage creatures in that lane in an attempt to breach my defences, or else focus their creatures on the other lane and letting my defenders slowly chip away at their health.
The rune system is equally as interesting in theory, but I found it less effective in practice. For every five damage a player receives, they’ll lose a rune, which will allow them to draw a card. If the card has the “Prophecy” ability then it will be played immediately and can have game changing effects. In theory, this allows the game to stay relatively even since even a player who is being pounded will have a chance at recovery thanks to the powerful prophecies. I say in theory only because in the few games I played the extra card draws didn’t seem to help much, and the prophecies were too few and far between. I blame this either or the premade decks we were given or my own rotten luck.
It’s through these two systems that The Elder Scrolls Legends really sets itself apart. As much as I love Hearthstone it can sometimes seem a little unfair. A powerful enough deck can completely dominate the board. In Legends, it already seems like total lockouts will become much more rare. If you’re losing in one lane you can start deploying creatures to the other lane and hopefully gain some ground there, and in the event of a total domination there’s always a chance that the right prophecy will turn up and completely reverse your fortunes. Together, these make for a much more dynamic play session that allows more back and forth than most card games offer, not to mention a few more play styles to build decks around (a deck built around taking lots of damage, drawing powerful prophecies, then healing it back up could be super interesting).
In the end, The Elder Scrolls Legends isn’t all that different from Hearthstone. If you’re familiar with one you’ll be able to jump into the other without much trouble. If you’re looking for one to play, it’s ultimately going to come down to which game your friends play.