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Elder Scrolls: Legends Impressions - A New Challenger Enters the Arena

When Elder Scrolls: Legends was first announced back in 2015, I was disappointed to say the least. Here we were, drowning in Hearthstone clones trying to ride the wake of success left by Blizzard’s colorful and fun card game, and Bethesda was ready to buy into the fad? I’ve spent the past week or so playing in the game’s closed beta, and Bethesda isn’t simply trying to ride Hearthstone’s popularity wave, it’s trying to make a wave of its own.

Pointing Out the Obvious

Before we dive too deeply into the features that Legends offers, I think we should take a moment to compare the upcoming game with its estranged father figure, Hearthstone. The obvious similarities include a dedicated hero health bar, which begins at 30, as well as a pool of mana used to play creatures, actions, and items. Of course, being built upon the Elder Scrolls lore, mana is actually called Magicka, but it works in the same basic way. Each subsequent turn sees the players drawing one additional card, as well as gaining an additional Magicka point. Destroy your opponent’s creatures and then target their face for the game winning kill. Most of the keywords used to describe the various card effects are direct equivalents of Hearthstone, so they’re pretty easy to pick up on. Guard is to Taunt as Ward is to Divine Shield as Summon is to Battle Cry, and so the list continues. They’re instantly understandable, and easy to pick up on. Legends does offer some differences, however. Some cards have keywords like Regenerate, which causes it to heal at the start of your turn.

Hearthstone isn’t the only CCG that Legends has drawn inspiration from. One keyword that I often found useful in my battles, Breakthrough, hurls all the excessive damage dealt by a card directly at your opponent’s hero. It’s basically Trample from Magic: The Gathering, and it’s pretty clear throughout the game that MTG played a huge role in Legends’ birth.

A Two-Laned Highway

There are a lot of small differences I could go into detail about, but this isn’t a catch-all compare article for Legends and Hearthstone. There is really one big thing I want to focus on though, as it is Legends’ strongest game mechanic, and it is massive part of what really makes me confident in the game’s success as a Hearthstone competitor. This feature is the lane system.

In each match the game board is broken up into two separate lanes (there have been hints at more, but currently the game only features two lanes), which can have different special effects. Each lane holds different special effects, which apply to all the cards that are played in that field. Alongside these special effects, creatures placed in one lane can only attack other creatures in that same lane, meaning any creatures played in the left lane, can only attack enemy creatures in the left lane. The exception to this rule, however, are Summon effects, which allow you to target any creatures in any lane.

The use of lanes is a huge step in a good direction, because it makes games in Legends that much more challenging. Instead of simply having to control one board, you’re forced to control two boards, making your card play strategy more important than ever. The lanes also allow for a great way to use stalling tactics against your enemy. Throw a few guards down in one lane, while keeping your stronger enemies in the opposite lane, where they can freely attack. I found this especially useful when Shadow Lanes were in play (when a card is played in a shadow lane, it is hidden from creature attacks until it attacks), as I could hide my most aggressive cards in the Shadow Lane to use in direct combo attacks against my opponent. The lane system allows a deeper scope for strategy than Hearthstone does, which feels like the direction that Bethesda is taking to try to make a name for itself in the CCG arena.

Drawing Upon the Rune

Of course, there are other differences between Legends and Hearthstone. The rune system, which rewards you with a card each time your character health drops below a certain point, is an inherently RNG system which can either make or break you in tough situations. Paired with the Prophecy keyword, which allows you to play a card for no cost if it is drawn from a rune, the rune system can be both a hindrance or a boost towards your victory. Support cards also add another layer to the game’s strategic depth, allowing you to play cards which can grant you different benefits. One particularly beneficial Support card, Divine Conviction, is an ongoing card, meaning it will remain in play until it is destroyed.

Moving past the strategic depth that Legends has added to the CCG genre, there are a few more major differences that help to paint Elder Scrolls: Legends in a different spotlight of its own. Unlike Hearthstone, which forces you to play in the Arena against real opponents around the world, Legends offers a Solo Arena, which pits you against AI opponents, while still allowing you to experience the panic inducing gameplay of Arena battles. This is great for people who are struggling to get ahead in the Versus Arena, and I found it to be quite a fitting way to practice building new decks and builds against challenging AI.

Legends also allows players to upgrade some of their cards to higher tiers of that same card, even sometimes allowing multiple options for the upgrade. Divine Conviction, which is a Support card I mentioned earlier, rewards the user with +0/+1 on all friendly creatures. However, upon reaching Player Level 9, you can upgrade that card to Divine Fervor, which gives all friendly creatures +1/+1, allowing greater support for any creatures you have on the field.

Heroes Aren’t The Answer Anymore

One of Legends biggest changes from Hearthstone is the noticeable lack of a Hero system. Unlike Hearthstone, which relies upon Heroes to determine its deck types, Elder Scrolls: Legends is built upon a two-trait system. When building a deck, players will have the option to choose from cards that fall under Strength, Intelligence, Willpower, Agility, and Endurance cards. There are also Neutral cards, which can be added to any deck, and Dual-attribute cards - which draw upon two different attributes, meaning they can only be paired in decks that offer those same attributes.

This makes building your deck important, as you’ll want to make sure the two attributes you are pairing have plenty of cards to offer up during your battles. I often found myself drawn more to my Intelligence and Agility deck, which I found to be a good pairing against almost anything I came across during my time with the beta. Another difference between Legends’ deck system, is the card count. Unlike Hearthstone, which only allows players 30 cards, Legends offers up anywhere from 50 cards, which is the minimum to use a deck, to 70, the max. Of course the game recommends not going above 50, as adding too many cards will limit the potential of you getting your strongest cards into play.

Aside from the attribute systems and the card count, Legends deck building mechanics are pretty much just like Hearthstone's. Players can create new copies of cards using Soul Gems, which is equivalent to Arcane Dust in Hearthstone, and the actual deck building system itself looks eerily similar to Blizzard’s counterpart, which means Hearthstone's fans should feel right at home when putting together their first deck.

Like Hearthstone, Legends also includes an in-game currency which can be used for multiple things. You can purchase new card packs and arena tickets using Gold, or real currency, and just like Hearthstone, Legends uses a Daily Quest system to reward players with more Gold to help them get along. Of course, grinding for Gold was never meant to be easy in these games, and you’ll have to spend a fair amount of hours playing through the game’s different modes if you want to remain a free-player forever.

Another key difference between Legends and Blizzard’s reigning champion is the story driven campaign mode, which sends players on an adventure featuring well-crafted cinematics, and expert-voiced actors. Of course, stories aren’t the strongest part of a CCG, but it does do a good job of building upon the lore that the Elder Scrolls world has to offer. Legends is also a bit darker and grimmer than Blizzard’s colorful and cheerful, Hearthstone. For some this might be a turn off, but for users like me who enjoy the darker lore that the Scrolls world has to offer, Legends is a welcome turn away from the cheerful nature of Hearthstone’s format.

All in all, Elder Scrolls: Legends is looking to pave its own way through the CCG industry. It’s the first time that anyone has ever truly challenged Blizzard’s number one spot in the genre, and it will be interesting to see how Bethesda manages the game going forward. Of course, right now things are in the beta stage, so things are subject to change, and the way that some systems work may be tweaked as the months go by. That being said, if Bethesda can keep a firm hold on what they’re offering, and keep the various aspects of the game balanced, they just might be able to pave their way to success, and steal some of Blizzard’s limelight, making them the first real challenge to the CCG throne.

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