E3 2016: Elder Scrolls Legends Impressions: So That's How Hearthstone Newbies Feel

Elder Scrolls Legends brings some new and inventive twists to the digital CCG formula, but may be a difficult nut to crack for newcomers.


In a long line of "me too" digital card games following the success of Hearthstone, Elder Scrolls Legends may be the one that felt the most nakedly ambitious to topple Blizzard's stronghold on the market. The mechanics appeared similar and the fantasy setting made it all seem extremely familiar. Having now played it, it does have some clever ideas of its own, but the similarities could make it difficult to crack an already established fanbase.

Mechanically, you could virtually share terms between the inevitable competitors: Summon instead of Battlecry as an effect that takes place upon playing a card, Guard instead of Taunt as a shield for the hero that forces enemy minions to attack, and so on. It does introduce some extra elements, like the ability to spill extra damage from a minion onto the enemy hero. This blending of Hearthstone and Magic elements gives it a bit more flexibility, at the expense of some simplicity.

The much more signfiicant difference comes in the form of lanes. Rather than one large field of play, the board is separated down the middle into two lanes. Choosing a lane for your cards might mean a more direct line of attack against the enemy hero, since the minions in play can't cross between the lanes. Once both lanes are in play with multiple cards per side, it's almost as if you're juggling two smaller skirmishes at once, while at the same time strategizing how to best accomplish your overall objective. It's quite a twist that adds an additional layer of strategic depth, and I can only imagine how high-level play could get mind-bogglingly detailed--especially since the lanes can also offer special benefits or hazards of their own.

At least in my time, though, the enemy actions were happening too quickly to get a solid understanding of them. I'm sure it's perfectly understandable once properly versed in the game, but as a first-timer it was a little off-putting having an entire enemy turn resolve before I strongly grasped what had just occurred. Ideally, Bethesda will implement an A.I. speed option or allow a better look at the card history so that newcomers won't feel too put off by it.

And that's where most of my concern about Elder Scrolls Legends stems from. Hearthstone caught an audience by being inviting, friendly, and bright. It has gained a reputation for being difficult to crack now, since the audience is so entrenched and the competitive meta is so set, but the fundamentals are still the same. Elder Scrolls, by comparison, is tonally dark and moves incredibly fast. It's easy to see how a newcomer could simply not have the patience to learn its intricacies.

That would be a shame, because some of the elements here really do seem brilliant. The lanes themselves are a great addition to the formula, and as a burgeoning CCG fan myself, I'm looking forward to flexing my strategic muscle to explore those depths. But, that also may mean it innately appeals to those of us already invested in this genre, which would miss the central design philosophy behind Hearthstone. For a game that clearly intends to challenge Blizzard on its own turf, that could prove to be a misstep.

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