Friday, August 19, 2016

Elder Scrolls: Legends

A digital TCG based in a major fantasy world that has its own MMO....where have I heard that one before?
Elder Scrolls: Legends entered its open beta phase recently, so I decided to give it a try. It has a whole lot of similarities to Hearthstone, as one would expect. There are enough differences for the game to be more than just a clone, though. There's the obvious difference in theme, using the Elder Scrolls world rather than Hearthstone's Warcraft, but also some significant gameplay innovations.

To introduce new players to the game, Elder Scrolls: Legends has a pretty extensive single-player campaign. The presentation is very polished, with plenty of pan-and-zoom semi-animation effects as the story is introduced in each chapter. There are even a few choices in the story for the player to make, which affect some of the cards you receive along the way. The single-player campaign won't be competing with any RPGs for story awards, but for a TCG, it's nicely done.

Mechanically, Elder Scrolls: Legends plays very much like Hearthstone, but there are some major differences. The similarities are many: your magicka (mana) starts at one and grows automatically each turn, there are creatures to summon and actions (spells) to cast, the goal is to reduce your opponent's health to zero, and so on. Just about all the same keywords exist, albeit with different names. As for the differences, there are three major (and a variety of minor) things:
  • Deck Construction. There are no hero classes as in Hearthstone. Instead, cards are categorized into five attributes: strength, agility, intelligence, willpower, and endurance. Decks can use cards from any combination of two attributes (plus neutral). Minimum deck size is 50 cards, with a limit of 3 of any one card. Some powerful unique cards are limited to one per deck.
  • Lanes. Creatures are summoned into one of two lanes, and creatures can only attack other creatures in the same lane. This adds a level of strategy, effectively creating two battlefields for attack and defense. Lanes can also have special effects that are applied to each creature placed there.
  • Runes and Prophecy. In Hearthstone, your hero participates in the battle largely through the use of a specific hero power. In Elder Scrolls: Legends, there are no hero powers, but your player's avatar starts with five runes. At each 5-point damage threshold below your starting 30 health, a rune is destroyed and a card is drawn. If the card drawn has the Prophecy keyword, you can play it right away for free. This provides a bit more balance than in most TCGs, since the player losing the most life gets more cards and thus a better opportunity to recover.
There's an Arena mode in Elder Scrolls: Legends, again very similar to the same Hearthstone feature. You choose a set of two attributes, then pick one card at a time from a random selection of three, until your deck is complete. Then play games against random opponents until you've lost three - the more wins you get in the process, the better the rewards. The major difference from Hearthstone is that you can also play in solo mode, against a variety of AI-driven enemy decks, culminating in a boss battle. In fact, you must play through solo mode at least once before going up against other players.

I've only played for a few days, so I don't have a good feel for how well the free-to-play business model works yet, but my initial impression is favorable. There are quests each day to be completed, giving gold rewards that can be used to buy cards or enter Arena runs. I haven't seen any way to trade cards, but there's a crafting system to get rid of extra cards and fill gaps in your collection (again very similar to Hearthstone).

I'm looking forward to seeing how Elder Scrolls: Legends develops as they move the game forward out of beta. It's got plenty of potential!

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