The Elder Scrolls: Legends Hands-On Preview

Strategy card games, whether tabletop or digital, have a special place in the hearts of many. Bethesda hopes to capture this audience, intersected with those who enjoy The Elder Scrolls adventure series, by releasing The Elder Scrolls: Legends. This game seems to be aimed at Hearthstone, as BattleNet had enjoyed quite a bit of success from this model, but who knows? Bethesda may just be trying to offer more options of gaming styles to their fans. Whatever the inspiration, The Elder Scrolls: Legends is just different enough that a challenge may still exist for veterans, but beginners have a chance to shine, as well.

card examples

To go ahead and answer an unasked question: you don’t need to know much about the series of The Elder Scrolls games in order to play Legends. A bit of background is nice, and it does make choosing your character class a bit more informative, but there’s a wiki if you’re into research, so you should be fine.

Legends is in beta, so there may be changes forthcoming – there are several places where they would be good, but the game is definitely playable as-is. The gameplay is fair, the graphics are pretty good (there are clearly-marked placeholders, so obviously those will be changed), and the sound is appropriate and very similar in style to other games of this kind. For me, it was a very basic experience punctuated with the usual frustrations for someone who isn’t a whiz with card games, and a few stunning victories that had me feeling pretty cocky until I met a more experienced player.

Players are afforded mana per turn, with each card costing a certain amount to play; that amount is listed in the upper left corner of the card. The level of attack is center-left on the card, and level of shield/resistance is center-right. Any special abilities are listed on the bottom, and all of this is pretty self-explanatory, until you get into actual gameplay, where it becomes important to realize what those numbers actually mean in regards to your defensive and offensive capabilities. I know the basics. The basics are only moderately helpful in an actual match.

I guess I did okay.

I guess I did okay.

For example, the basic cost/benefit analysis of the cards is that the attack and defense should average out to the mana cost. A 3/5 card with a mana cost of 4 would break even (3 + 5 = 8, average 4), and would be worth using. A 1/1 card with a mana cost of 3 had better have a pretty darn good ability or buff, or else it’s not even worth putting into your deck build. Decks are build according to certain categories of character, with specific types/classes of cards being available according to the player’s preference. The deck-building mechanic is okay, but the game kind of just tosses you into it with a basic “click on a card to add it” explanation, and there is an array of other considerations to worry about. If you’re a beginner and don’t either have the patience to read a wiki, or a friend to guide you (I had the latter), it can be seriously overwhelming.

Legends has a two-lane gaming system, where players must deal with what are essentially two different playing fields at the same time. Each lane will have different attributes, such as cloaking (cards can’t be attacked if they haven’t first been used), and a mechanic that will randomly blow cards from one lane to the other after a turn. This additional layer of strategy, wherein you have to manage two lanes with one hand of cards, seems daunting, but as long as you can keep the basics in mind, and play each lane individually, it’s possible for beginners to be okay. I mean, I’m still a beginner, and I didn’t have much of a problem, there.

So far, there’s nothing that really stands out about Legends, but it’s not an un-enjoyable game. I had a lot of fun in story mode, which is part tutorial, part deck-hoarding activity. The story line is shown (in still art, with spoken words) between matches, but it has nothing to do with gameplay aside from telling players why they’re battling certain characters. I don’t see this as a fault, necessarily, because it’s not like people are there for a rich narrative, right?

match finish explosions

Overall, I feel like this game has a lot of potential – with a few tweaks to the method of explanation so as to not alienate complete beginners (if I have to do a bunch of research before playing a game, the inverse is that I will be less likely to even try), it could be pretty awesome. For some, it’s already awesome. I might wait to see if they make any improvements to tutorials and general information in-game before jumping in, though, if you’ve got no experience with strategy card games.

Is it worth trying? Absolutely. A friend of mine is more experienced in these types of games, and while he had a few quibbles with the fetch mechanic (it’s a way to pull specific cards from your deck using cards already in play – it’s an easy way to get what might be an unfair advantage), we did have a good time playing. It’s free-to-play, so there’s no risk of wasting money if you end up hating it.

Others have said that The Elder Scrolls: Legends might overtake Hearthstone in popularity. I think that remains to be seen. However, I can see it being comparable, at the very least.

In order to play The Elder Scrolls: Legends, you must first download the Bethesda client, with an account. You can request to participate in the beta by going to the official website. Follow Bethesda’s Legends Twitter for more information, or follow the game on Facebook.

Bonnie is a collector of video games, a yarn addict, and her hair color changes more often than the sun shines in Seattle. She occasionally streams on Twitch under the moniker squeakyb. A former indie game writer, and a current purveyor of fiber crafts, she's always looking for her next distraction. She could probably be lured into a van with an offer of cheese.

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