I was skeptical about The Elder Scrolls Legends. Hearthstone took the world by storm, and the game publisher behind the sensationally popular The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim comes along with an online card battler with a lot of the same ideas at its core. When Hearthstone is good, do we really need another game like it based on a popular role-playing video game?
Well, I played the game at E3. While we might not need it, it turns out I want it. The Elder Scrolls Legends surprised me and sucked me in. Yes, it takes a lot of inspiration from Blizzard's extraordinarily addictive digital card game, but it has enough new ideas to make it worth your time.
If you haven't played games like this before, I still recommend you start with Hearthstone. You'd be in good company with 40 million other people. But if you've already played that and want to try something new, let's talk about what makes it different.
I could spend a few paragraphs explaining its basic mechanics, but this video from publisher Bethesda Softworks nails it in under two minutes.
The Elder Scrolls Legends Is Played On Two Lanes
This is the most obvious difference from Hearthstone. Play your card into one of two lanes, and that card can only battle other cards in that lane, or attack your opponent's main character directly.
In one instance, the enemy I was battling was dominating me in the left lane. I had virtually no hope of catching up. So I deployed a huge, powerful minion to the right lane where it was uncontested. He had no choice but to start playing cards in that lane instead of the one where he was building his offensive; if he ignored my new minion, I would keep blasting him with eight damage every turn. That shift helped me catch up and win.
Furthermore, each lane can have different rules. In the games I played, the left lane had no special rules, but minions played in the right lane can't be attacked until the turn after they're played, allowing you to more safely stack up armies there.
It's a simple change to the online card battler formula, but it really opens up a lot of possibilities. There were some wacky moments when playing a card to move a card from one lane to the other totally changed the course of the game.
Taking Damage In The Elder Scrolls Legends helps you draw more cards
There's a system called Runes. They're those green icons around your character portrait. Every five damage your opponent does to you, a Rune gets activated. When it does, you draw a card.
Okay, so card draw is important but one card isn't necessarily going to be a game-changer, right? Well, it turns out that some cards have a special flag on them that lets you play them right away at no cost if they're drawn by a Rune. If it's a big card, it really can make a difference.
These games are at their best when they strike a balance between strategy and unpredictability. This feature helps keep that balance just right.
How To Compete With Hearthstone
The Elder Scrolls Legends takes exactly the right path in a world dominated by Hearthstone. It's not really trying to compete as the world's biggest online card game. Instead, it's introducing some new tactical ideas that are so fundamental, they can't be mimicked by Blizzard's genre leader.
That means this game will always have a unique identity, and some original strategic options that aren't available in Hearthstone, Magic: The Gathering's online game, or anything else.
More variety is good, right? So when this game comes out later this year, give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised.
A Note To Fans Of The Elder Scrolls
If you're not a fan of the franchise, you can stop here. But if you are, well, join the club. I am a super fan. I've played through every game in the series (yes, even Arena and Daggerfall back in the 90s) multiple times. Thousands of hours, guys. I've sometimes said that if I was to be exiled to a desert island for the rest of my life, and I could bring a Steam library of every Elder Scrolls game but no other games, or a Steam library with every game except the Elder Scrolls series, I would pick the Elder Scrolls ones.
And don't even get me started on The Elder Scrolls Online, which I completely trashed in my review when it first came out, but which has been gradually changed for the better over the past two years, to the point that it's now one of my favorite games.
So, to fans of the franchise: There is a story mode in this game, and that will probably be what interests you most. Unfortunately, it wasn't playable on the show floor at E3. I could only play Practice and competitive multiplayer.
However, it's clear they dug deep into the lore to come up with some of the card ideas. I always play Redguards in Elder Scrolls RPGs, and behold, I was able to play with a deck made up entirely of Redguard warriors. There are epic dragon cards named after actual dragons you probably killed in Skyrim, and so on.
Are you going to find tomes of new lore to absorb in this? Probably not. But it's got enough to appeal to fans. I would have like to have seen more in what I played, though.