Note: Codes supplied by Bethesda to enable review.
First releasing in early 2017, Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls: Legends is a free-to-play online collectible card game. It’s currently available for Windows, iOS, MacOS, Android, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch. As you may have guessed from the title, the cards themselves feature characters and creatures from the Elder Scrolls franchise. For me, that made this feel like a blast from the past on some level, as I spent a great deal of time playing The Elder Scroll III: Morrowind. Of course, being a card game, this is a very different experience.
On a base level, anyone familiar with games like Hearthstone will be right at home with the core mechanics. You build your deck, start with three cards, and spend magicka to use them. Each player starts with one magicka, and it grows by one every turn. Meanwhile, some cards have additional effects that activate under certain circumstances, all of which is detailed on the card itself. The ultimate goal is to force your opponent’s health points to reach zero.
There is plenty to learn as you play though, and the game does take some steps to set itself apart from other popular online card games. The most simple of these is the lane mechanic, whereby most battles see the playing field split in two. The most common result of this is a normal lane, where cards are played as you’d expect, and a shadow lane where no card can be targeted for one turn after being played. There are other rules modifiers that can be included, of course, but these are the ones you will see the most often, at least at the start. The key thing to remember though is that a card can only attack another card in the same lane. Therefore, building up both lanes can become a necessity, and you will often have to choose which one to leave open for a turn.
The game also features an interesting health/rune mechanic. Like with Hearthstone, both players start with 30 health, but unlike the Blizzard title, it isn’t capped. With the right buffs, you can send your health skyrocketing. Meanwhile, you also have runes set around your character’s health bar, marking 25, 20, 15,10 and 5. Once your opponent drops you to one of these marks, you lose a rune but draw an additional card. It’s a nice way to give you a shot at making a comeback, as losing health essentially gives you the chance to build resources. Best of all, if you draw a card marked as a ‘prophecy’ card by this method, it can be played instantly at no cost, even though it’s not your turn. These may deal damage, destroy creatures, or even summon new characters for you. It’s a nice touch that makes the game move at a different pace than you’d expect in what is essentially a turn-based strategic battle.
In terms of the cards available, there are an absolute ton currently in use. While many cards can be broken down to be mechanical variants of each other – which is not unusual in the genre – the diversity in art makes it fun to go through. If like me, you grew up with the Elder Scrolls games, the familiarity of the designs will bring a smile to your face too. If anything, the hardest part will be balancing your deck. Even with a good size variant available (you can run a deck of 50-100 cards), you’ll want to tweak regularly as you find the best combos to play.
The game modes available are mostly what you’d expect, with a myriad of AI and human opponent options, ranging from casual to ranked games. The one that interested me most though was the single-player story campaign. Here, you have each match against the computer prefaced by cut scenes. These aren’t cinematic gold, but the mix of minimalist animation, a suitable art style, and full voice acting ensures they do their job. You gain a lot of rewards for going through the campaign, and in some instances are given a choice of actions, each with a different reward too, allowing you to guide proceedings to a degree.
Thus far, I’ve found drop rates to be decent, with card packs won giving a good mix of rarities. The option to pour real money in to purchase items quicker than grinding away at the game as a free to play is also there. Whether you take this route or not though will depend entirely on how patient you are. Even with the generous card drops, it is always quicker to buy early. It is by no means a necessity though.
As far as weaknesses go, the game isn’t exactly an exciting spectator piece. This is true of pretty much any card game though unless you’re a fan. Human matchmaking times can be variable too; I’ve found myself waiting anything from thirty seconds to two minutes for an opponent. This is no doubt due to the size of the player base, so not strictly a fault for the game other than in its ability to draw new players. Visually, depending on your personal tastes, you’ll either love the art style or find it too generic. The biggest issue you may find is that getting paired against someone who has a better understanding of their own deck will see you finished off far quicker than you’d like. In that respect, the game is easy to start but far more complex than you’d expect.
Overall, I’d say that Elder Scrolls: Legends is a wonderful piece of work. The game doesn’t have any real issues that go beyond being related to taste. Meanwhile, the mechanics are solid and have their own flavor. There are plenty of cards to wade through when building your deck, drop rates are decent, and the story mode is a lot of fun. For fans of both Elder Scrolls and Card Games, this is an easy 5 out of 5. Never enjoyed games like Morrowind but do like CCGs? It’s still a 4 out of 5.