Legends of Runeterra as a whole
First off Legends of Runeterra looks beautiful, the fun cartoon style of League of Legends really shines through, the unique animated art on some cards and the cute sticker emote system really brings the game to life. The cards are grouped into the regions of Runeterra with each one following a theme, so you’ll see similar keywords showing up for each, such as Frostbite (reduces a cards power to 0) for the Freljord and Last Breath (Activates an effect if this card dies) for the Shadow Isles.
Decks can be built with cards from one or two regions, allowing for a large level of unique deck combinations. This will add a high level of replayability and will probably make forming a static meta difficult, which is a good thing.
It looks great, but how does it play?
Legends of Runeterra has a very back and forth, move, counter move structure to each round, when it’s your turn to attack, every card played offers your opponent the chance to play a card themselves. I found the pace of each match was set by the aggressor. This makes games quite fast compared to other card games, they really seem to want you to complete a match within 10-13 rounds.
Champion cards offer unique objectives to focus on during play, when completed this unlocks their next level for a large advantage, they also help players new to deck building design a deck, for example, Elise requires spiders to level, so designing a deck around spawning many low-level spiders
Another unique aspect of play is spell mana, this is a separate, 3 gem pool of mana, which fills from your unspent mana each round. It adds another resource to manage during play and removes the wasted mana issue other card games face.
I noticed during play that if early low-cost cards aren’t traded early they can become obsolete as the pace of the game continues. You can only apply a single defender to each attacker, meaning several low-cost cards can’t be used to remove a single large enemy, there are other means of removal so this isn’t game-breaking, I just found it a little odd, you have to always be trading for an advantage or you quickly flounder with little chance of coming back.
There’s also a nice Oracle Eye tool that allows you to see the results of the next move as it will currently play out, very useful for new players.
So the game has unique rules from other card games, is it fun to play? well kind of, the combat isn’t very deep, while you can combo cards together for interesting effects, the limited health and faster pace of the game means very few game-defining moves occur. I found many matches just build up to a single move that wins outright.
There are a few very strong cards that need some adjustment and due to the fact regions can be combined the game is going to face larger teething problems than most card games when fully released. Allowing so many combinations of cards makes it a hard game to balance.
If you’ve played the arena in Hearthstone then Expeditions is a similar game mode, you pay for a run, build a deck and hope to earn back the “buy-in” price with random rewards.
However, Legends of Runeterra handles this a little differently. First off, you always seem to make back the buy-in price of 4000 shards, second its extremely forgiving. You build your initial deck from random cards and each win gives you the option to add new cards and trade out one card you don’t want for a replacement. If you lose twice in a row you’re out, no three strikes here, meaning you can alternate between winning and losing and still complete a whole trial. On top of this, you get two attempts per expedition, with your highest run being used for rewards.
While this is extremely forgiving it also means it takes a long time to complete a full expedition, I can see some people getting a high score on their first run and skipping the second just to save time.
Incentives to keep playing
Daily quests are normal for this type of game and used to farm XP used to earn cards, more on this later, you’re given the standard 1 reroll per day.
Each player has a weekly fault which they also upgrade by earning XP, at the end of the week it unlocks granting large rewards based on its level.
The rewards page allows you to select a region to unlock cards from, not only earning wildcards.
As deck building offers many combinations from the different regions and you’re allowed 3 of the same card in a deck the level of content to unlock is high, and with the method of unlocking cards players will find themselves earning progression at a steady pace. It is a game you can be committed too for many months.
Here’s the big one, traditionally you’d grind for an in-game resource, then trade it in for a card pack and hope RNG was on your side.
Legends of Runeterra doesn’t strictly do that. Instead, you grind for XP, this unlocks ever-increasing rewards along a region-specific reward track earning only rewards from that region, these rewards range from shards, a resource used to buy cards directly, single random cards, and wild cards.
The unique resource here is the wild cards, they come in 4 types, common, rare, epic and champion. each one can be redeemed for a single card of that rarity. As simple as that, you want to unlock an Ionia champion to build a deck around? Trade-in a champion wildcard, want a specific Demacian rare for your elite combo deck? Just trade in a rare wildcard.
The level of flexibility in earning the exact cards you wish to use is fantastic. You still have to grind, but now you’re working towards a what you want, almost no RNG, You can buy wildcards directly but paying players are limited in how many wildcards they can buy every week.
What’s interesting about this system is free to play players can invest their time in mastering one or two regions and keep up with the paying players that have bought most of the cards directly.
Wrap up and future
Legends of Runeterra has enough new mechanics, and play style options to make it a fresh take on the card collecting genre, It also has a very unique approach to building your collection. I can see it making a stable launch, the question is where will it fall compared to existing card games, it’s not as technically demanding or complex as magic the gathering, but its also not as simple as Hearthstone, I’m not sure which demographic of gamer, hardcore or casual, it’s aiming for, it seems to be riding the line between both.
One thing I will say is, given the rewards system and its approach to unlocking cards, it may be possible to release new regions into the game will little disruption to the existing content, Runeterra regions like Shurima and the Void are noticeably absent from the game and as players can specifically choose to farm cards from a region, if these were added player could farm the new content with ease.
I look forward to seeing its final release and it looks to have a bright future ahead.
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