by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
A Tough Genre to Crack
I donít know a single thing about League of Legends. Well, thatís not entirely true; I know itís a MOBA, and I know that it has a very passionate fan base, but I couldnít tell you a darned thing about the characters, lore, or gameplay. That being the case, when Legends of Runeterra was announced, a digital-only card game based on characters from League of Legends, Iíll admit that I didnít give it much of a second thought. I assumed a lot of things that I shouldnít have, including that it wasnít going to be any good. Iím a huge fan of collectible card games, but, to me, the odds seemed stacked against it. After all, how many digital card games are actually good? Sure, there are the genre staples that have seen success- Hearthstone, Magic: The Gathering Arena, and Pokemon Trading Card Game Online come to mind- but thatís a terribly small number of success stories over the past decade or so. Search Steam or, even worse, your preferred mobile game marketplace, and youíll find dozens of low-quality, money-sink card games that die quick, disappointing deaths, failing to live up to their promise of being the next big thing. But, alas, I was wrong. Legends of Runeterra has won me over with exciting gameplay, phenomenal presentation, and awesome pose-launch support, and itís going to take something pretty special to tear me away.
The Basics of Gameplay
Like most card games, the general goal is pretty simple. Both players start with 20 points in their ďnexus,Ē and each player wants to bring the other playersí points down to zero. Each playerís 40-card deck is made up of creatures and spells, and champions, characters that possess powerful abilities and can transform into a more powerful version of themselves once a given condition is met. The flow of play borrows some elements from other games. Hearthstone players, for example, will recognize the mana points used to play cards that go up by one each turn. Those coming from Magic will feel at home choosing characters for attacking and defending, though characters can do both in lieu of a tapping mechanic. While the game has rounds that pass the ability to attack back and forth between players - once both canít or choose not to play any more cards - the game does an excellent job avoiding dead time. Each action, from casting buff spells to attacking, opens up a sort of chain, in which each player can go back and forth adding spells to a queue to play out before the action is finalized, and, while it seems complicated to type out, itís an incredibly natural process that promotes exciting strategy and game moments. Nothing is ever dull or boring.
The gameís core loop is supported by fantastically fun card keywords and mechanics that do a great job of telling a story with gameplay. The different geographical regions that make up the factions in Legends of Runeterra arenít just brought to life through card art and lore quotes but also through spells and monsters that really make me feel like my characters and champions have personality. Whether it be the huge, hulking sea creatures led by Nautilus that force you to ďdive deepĒ into your deck (getting it down to under 15 cards) before the monsters get their full stats, or the sneaky Teemo that eeks out small hits to plant poison mushrooms in the opponentís deck, itís amazing how ďintoĒ some of the characters Iíve become without every having played League of Legends. It also helps that everything looks absolutely gorgeous. The card art is absolutely top notch, and the play space is organized in a way that I never feel overwhelmed with information or clutter. The playmats themselves, should you choose to buy one, are vibrantly animated, and the visual effects are varied without ever being too distracting or taking too long.
Ways to Play
Outside of actual gameplay mechanics, Legends of Runeterra shines with plenty of game modes and an unbelievable friendly monetization model. While many will probably choose to stick to ranked player-vs-player matches, itís the others, including Expeditions and The Lab, that have taken most of my time. Expeditions have the player draft a deck, but, instead of drafting individual cards from a pool, the game has you selecting groups of cards from various archetypes. It makes the mode much more accessible to newcomers, while also allowing more seasoned veterans to make unconventional picks to pick up an edge. After each match new cards can be added and trades. The further you get before hitting two loses, the greater the rewards. This kind of thing isnít rare in online trading card games, but, more often than not, play tokens for the mode are only given out to those that pay cash or perform exceptionally well. Here, Expedition Tokens are handed out incredibly liberating, making the mode much easier to enjoy. Add in Labs, which feature a rotating set of alternate-mechanic game modes, and Gauntlets, targeted at more competitive players, and thereís truly something for everyone.
I mentioned it briefly above, but itís worth noting that Legends of Runeterra is, by far, the most fairly monetized major card game Iíve ever played. The only real things available to purchase are cosmetic. Available items include themed card backs, animated play mats (with custom sounds), and little creatures that sit on the corner of your table and look cute. Thatís it! While itís also possible to buy tokens to unlock cards, or even full decks, Iíve never felt tempted to do so. I play what probably amounts to a match or two a day, and Iíve had more than enough currency to buy multiple decks from scratch. The game isnít so much about who has the best cards as it often seems elsewhere, itís about who uses those cards the best, and itís very realistic for even casual players to have full playsets of any cards that theyíd like without dropping a dime.
Legends or Runeterra is the game that all other digital card games are going to have to be measured against, and itís going to be a super tough one to beat. Newcomers and veterans of the genre are sure to find a ton to love, with engaging gameplay, beautiful presentation, and a great stream of new content since release. Itís rare to see a card game that seems to respect my time and money as much as this one, and thatís meant that Iíve had an incredibly easy time bouncing that respect right back.
Fast paced gameplay thatís never a bore, beautiful card art, cheeky in-game lore, a variety of fun game modes, on-predatory monetization model.