Elder Scrolls Legends: the Hearthstone killer?
While Magic: The Gathering has been sadly lagging behind on the digital gaming front lately, there's no question that Hearthstone has absolutely been dominating the collectible card game arena.
It turns out Warcraft doesn't just translate well to a MMORPG, it also completely annihilates the competition as a CCG. That dominance may be coming to a crashing halt, however, as Bethesda gets into the ring with Elder Scrolls Legends.
Much like with Warcraft, there's already a huge built-in fanbase of games like Oblivion and Skyrim, and when you add in free-to-play, casual rules, and both single and multiplayer modes, Elder Scrolls Legends just may be poised to pull off a devastating coup and seize the throne.
Get ready to duel!
Influenced... or outright copying?
This needs to be addressed right away: Bethesda is really, really going for that Blizzard feel here, almost to a embarrassing degree. The launcher is literally the same as is used with Hearthstone, Starcraft II, etc with the games on the left side and info on the right panel.
The similarities keep piling up after you actually start the game. The deck builder screen, floating animations, and card attack animations are essentially identical to Hearthstone in a way that can't just be accidental coincidence.
Clicking your avatar at the bottom of the screen also brings up a list of pre-selected messages to say to an opponent just like in Hearthstone, but there's a bigger selection available.
I feel like I've seen this setup somewhere before...
Although its clearly meant to cash in on the success of Hearthstone, Bethesda's take on the card game craze is also a bit like the less-popular Might and Magic: Duel Of Champions card game with the multiple lanes of combat.
Here there are only two lanes, though, and creatures in each lane don't actually block damage. Instead you can only attack other creatures if they are in the same lane, creating a slightly different dynamic. There's no choosing to block an attack for instance, unless a creature has the Guard ability, in which case enemy creatures in that lane must attack that creature.
The lanes also sometimes have different mechanics to change up the formula, like giving a lane the shadow quality. Any creature entering a shadow lane gains Cover and can't be attacked for the next turn, necessitating a change in your strategy.
Converting The CCG Formula To Elder Scrolls Lore
As with the base PC/console Elder Scrolls games, there's a ton of race combos to choose from with your avatar: Nord, Orc, Redguard, Wood Elf, Argonian, Breton, Dark Elf, High Elf, Imperial, and Khajiit.
These aren't precisely the same thing as classes in Might and Magic or Hearthstone, which directly control the cards you can play, but instead make it more likely you will get specific types of cards.
Picking An Avatar
Much like with Hearthstone, you gain 1 magicka resource per turn, which builds up over the course a match towards putting out bigger creatures and spells. I actually like this system, as it get rids of the randomized land mechanic from Magic that can be frustrating if you get too much or not enough land in your opening draw.
Many of the base fantasy card game mechanics are still utilized here, like summoning sickness, power/defense stats for creatures, items to buff up creatures, action cards to deal straight damage, etc.
One change Bethesda put in that all CCGs really should utilize is a turn ticker strip at the top-left side that shows you everything that happened in the last few turns. This is particularly useful if an opponent utilized a ton of cards in rapid succession and you want to know for sure what is no longer in the enemy's hand or deck.
This feature is super nifty!
Another overdue change to the genre involves losing health. Each player has a set number of runes that are destroyed every time 5 health are lost. When a rune is destroyed, you get to draw a card for free - meaning the closer to death you get, the more dangerous you can become.
Cards with the Prophecy ability can be played for free when drawn from rune loss. With this unique mechanical change, lowering someone close to 0 health without actually finishing them off can be a very bad move since it gives your opponent more options and can potentially reverse the tide of battle.
Keeping Players Interested Long Term
As a freemium, there's also of course daily quests to get free gold for beefing up your deck with new cards, so even gamers who intend to spend no money will want to keep logging in.
In a change from the Hearthstone style, there is significantly more story in the single player segments, and also more story levels to play. Hopefully Bethesda keeps adding content there, as the beta single player missions I've been playing have been a ton of fun.
There's also reason to keep playing over time with a level up system that upgrades your starting cards to more powerful versions. In a twist from the standard convention, branching options are presented when you level up allowing you to control how a creature upgrades - better attack, better defense, new abilities, etc.
Leveling up comes with many rewards!
The Bottom Line
As a beta, obviously there's going to be changes and there are some balance issues. The Fiery Imp card for instance is pretty overpowered for 1 magicka. Although a 1/1 creature, it deals 2 damage straight to the opponent every time it attacks. Sure they're easy to kill, but for essentially a guaranteed 3 damage it shouldn't cost 1 to play.
For the most part though, there's already a good level of balance between card types and loads of deck building options. Despite being a beta, there's a huge level of polish with Elder Scrolls Legends.
The game definitely has a higher standard of graphical quality than Might and Magic: Duel Of Champions, and has less of a cutesy, overly bright-color scheme than Hearthstone, with just as high quality sound effects and voice work.
Essentially, this is a more fun, less buggy, version of whatever the latest Magic iteration we are at with a better layout and a huge nod to the successful formula that is Hearthstone. If you're a CCG junkie, you want to get in on this one early.
Hit me up and let's play a match!