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League of Legends has been around for more than ten years, and Riot Games hopes to capitalize on its legacy with Legends of Runeterra, propelling the universe and heroes into a whole new category: digital collectible card games (CCGs). The end result is sleek, entertaining, cleverly built, and full of references to League – whether it’s by classic Heroes like Yasuo, Jinx, Ashe, Garen, and Teemo, or the game’s many cute Poros.

Crucially, while Legends of Runeterra is deeply embedded in a developed universe, it does not preclude outsiders who might be drawn in by its genre rather than its MOBA pedigree. In that sense, it’s similar to Blizzard’s Hearthstone; I came to Hearthstone with little prior experience of Warcraft, and I’m still playing six years later. Legends of Runeterra is without any doubt aiming to capture the lightning as well.

However, as Hearthstone debuted, it shattered the usability of other collectible card games such as Magic: The Gathering by becoming more simple and therefore more available. Legends of Runeterra, on the other side, falls right in the centre, with certain elements that simplify gameplay and others that introduce levels of nuance and difficulty that other games haven’t tackled.

The end objective of a match, though, is similar; each player carries a deck of 40 pre-selected cards and competes to the death against an enemy. The initiative is transferred back and forth, enabling each player to place units on the floor, cast spells, and decide whether to strike or protect. When one combatant decreases the wellbeing of their opponent’s Nexus from 20 to none, the battle is won or lost.

Unlike Magic, the mana pool – which determines which cards you can play – increases by one per round in Hearthstone, rather than utilizing a Land-style method. Unlike Hearthstone, though – just like Magic – you can select how your units can obstruct enemy attackers, resulting in a very different type of gameplay that lies anywhere between the two.

The ability to answer quickly is essential in Legends of Runeterra; the game’s gameplay is designed to be more like a dialogue between the participants, full of conversations and interjections, rather than a dispute of dueling speeches. Control will change hands many times in a round when each participant has the opportunity to counteract their opponent’s behavior.

In Legends of Runeterra the Skill To React Is Critical

Let’s presume my rival uses a device later in a match to demonstrate how this happens in reality. Doing so initiates an intervention and transfers authority to me. I realize I want to destroy it, so I cast a spell that does only enough harm to kill it. The spell, however, is not a Burst spell and therefore does not cast instantly. Instead, authority is returned to my adversary, giving him or her the opportunity to answer. He or she will then cast a Burst spell to momentarily boost the unit’s health outside mortal range. My spell still doesn’t cast, but I have another chance to cast another spell to boost my damage production and knock out the unit. When all players have exhausted their choices or died, the spell (or spells) is cast and the effects are shown.

Legends of Runeterra

This action-and-reaction gameplay allows for a great deal of tactics that most games in the series do not. I should have gambled by not lining up the spell at first and then passing the turn back, hoping that my opponent might waste enough mana on something else that I could then unleash my spell instead, stopping them from answering it. Of course, if I pass, my adversary will already pass, effectively stopping the round before I have a chance to act.

Legends of Runeterra Full Breakdown

Legends of Runeterra deviates from the standard in terms of interface and appearance. Key knowledge is still at your fingertips: for example, you can easily browse further through cards that have been captured or call up the Champions in your opponent’s set. I really like how once you realize what a card in your opponent’s side is, it stays face up.

Though I wish I knew how many cards my opponent had at the start of each match, I’m rarely in the dark on something else. If I set up a spell or assault series and am uncertain how it can end, I will mouse over the “Oracle’s Eye” to see what will take place if nothing shifts. I suppose the best players will wish that this element didn’t work, since a thorough knowledge of the game structures and the opportunity to do math on the fly gives them an advantage, but for anyone like me, it’s a perfect tool for easily double-checking what you expect would happen, and it’s still no substitution for clarifying mechanics.

Legends of Runeterra

My favorite feature of the interface, though, is the ability to see any card connected with a card you’re interested in. If my opponent uses Heimerdinger and I want to see how he performs, I can right-click on him and pull up an overlay that shows his base card, leveled-up card, spell card, and any card he can make. There is also a pop-up description for each keyword or phrase. That is an excellent style.

You may also toggle through to the entire large screen art for each card from the card overlay. It’s all beautiful and helps to fill out the universe: the humans, animals, environments, traditions, and sound of each country. The remarkable volume of in-match VO adds to this, including a sense of character relationships.

Final Thought

Legends of Runeterra is a completely different kind of CCG. While it draws on the roots of many who came before it, it rejects much of the genre’s tropes in order to construct deep and complex conversational gameplay. Legends of Runeterra, with its beautifully refined look and feel, marks a fresh high-watermark for the interactive card game genre.