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Legends of Runeterra Review

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Wise Member
Aug 25, 2020
League of Legends has been around for more than 10 years now and, with Legends of Runeterra, Riot Games is hoping to capitalise on that heritage to propel its world and characters into a whole new genre: digital collectible card games (CCGs). The result is stylish, exciting, cleverly designed, and full of nods to League – whether that’s through iconic Champions like Yasuo, Jinx, Ashe, Garen, and Teemo, or the many adorable Poros that populate the game.

Importantly, while Legends of Runeterra is firmly rooted in an established world, it in no way excludes newcomers who may be picking it up because of its genre instead of its MOBA pedigree. It’s very much like Blizzard’s Hearthstone in that way; I personally came to Hearthstone without any real knowledge of Warcraft, and six years later I’m still playing. Legends of Runeterra is no doubt hoping to also bottle that lightning.

The overall goal of a match, however, is much the same; each player brings a deck of 40 pre-selected cards and faces off against an opponent, to the death. Initiative is passed back and forth, allowing each person to play units to the board, cast spells, and choose how to attack or defend. The match is won or lost when one combatant reduces the health of their opponent’s Nexus from 20 down to zero.

Like Hearthstone, your mana reserve – which dictates the cards you’re able to play – increases by one each round, as opposed to using a Land-style system similar to Magic. Unlike Hearthstone, however – and like Magic – you’re able to choose how your units will block enemy attackers, creating an entirely different style of gameplay that sits between the two.

The ability to respond immediately is foundational in Legends of Runeterra; its gameplay is intended to be like a conversation between the players, full of exchanges and interjections, as opposed to a debate of dueling speeches. Control can go back and forth many times within a single round as each player gets the chance to counter their opponent’s actions.

Your strategy typically extends across multiple rounds, of course, as you set up for certain combos or clears – and in another clever twist that gives you more flexibility, you can even bank mana. Yes, up to three unspent mana units can be saved from one round into the next as spell mana. As you’d expect, this mana can only be spent on spells, and means that you can do things like pass on turns one and two, then play a three-cost unit on turn three and still have three mana leftover to spend on spells. It’s a clever system, as floating mana can become a strategic decision rather than a missed opportunity.

It’s also worth pointing out that Legends of Runeterra has only minimal randomness in its card designs compared to a game like Hearthstone. There’s merit in both approaches, of course, as randomness can be really fun when implemented well, and can even help you come back in heavily unfavoured match-ups, but at the same time there’s something to be said for feeling that you can showcase your knowledge in a contest where the rules are largely fixed.

If you’re facing off against a well-known meta deck in Legends of Runeterra, for instance, you have a very good idea what your opponent’s capabilities are, and those won’t change to anywhere near the extent they can in Hearthstone. This also means that there’s value in playing something off-meta in this game. An opponent used to facing the same lists may have a hard time making reads or playing around cards if he or she has little idea what’s in your deck.

Decked out

Legends of Runeterra gives players a pretty incredible suite of tools to build decks with. The exciting idea underpinning deckbuilding is that any card can be paired with any other card. To make that possible, the card pool is divided up into regions based on the geography of Runeterra, with players able to combine any two regions together to make a deck.

Each region has a very specific flavour in terms of both design and aesthetic, and as you’d expect from a League of Legends game, each has a set of Champions that represent it. Noxus, for instance, is an overtly aggressive region. Its cards are all about doing and capitalising on damage and much of the art is obsessed with war or arena-based combat. Noxian Champions include Draven, Katarina and Darius.

From a lore and worldbuilding perspective, the idea that each Champion is a unique fighter underlines their status, and it has also allowed the designers to run with some pretty powerful designs, as they know their effects can’t (easily) be stacked.

Vault breakers

When it comes to building your collection, Legends of Runeterra has a robust progression and reward structure in place. Playing games and completing daily quests earns you XP, which is then funneled into two rewards systems – a vault that unlocks once a week, and a region-based unlock road. Want cards from Freljord? Choose that region and you’ll steadily unlock rewards that will help flesh out that part of your collection.

Legends of Runeterra has no traditional card packs, so the rewards you’ll get are cards, an in-game currency called shards, and Wildcards, which can be spent on any card of a corresponding rarity. So yes, if you get a Champion Wildcard you can simply swap it for one copy of the Champion that you want. Shards can also be spent directly on cards.

Microtransaction Reaction

Most of the CCGs I’ve played over the years require players to open a lot of card packs to build a decent collection, and even then you’re not guaranteed to get what you want. Instead, you open your packs and hope for the best, then trade in your duplicates and craft the cards you want. Legends of Runeterra dispenses with card packs altogether and lets you simply buy the cards you want. It’s hard to overstate how big a change this is, as it puts a definitive price on how much cards cost. You can actually work out how much you need to spend to buy the cards you want, and thus decide if you think it’s good value.

I’ve been happy with my purchases so far, but importantly, I also feel like my collection is growing at a more than decent rate through the in-game rewards systems.

Full disclosure

Legends of Runeterra breaks new ground with its interface and presentation too. Key information is always at your fingertips: you can quickly scroll through the cards that have been played, for instance, or bring up the Champions in your opponent’s deck. I also love that if you know what a card in your opponent’s hand is, it will remain face up.

While I’d have liked to know how many cards my opponent mulliganed at the start of each match, I’m rarely in the dark about anything else. If I line up a sequence of spells or attacks and am unsure how it will resolve, I can hover over the “Oracle’s Eye,” to see what will happen, assuming nothing changes. I imagine the top players would prefer that this feature didn’t exist, as a deep understanding of the game systems and the ability to do maths on the fly helps give them an edge, but for someone like myself it’s a great option for quickly double-checking what you think’s going to happen, and is also no substitute for understanding the core mechanics.

If nothing changes, my spell plus unit will kill the opposing Braum. If nothing changes, my spell plus unit will kill the opposing Braum.[/caption]
My favourite part of the interface, however, is being able to see every card that’s associated with a card you’re interested in. Say my opponent plays Heimerdinger, but I want to check how he actually works; I can right-click on him and bring up an overlay showing his base card, his leveled-up card, his spell card, and every card he’s able to create. Each keyword or term has a pop-up explanation, too. That’s great design.

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