On Elder Scrolls Legends – Beta Impressions

So first off, today is the first day of the yearly thing my friend Bel tries to organize where people commit to posting as much as possible during the month of August. Previous years it involved posting daily for the entire month, which is seriously hard to do. This year it has shifted slightly and while you can still choose to post every day if you want it isn’t required. This year there were scheduling options, of which I have chosen weekday blogs. Meaning I’m going to try, emphasis on try, to post Monday through Friday for every week in August. I’m not entirely sure how a public list will be handled, but you can head over to his blog and check out some of the other participants.

So for my first post, I’m going to talk a little bit about the Elder Scrolls Legends beta that I played over the weekend. Keep in mind, this is just a beta so not the final game. So the screenshots of the UI I have might be different then the finished game. I’m also going to be making some comparisons to other card games, because I think that’s relevant to the discussion. More then likely most of my comparisons will be made with Hearthstone because that is honestly the card game I have the most experience with.

So going right in to to it, I’ll start buy talking about the decks. Starting out you are given a standard deck, which I may or may not be generated around the starting race you choose. I say this because as you go through selecting your race/portrait it will tell you that each race has it’s own strengths and that you will earn cards that fit that play style. The reason I’m not sure if this is taken in to account for the story is that you get the same single player campaign regardless of what you choose. The theory is that if you play a race that has a predisposition to using spells you’d get more spell based cards, where as if you used a race that was focused on building a large board you’d probably get more low cost cards.

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So the first thing I found that I like about this game is you have a player stats page that shows your selected portrait and some general stats. This shows stuff like current quests, recent matches and collection stats. The main thing that I like here is that collection stats bit. It is an easy to understand representation of how many card you have collected. That isn’t to say other games don’t have some way of knowing which cards you are missing, but I find a progress bar to be a bit more helpful then cycling through pages of cards to see what I’m missing. You will still have to do that here though if you are checking on a specific card.

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The second thing is achievement tracking. If you know anything about me you’ll know I love getting achievements and trophies. A while back I pulled off getting the platinum trophy on Fallout 4 (prior to any DLC content) which my friends thought was crazy. I’ve since 100% completed Dark Souls 3. Now you’re probably looking at that picture and are going “Those are titles you idiot”, which yes they are. But each title is earned through completing some set of goals, so I’m considering them achievements. It’s something unlocked by achieving a goal. I like this because as mentioned I love getting trophies, and this is something I can look at to know what I need to do to get them. I do think Hearthstone has achievements, but I don’t know of any good way of tracking them or even knowing the conditions without looking them up online.

Next up is the game board and overall game mechanics, I thought I had a screenshot of this but apparently I forgot to upload it and since I’m typing this at work I can’t get to my screenshot folder. So the board itself is what really makes this game different from the other card games I’ve played. So unlike both Hearthstone and Magic where you have your board and all creatures are able to attack or defend any creature/player this game is slightly different. You have two “lanes” on your board, each side capable of holding 4-5 cards and only creatures in that lane can be attacked by other creatures (excluding attacks made when playing a card). This means that if you have a 4/5 monster on the left board and your opponent has a blocking creature on the right board you can attack your opponent directly because his blocker can’t block the attack. Another key thing about the lanes is that each lane can have a different condition on it. For example the one that I’ve run in to with the single player campaign is a side of the board that when you play a card it cannot be attacked until the next turn, so essentially it starts off as hidden. But this doesn’t mean both sides of the board have that effect. I think that is good for making a strategy because that means you know you have one guaranteed turn with that creature, not like where you usually wind up when playing a really awesome card and your opponent instantly casting a spell that kills it. The only game I can think of with a similar mechanic would be Gwent from the Witcher series (and a soon to be standalone card game).

So while we’re talking mechanics let’s discuss drawing and playing cards. Similar to every other card game you start off with 3-4 cards depending on whether you start first or second with the ability to mulligan any card in your starting hand, or if you have a crap starting hand you can discard the whole thing. Each player starts off with 30 health and 5 runes. The runes are have an interesting mechanic to them which is that every 5 health you lose you draw a card. So if you’re not having a good game and your opponent knocks 10 health off you get 2 cards. It’s an interesting mechanic so far, and depending on the card you draw can certainly help. Now I don’t know if this is a beta issue or design but if you regain 5 (or go back over an increment of 5) you can back that rune. I could see a strategy here to mill your opponents deck by attacking/heal combo but that probably just wouldn’t be a good strategy.

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Now decks in this game are more akin to Magic then they are Hearthstone. In Hearthstone you’re allowed to have 30 cards, no more no less. In Magic you want to shoot for something more around 50-70 (including lands) if I remember right. In TES Legends you can have anywhere between 50-70 cards, which doesn’t contain any mana/land type cards. Mana in this game works like Hearthstone where you simply earn 1 mana per turn up to a maximum of 10 mana. So you don’t have to worry about having bad luck and not getting any mana for 5 turns while your opponent sits there and wipes the floor with you while at the same time calling you a scrub. Did you see what I did there? Anyways, I have always preferred this mechanic to the MTG way because it doesn’t allow the other player to get to much of an advantage. I’m sure there are ways for characters to get extra mana, or to replenish it mid turn but that is still preferable to having to rely on an even mix of drawing mana and creatures.

So there are two more core mechanics to briefly discuss, but I’m going to separate them out because one is for single player and one is for character progression.

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So as you play the game your character is going to increase in level, I’m unsure if this is account bound or just the race you are playing at that time. As your character gains levels you can upgrade a card in your deck. I believe that the card is chosen at random, but it is a card from the deck that you were using when you leveled up. Now I can’t say that for certain because I’ve only used one deck to play through the tutorial, so it might be a card from your overall collection I’m just not sure. Either way, as you can see from the screenshot above this allows you to pick from one of two options when upgrading. In this instance I had the choose between making the starting 3/3 creature in to either a 3/6 guard card (guarding being the blockers) or a 6/3 creature that has a “breakthrough” description. I think I went with the 6/3 because it can still take a couple hits from weaker creatures but can break through pretty much any guard creature. Similarly you get choices like this when leveling up and allows you to adapt your deck to your play style. I really enjoy this mechanic, and permanent changes to a card are not something I’ve heard of in any other card game (not that it doesn’t, I don’t know EVERY card game out there).

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The other way of obtaining cards is through story events. In this screenshot I have just completed one of the story quests where you fight a pack of wolves. After the fight the narration tells you that after the fight you find a wolf cub and presents you with two choices. Either adopt the wolf and train it or abandon it. Because I am not a heartless monster I chose the adopt option and gained a 1/3 wolf card with a nifty condition on it that it gains +2 attack if I control the most creatures in that lane.

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So the last thing I want to mention is that this game is coming with a cash shop. The pricing scheme is pretty standard from what I’ve played. You can buy a single pack for 100g which is earned via quest rewards and probably other ways, or you can pay real cash to buy up to 60 packs for $70 (US). While I have no particularly strong feelings for or against this, I am sure many people will view this a a “pay to win” game because of it. I can’t say this would give you a distinct advantage because you can have all the good cards in the world and still be a crappy player. Trust me, I’ve sunk hundreds of dollars in to Hearthstone and the best I ever did was rank 16. But the point here is just that there is indeed a cash shop mechanic in this game. I’m sure this will be where any future content is sold as well, giving an easy place to purchase stuff from.

So if you’ve made it this far, congrats on reading a giant wall of text that I just spent the last hour writing. So far I like playing the game, and will keep it around for something to play when I have the time or inclination to do it. I don’t think this is “X killer” or anything like that. I think this game has it’s own appeal to it while those games also have something that is appealing as well. I think it has a good strategic component to it and I’m interested to see what the single player story content provides. I’d certainly recommend trying it out once it becomes publicly available or if you get in to the beta.