The Elder Scrolls: Legends is a refreshing take on CCGs, but its future remains cloudy

2016 GOTY Awards

Along with our group-selected 2016 Game of the Year Awards, each member of the PC Gamer staff has independently chosen one game to commend as a personal favorite of the year. We'll continue to post new Staff Picks throughout the rest of 2016.

I’m not sure that I’d describe Legends as the best game I played this year, but at the time it was probably the most refreshing. It was also certainly the one I spent most actual money on—probably around $150—which I now have pretty mixed feelings about, given that the unnecessarily protracted beta has seen much of the audience drift off, including me. But when Legends first opened its doors, I was bullish about its chances, to the point that I actually argued it might challenge Hearthstone’s dominance. (Note: that’s “challenge”, not “end”.) Nonetheless, that idea looks hopelessly naive now. 

Launching a digital CCG against Blizzard’s behemoth is the equivalent of putting a new open world crime game up against GTA and hoping a couple of cool design ideas will be enough to carry the day. Optimistic. But Legends does have cool design ideas. Splitting the board into two lanes, one of which gives minions “cover” (Legends’ answer to “Stealth”) makes for complex board states and interesting decision making on many turns. The Rune system is also interesting because it creates a risk/reward tradeoff because the more health you lose, the more cards you draw as runes break. In theory, that should keep aggro decks in check. Theories are nice!

More contentious is the Prophecy system, which also relates to the runes breaking, and enables you to play the card drawn for free if it has correct keyword. That sort of swing was a little too much RNG for some Hearthstone refugees fleeing Yogg-Saron’s rein of terror and hoping to find safe harbour with Legends. One clear advantage Bethesda’s game does have over Blizzard’s is its ladder system, which has a safety net below each rank to prevent you falling too far and going into tilt frenzy. Which, as someone’s who’s wrestled with ladder anxiety, was certainly welcome. As a direct result, I climbed to Legend three seasons in row, the final time using my own janky Pilfer Monk deck.

And then I stopped. It’s hard to pinpoint why exactly. I suppose, as with any CCG, the meta just got stale, and in the absence of a clear roadmap, it was hard to stay committed to the young scene—despite the fact that streamers like Christian “CVH” Van Hoose have been doing excellent work to build and support the community.

I don’t want to see a game that has so much potential die before it really comes out.

Legends eventually found itself in the slightly weird position of needing new content despite not having left beta, which it eventually got in the form of the December Chaos Arena update. Longer term, the future remains uncertain. I can’t help but feel that enforcing NDA conditions when the game was in closed beta (something Hearthstone didn’t do) was a huge mistake on Bethesda’s part. It shut down streaming as a marketing tool and sucked a lot of oxygen out of the initial excitement around a Scrolls-flavoured CCG.

I still want Legends to succeed though, and not just because I own a shiny premium Ungolim The Listener. For one thing a serious competitor would do Blizzard good. More than that, Dire Wolf’s design team—which includes Magic: The Gathering Hall of Famer Luis Scott Vargas—has already proved itself capable of creating super cool cards, and mostly done a good job of balance changes. (Though I do worry about the developer essentially being a contractor, and one which has to split its focus with its own competing CCG.) More than anything, though, I don’t want to see a game that has so much potential die before it even really comes out.