At the end of the month, The Elder Scrolls: Legends is heading to Sotha Sil's magical, mechanical Clockwork City in a new expansion that will add 35 story missions and 55 new cards, and we've got the exclusive reveal of one of the most fearsome: The mighty Clockwork Dragon, a 4/4 Epic that can drop the hammer on plodding opponents in the Field lane or shore up your position in the Shadow lane against faster aggro decks.
The Clockwork Dragon is the only dragon card in the new set, and it's also something of a tip-of-the-hat to the previous expansion, Heroes of Skyrim. "We like to inject a little bit more before you move on to another totally new thing, which Clockwork does introduce. We also like to throw in one more dragon for you, maybe one more werewolf, because werewolves were big things in Skyrim as well. So the Clockwork Dragon is it. It fits the theme of the Clockwork City by being clockwork," Dire Wolf Digital creative director Paul Dennen explained.
"It is a neutral card, which means it can fit into any dragon deck, and it also means it kind of works with a lot of the Clockwork City stuff too. There's a lot of new Clockwork City cards—the Fabricants—that have special abilities if you have a neutral creature or a neutral card in play. The Clockwork Dragon can activate those as well. So it's kind of a bridge card between the two sets."
Despite looking like the sort of thing that wouldn't be out of place in the middle of a monster truck extravaganza, the new card also bears what Dennen described as "subtle" design elements that make it more versatile than first glance might suggest. "If you play it to the left, it gets +2/+0 and Drain, and I think the card can punish opponent decks that are being kind of slow and non-interactive. If you can take control of the Field lane, playing this 6/4 creature for 5 with Drain on the left can be quite fearsome. So if decks like that are frustrating you, then you can throw Clockwork Dragon in and punish them for that."
"On the other hand, if aggro decks are punishing you, Clockwork Dragon has this fallback of, if you play it on the right lane, it gets +2 health and Guard. So you can go in with that strategy of punishing the slower, non-interactive decks, but then still react to the faster aggro decks, because the aggro decks tend to try to push in their final damage through the Shadow lane. So by putting the Clockwork Dragon over there you can try to shut them down."
The Clockwork Dragon emphasizes flexibility over raw power at least in part due to Dire Wolf's desire to avoid making neutral cards too strong: Because neutrals can be played in anything, the concern is that an overly good card will appear in too many decks. "What we try to do is make the neutral cards not quite so powerful on their own, but offer synergy options with the Fabricants. So if you're playing those Fabricants, then you're really going to be looking deep into the card pile, looking for those neutral cards that will work well with your deck," Dennen explained.
The long-term goal is to encourage diversity of play, although Dennen added that while the developers like to change things up to keep the game fresh, the process is ultimately an organic one. "The players can surprise us and find things that we didn't expect," he said. "And that's okay—we want it to be one big, elaborate puzzle that is very hard to understand and takes weeks or month to kind of gel and find what those top decks are."
There's obviously a lot going on mechanically, but Return to Clockwork City also adds fresh story content to the game, something the Heroes of Skyrim expansion didn't offer. It takes place in the early days of the realm of Skyrim, amidst the return of dragons and a rumor of someone searching for the entrance to the Clockwork City. Dennen said this will be a "bigger, bolder," and more epic story than the one told in the first story expansion, Fall of the Dark Brotherhood, which—appropriately for a tale about people who commit murder for a living—had something of a dark tone to it. "[Return to Clockwork City] is more about treasure hunting and finding this lost magical place, and then discovering a mystery inside," he said.
The narrative aspect of the expansion is important, because while PvP players get their fix—that is, new cards—with every expansion, Dennen said there are a lot of people who are into it primarily for the story. Because of that, card-only expansions don't do much for them.
"They love to play through the single-player adventures, and then maybe they'll play a bit of PvP. But they'll fall off, and then they'll come back when there's new story stuff, because that's their focus," he said. Story-focused players are generally a little more casual than PvPers and so are less likely to hit the forums to demand more of what they want, which can make it a little tricky to gauge just how much call there is, especially in a relatively young game like The Elder Scrolls: Legends. But Dennen believes the demand for narrative is there.
"We have to kind of balance cadence—how often do we do stories—and we don't quite have a final answer on that," he said. "But we figure having another story now made sense."
The Elder Scrolls: Legends – Return to Clockwork City goes live on November 30.