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Magic: Legends is like Diablo, but your abilities are randomly-drawn cards (and it's pretty cool)

Magic: Legends is going to be a competent ARPG, for sure. I clicked on mermen and spiders and skeletons to cave their heads in with a morning star alight with profane purple fire. I jammed on the action bar, deploying goblin artillery and summoning golden ghosts. I nosed through pages of skills and spells, noted all the math on my gear and briefly entertained the idea of solving for maximum skeletons (proud of my summoning lifestyle). 

It was all a perfectly fine and very familiar time, but my hourlong demo wasn't nearly enough time to say anything conclusive about Cryptic Studios' upcoming ARPG, a genre designed to melt time. Magic: Legends hits with confidence though. I'm super intrigued by its integration of deck building into the skill system, and curious to see how it sits with me over time when the public beta begins on March 23

As it is with Path of Exile and Diablo, the long tail in any ARPG depends on how much fun it is to build and progress characters, and Legends has the potential for plenty of complexity. You've  got the usual gear and weapons rolled with stat bonuses. There's the artifact system, yet more gear with distinct affinities, loot archstones you build around. A key artifact in the build I played with embraced my summoning obsession, calling down an exploding crate for every creature summoned. 

I immediately saw what a mess I could make with a goblin summoning ability that continuously called in a swarm of the little buggers for as long as I held the key down and my mana supply kept up. A few minutes in and Magic: Legends already got me to crowd the screen with so many effects and creatures I could barely tell what was going on—a pretty good sign for an ARPG, to my taste.  

You can't settle into a singular skill rotation, mindlessly tapping the same sequence of keys like other ARPGs

And all of this intersects with the skill system, a strange, enticing interpretation of Magic's deck building that populates your action bar. Rather than unlocking them by simply leveling up or building out your character via a skill tree, you put together a deck of skills and 'draw' them into your action bar as you play. Like the card game, skills are categorized by mana types (red, green, blue, black, white) and reflect the characteristics of each school in their expression and effects. Red is a chaotic, fiery school, white often heals and protects, blue is all about illusion and control, and so on. It's all a cute connection with the card game that genuinely changes the flow of combat.

As you use skills, they're 'shuffled' back into the deck, the ability slot goes on cooldown, and then a new ability is shuffled in. In theory, this means you can't settle into a singular skill rotation, mindlessly tapping the same sequence of keys like other ARPGs. It also means that you can stack your deck with multiple cards of the same skill if you want to increase the likelihood of drawing it into your action bar. All the basic principles of deckbuilding apply.

Because the skills available to you at any given moment are pulled at random, you need to stay on your toes in every fight, looking for combo opportunities. A basic combo within the Red Mana school of skills includes using Pyroclasm to set creatures on fire around you, and then, noting a card like Slag Strike in your hand, using it to deal double damage on any burning creatures. Expand the combo potential to cards to all mana schools and you've got a lovely tangle of synergies to consider as part of your deck, and limited space to maximize those efficiencies. The classic deckbuilding conundrum, eh?

The random nature drawing skills from your deck is buttressed by static class abilities, each of which I can already imagine building interesting decks around. Playing as the Necromancer, I had the innate ability to summon skeletons and sacrifice them for some quick AoE damage. The Beastcaller was my favorite, tossing out a huge boomerang blade to drain HP from any enemies it hits. And while the classes lean towards obvious archetypes, they aren't stuck in overt healer, DPS, tank, and utility roles. They're mana-school agnostic, so you can dip into any color to build your deck.

This assumes the full roster of abilities are interesting and diverse, but I appreciate the enthusiastic gesture towards such freeform character creation. We'll just need to see how it lasts over endless mission replays and difficulty level increases, and whether all those hours spent poking at deck, artifact, and gear synergies cloud up the screen in new and satisfying ways 10 hours in, 20 hours in, and beyond. 

James is PC Gamer’s bad boy, staying up late to cover Fortnite while cooking up radical ideas for the weekly livestream. He can still kickflip and swears a lot. You’ll find him somewhere in the west growing mushrooms and playing Dark Souls.