The new ‘League of Legends’ card game is ‘Hearthstone,’ but better

February 28, 2020

There’s no denying that “Legends of Runeterra,” the card game spin-off of “League of Legends,” owes a lot to “Hearthstone.” There’s a mana system, which means that cards cost mana to be played, and each round (but not turn) you gain a new mana crystal allowing you to play higher-cost, stronger cards. There are two card types: spell cards and creature cards. Cards have four rarities: common, rare, epic and champion (champion cards contain the classic characters from “League of Legends” and are equivalent to legendary cards in “Hearthstone”). There’s an arena mode called “expedition” in which you draft a deck from a random selection of spells. The game is also highly polished in terms of its graphic and sound design—featuring fancy animations and voice acting—no doubt to compete with “Hearthstone’s” superb artistic representation. 

The gameplay, however, is much more interactive than “Hearthstone.” Although “Legends of Runeterra” is turn based, it has rounds in addition to turns. A player’s turn ends after playing a card, and the opponent can then play a card, and so on. For example, if I play a spell, my opponent gets a chance to play something in response—to nullify it or make me waste it—and I can then play another card to counter. Whoever is in charge of the round, which can last several turns, can act first and attack that round. The round ends after neither side wants to keep going or is able to perform any action. 

This back-and-forth, sort of “YuGiOh”-style gameplay means that you are constantly interacting with your opponent and making counterplays, which I think is the most crucial and consequently the most rewarding mechanic of “Legends of Runeterra.” The game’s outcome hinges on your ability to anticipate the opponent’s counterplays for each action and prepare strategies of your own to respond to every move. For instance, if my opponent wants to kill my stuff with a spell card that deals damage, I can buff it first so that it survives the damage.

In contrast, “Hearthstone,” with a minimal amount of interactivity in regards to your opponent’s actions, often produces these frustrating and boring moments where you can only sit and watch your opponent hit combos and win the game shortly after.

The mana system is also slightly different than “Hearthstone.” Any unspent mana from previous turns will be saved as spell mana (max of three), which can be used to cast spells, mitigate bad opening hands and open up more gameplay depth. If I don’t or can’t play anything on round one and two, I will have three spell mana banked, allowing me to play six mana worth of spells on round three. “Legends of Runeterra” is very simple to learn, and the tutorial does a great job helping you get started. If you’ve ever played “Hearthstone” or “Magic: the Gathering,” it should feel very familiar. If not, it’s still easy to grasp. 

And, in general, the new player experience is immensely rewarding. The game hands out so much free stuff—it’s quite unbelievable really. Usually, when new player rewards run out, a free-to-play game becomes stingy, like “Hearthstone” with its boring daily missions, but I was astonished to see that there is quite a lot more that can be unlocked through normal play, after the initial string of rewards. Aside from all that, there are weekly chest rewards, and you can increase the amount of chests earned by playing more—before writing this review, I just recieved 12 chests for my several hours of playtime from last week to this Monday. 

Making a good deck as a new player is effortless. Part of the rewards you get are “wildcards,” which can be used to instantly redeem cards, as well as “shards” that can be used to craft cards. I built a quality meta deck (spider aggro, for those interested) with one of the starter decks plus some wildcards and shards in only two or three days. 

And let’s say you also love the game like I do, and you feel like spending some money on it to further your collection. You will be very pleasantly surprised to see that the monetization is extremely fair—there are no options to purchase packs of random cards. This is, to my knowledge, unheard of in virtual card games. A starter bundle that contains 66 cards is available for five bucks. If that’s not enough, you can buy wildcards with a premium currency called “coins” to get exactly what you need. Five bucks amount to 475 coins; a champion wildcard cost 300 coins; an epic 120; a rare 30; a common 10. Hopefully, this type of fair monetization will be successful enough that other games adopt it. Card packs are just way too costly. 

The game is still in open beta, so everything is subject to change, but as of right now it feels superior to “Hearthstone” in terms of gameplay and monetization, and I really have nothing but praise for it. Consider this review my glowing recommendation.  

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