It’s okay to iterate instead of innovating with every mobile game. When you’re following in the footsteps of a beloved industry leader, the kind of game that immediately comes to mind when someone mentions its genre, it’s fine to do what Bethesda and Dire Wolf Digital have done with The Elder Scrolls: Legends and take an established blueprint and do some revisions to make it your own.
This card battler is definitely walking in the footsteps of Hearthstone, and it’s probably easiest to pick up and play if you’re already familiar with that or other similar games. What makes it worth your time (and no doubt money, from the developers’ standpoint) are the ways it takes your expectations and constantly goes a step further with them.
That starts with the narrative. The Elder Scrolls: Legends teaches you how to play with a series of introductory bouts that tell a story set well within the lore of the mega-popular PC and console franchise. Once the initial stages are complete and the rest of the game modes have been unlocked, you can continue to play through the story to earn more rewards. Along the way, you’ll even find decision points that affect both the way the voice-over characters frame the tale and some of the new cards you acquire.
If you know your Elder Scrolls games, that sense of the overall world carries over to the core gameplay. The characters on cards in Legends are among the chattiest around, which turns out to be a fun part of the fantastic production values with which its imbued (though older iPads need not apply, for sure). Just about everyone has something to say when summoned and when ordered to attack, and it’s great to hear one of them say, “I used to be an adventurer like you … ”
And yes, there’s a card called “Arrow in the Knee.”
The playing field in a standard duel has some cool tricks up its sleeve. Most duels are fought on a two-lane board upon which each player can summon four creatures per lane. One is a standard lane, but the other is a shadow lane, meaning most cards summoned there have “cover” and can’t be attacked normally during the first turn after they’re placed. The lane division also prevents cards that force the other player to attack them (Legends calls that mechanic “guard”) from being quite as dominant since one can always choose to focus on the other lane. Duels in the Arena mode take the lane concept and run with it thanks to winds that blow cards from one lane to another, a graveyard lane that resurrects defeated creatures as zombies and more.
Speaking of the Arena, there are actually two separate modes that require you to draft a deck from a selection of cards, one that is you against the AI and another that matches you against human opponents. In both cases, the object is to win nine times before you lose three matches so you can nab the best possible prizes. Completing an Arena run bumps you up to a more challenging tier the next time you attempt it, but the rewards also increase and make it worth a shot when you can spare the gold.
Most everything else in The Elder Scrolls: Legends has a feel familiar to Hearthstone, right down to the UI. For example, it isn’t hard to figure out where to go to invite buddies to your friends list or see which of them are online because the icon is in the exact same place in both games. What isn’t broken definitely isn’t fixed here.
The only bummer is that while the game can be played cross-platform on PC (where it released a few weeks ago) and iPad, it currently isn’t available on iPhone or any Android devices. That’s a case where the new tweaks may hurt the game ever so slightly, as it could be tricky to make the split playing field work on smaller phone screens. But Dire Wolf and Bethesda are working on it, and we should eventually see Legends available on all kinds of phones and tablets.
It’s fair to wonder that if Hearthstone did not exist whether this particular title would exist in this form. Happily, that doesn’t matter now. If you’ve got the time and the storage to spare and love card battlers, or if for some reason it took The Elder Scrolls to finally drag you into this genre, you’re going to want to give this game a try and very well might find it your newest mobile addiction. Let’s hear it for iteration.