‘Legends Of Runeterra’ review: exciting visuals, excellent design make it one of the best digital CCGs around

The card game combines mechanics from 'Magic: The Gathering' and 'Hearthstone' for a compelling – and genuinely free-to-play – experience

Legends Of Runeterra is the latest digital collectible card game. It’s set in the same universe as one of Riot’s other games, League Of Legends – that means larger-than-life characters, creatures which range from adorable to horrifying, and lots and lots of spiders.

Card games are either the best thing in the world, or the worst thing ever created by human beings. Hell, maybe they weren’t created by humanity at all but some kind of deranged alien species that just wants to watch us suffer. It all depends on how lucky you’re getting with your opening hand and the cards you get to draw in each match.

The chances are that you’ve played a card game of some sort, whether a more chilled deck-builder, or a full-blown monster like Yu-Gi-Oh, Magic: The Gathering or even Hearthstone. They take many forms, but you can see that they all kind of feed on one another to grow stronger, more enjoyable and more complex as they go.

legends of runeterra
Credit: Riot Games

It’s rare that a new one comes along and really revitalises the whole genre. In fact, I’d argue that it hasn’t happened since Hearthstone released back in 2014. The Blizzard CCG showed that you could make a card game popular and that with a little bit of digital magic, you could do amazing things that you couldn’t in traditional physical card games.

Legends Of Runeterra feels like something genuinely new. It tweaks decades of designs and turns them into something familiar, but incredibly exciting. Every game has the same win conditions as you’d expect: either you reduce your opponent’s health to 0 – in this game that’s the Nexus – or you make sure they have no more cards to draw.

The latter only became a realistic aim thanks to the full release of Legends Of Runeterra, which introduced a brand-new region and a few new mechanics, too. A lot of the mechanics here are similar to those you’d find in other card games; some creatures hit before the enemy does, some are unblockable most of the time, some can nullify damage once. It’s all standard stuff, but it’s all been changed to make the most powerful mechanics more manageable.

What that means when it comes to gameplay, is that you rarely feel as though you’ve lost because your opponent is playing with the ‘unfair’ cards. Instead, you end up looking at your deck to figure out what cards you could include to counter that strategy next time.

This is helped along by the 40-card decks, which aren’t a new invention, but help to keep consistency a lot higher than in similar games with a typical deck size of 60 cards – like M:TG. Mana is generated every turn, much like in Hearthstone, but three unspent mana points at the end of each turn can be saved for spells the following turn instead. This helps to eliminate the frustration that comes when you can’t do anything for the first two turns of the game, and it allows for a completely different use of your mana if you so choose.

legends of runeterra
Credit: Riot Games

Then there’s the combat system. Units can attack and defend; sometimes you can choose to attack specific creatures your opponent controls, but most of the time, like in M:TG, it’s up to them to choose blockers. Anything that isn’t blocked does damage to their Nexus, and the 20 health you start with never feels like much after a couple of solid attacks.

You take it in turns to attack, much like any other game, but you can play units and draw a card every turn, even if you can’t attack. This not only makes the games faster, but it also allows each player to get started on their game plan sooner, and it makes the pace of the whole thing much more enjoyable.

On top of that, you could easily crawl your way to victory with a beginner’s spider deck, or decide to try for something more nuanced by mixing and matching cards until you’ve built a control deck. Legends Of Runeterra is like an old house on the seafront. The floor is low, the ceiling is high and the views are incredible.

legends of runeterra
Credit: Riot Games

The in-game economy is genuinely free-to-play, no caveats needed. A lot of card games claim to be free but will often need a chunk of your real money to be playable in a competitive manner. Thanks to the quests and weekly vault system here, you’ll get a constant stream of new cards as you go.

While you’re never left feeling like you have to spend money on Legends Of Runeterra, you can if you want to speed things up – but you could also just play a few more games instead. It’s excellent, and by far the best version of a free-to-play CCG I’ve ever seen.

legends of runeterra
Credit: Riot Games

It’s also just a lot of fun. The visuals are very easy on the eyes, the sound design is great and building decks is easy whether you’re on PC or mobile. You can also mess around with a massive array of deck styles, themes and strategies, and they all feel viable at some level. It’s also all introduced via a series of tutorial missions, all of which are simple enough to wrap your head around, and help you to build up the understanding you’ll need to crush other players.

Throw in the ability to play against AI to test your decks, the expedition mode, which basically lets you draft a deck and change it as you go, and the customisations you can buy if you want to, and you’ve got a card game that doesn’t demand anything from you, but one that’ll probably take most of your spare time if you give it the chance. It’s just really good.

Our Verdict

Legends Of Runeterra may well be the most accessible digital card game out there. It combines beautiful visuals, colourful characters and some extraordinarily satisfying mechanics to make each interaction fun to watch. It’s also the most generous card game, one you can easily play without investing a penny. It’s quite simply a whole new take on the CCG genre, and it’s expertly done and endlessly entertaining, too.

Pros

  • Incredibly generous with new cards
  • Fun visuals
  • Excellent pacing
  • Good tutorials

Cons

  • Occasionally complex timing rules take a while to master

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