When Hearthstone released in it’s closed beta back in August 2013 (I know, it’s been that long already!) nobody could have predicted just how big the game was going to get, probably not even Blizzard themselves to some degree. The game was warmly received and quickly became one of the most streamed games on Twitch. By the time it released in March 2014 it was sitting with around 10 million players, so it was little wonder other companies looked at this and had a light-bulb moment.
Of course, Hearthstone wasn’t the first of its kind. Despite Blizzard being revolutionary in the games’ industry, one of their best attributes is taking a game format and making it accessible for everyone; something that the extremely well known Magic the Gathering couldn’t achieve due to it’s high barriers of entry.
Since then we’ve seen many companies attempt to take a slice of this delightful pie. Mojang released ‘Scrolls’ in June 2013 but it failed to make an impact and unfortunately the servers closed down in July 2016. Supercell, who made the popular mobile game Clash of Clans, also added to the pile with their take on a Trading Card Game: Clash Royale. When we take a look at the competitive gaming scene (which seems to be a great way to gauge popularity these days, like it or not) there’s only one real player and that’s Hearthstone.
Enter the latest name to take to the card table, Elder Scrolls: Legends. First teased back at E3 in 2015, ESL went through quite a quiet patch until April 2016 when closed beta began. It’s only really now that people have started to talk about the game due to the lifting of the NDA and the beginning of the Open Beta.
As an avid Hearthstone player and quite a big Elder Scrolls fan, it was a no brainer for me to get into this game as soon as possible. I was lucky enough to try the game out many moons ago in the closed beta and have started once again to put a bit of time into it.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about Elder Scroll Legends compared to Hearthstone is that it’s not quite as visually delightful. However, take nothing away from this, the less flashy setting actually works really well.
Like in Hearthstone, you’ll begin ESL with a tutorial that is incorporated into the “Story Mode“ of the game. Each early encounter introduces you to the basics of the game which operate almost identically to Hearthstone.
The one big difference you’ll eventually get around to is the aspect of the game known as lanes. The board is divided into two vertical lanes and you get given a choice of minion card placement. This offers a whole new layer of strategy which is made even more interesting by the fact that these lanes can process their own certain rules. For example, in the standard ‘VS’ format of the game, the right hand land is known as a ‘Shadow Lane’ and this allows minions to be untargetable by other minions for one turn, enabling you to build up a board presence and perhaps more freedom and opportunity to set up a potential combo.
As you play through the Story Mode and level up your account overall, you’ll unlock cards and many of these will have mechanics which will be extremely familiar if you are a Hearthstone player.
There’s several more mechanics you will recognize, including ‘Last Gasp’ (Deathrattle), ‘Lethal’ (acts like a deathtouch which is seen on minions like Emperor Combra and Maexxna), as well as obvious ones such as ‘Charge’.
One mechanic you won’t see in Hearthstone though is the ‘Prophecy’ keyword. Heroes in ESL start at 30 HP (just like Hearthstone) and at every loss of 5 health they will lose a rune around their portrait. This rune will draw a card; if the card is a prophecy card it may be played during your opponents turn for free! This does result in a slower style of play so far as you weigh up the risk and reward to damaging your opponent but allowing them to draw cards.
In my brief time playing The Elder Scrolls: Legends I’ve found many differences (including it’s deck limit of 50-70 cards!) but it’s the similarities I found most comforting. Being able to pick up a play a new TCG without having to work out what exactly is going on has given me a beginners edge to this game and that is all thanks to Hearthstone.
Will The Elder Scrolls: Legends be a Hearthstone killer? No. I do however think there is room for both games to thrive and succeed. Having a competitive gaming market is always great for us as a consumer and it pushes companies to strive even harder. For now Elder Scrolls Legends remains in closed beta and on PC, but it will be moving to a mobile platform, which I think will undoubtedly increase its reach and popularity.
Until then, Hearthstone will still be getting the majority of my time while on the go, but it has started to give me a TCG dilemma when I sit down on my computer. My parting thought would be I hope each game continues to go from strength to strength because in the end, everyone will be a winner and like the good innkeeper in the Tavern says “Busy night, but there’s always room for another!“