Legends of Runeterra is a League of Legends Card Game Worth Playing

Riot Games Branches Out

Last month, I highlighted the new games that Riot Games is bringing into the gaming universe. Among them is a card game based on their wildly successfully MOBA, League of Legends.

If you’ve played Blizzard’s Hearthstone, you’ll be able to easily jump into Riot’s Legends of Runeterra. Players build decks, adapt to a changing battlefield and triumph by defeating the opposing Nexus.

One of my friends works on the dev team so I was able to get into their early access experience. Here’s what I’ve seen from the first couple of hours of play and why I think Legends of Runeterra will do well!

Intro screen of Legends of Runeterra

The Tutorial is Extensive

Booting up the game takes you into a linear intro game that lays out the basic game mechanics. There’s a lot going on and I could see the thoughtfulness behind the developers’ method of easing people into the game.

Each step is described in detail with simple captions and accompanying commentary from the legend cards. I was able to quickly understand which cards do what and the actions available on each turn.

One interesting feature in Legends of Runeterra is that each side takes turns attacking. You’ll need to thinking several steps ahead to put yourself in the best possible position to fully utilize each of your cards.

Altogether, there are four tutorial sections:

  • First Battle – reviews win conditions, attacking and an overview of some champions
  • The Best Defense – demonstrates blocking tactics and ‘follower’ cards
  • Back and Forth – explains mana, actions and more advanced attacking techniques
  • Light and Shadow – deploys burst spells and how you generate spell mana

In total, the tutorials took me about 25 minutes. The time flew by and I’m glad the instructions were as thorough as possible!

I’m sure there will be many YouTube videos explaining the game in a shorter amount of time but I think it’s a smart move for any newcomer to go through all four phases. You won’t become a master by the end of the tutorial but you will likely feel comfortable enough to jump into a real game!

Deck Building Will Separate the Good from the Great

In Legends of Runeterra, there are many limiting factors to how you can attack and defend. At a base level, you have power (how much damage a unit deals) and health (how much damage a unit can take before it is defeated). These two stats are important and typically improve with the increasing mana cost.

When it came time to build my own deck, I quickly realized how important it is to have a good variety in your cards. I tried to have cards of many different mana costs, with the majority of the cards being in the 2-4 range. I also went for spells that seemed straightforward and would have a decent impact in battle.

The hero cards are still somewhat of a mystery to me. Since there are currently 146 champions in League of Legends, I knew that there’d be several hundreds of potential cards to choose from in Runeterra. I was exposed to a handful in the first several hours of play and expect that a meta will form around the strongest champion cards, similar to the MOBA counterpart.

With any competitive card game, deck building will be a big component of your success rate. Legends of Runeterra forces the player to think carefully about the strategy of their decks.

Do you select several low costs cards to gain an early advantage? Do you stack the deck with heavy hitters that dominate the late game? Is there an optimal mix of champions and spells that sets you up with the greatest odds of winning?

These are all questions that are impacted by statistics and personal preference. I’m excited to see the combinations that the community puts together to see what works and what cards should be avoided altogether!

The Game is Beautiful and Sounds Great

Runeterra’s game board takes me right back to my time in Summoner’s Rift! The rivers and foliage are reminiscent of LoL’s terrain and the card design is as detailed as expected.

Animations look spectacular as the cards interact with each other, with rich sounds to accompany the movements. I even noticed the subtle rotation of the Nexus head to indicate which side was acting.

There’s something very satisfying about seeing two opposing cards mash together, then seeing the losing card disintegrate into nothingness. Highlighted colors are intentional and add to the mystique of the environment.

Most importantly, I was impressed by the voice acting of the champions! League of Legends champions are notorious for their quotes and I see Runeterra bringing another layer of dialogue to the characters.

The combination of stunning visuals and impactful audio elevates the game experience beyond its core mechanics. On top of that, we get an excellent score of music which is both soothing and dramatic. Props to the entire team for making this card game come to life!

What I Expect to See

I alluded to a meta earlier and I’m sure there will be cards that quickly become must-haves in your deck. With such a wide variety of card types, it’s likely that there will be several strong builds that can be catered to your unique playstyle.

Given Blizzard’s recent controversy resulting in players leaving Hearthstone, Riot could capture some of this churned player base into the Runeterra ecosystem. 

One of the big challenges I see is the “pay to win” label that has terrorized some big-name free-to-play titles in the past. I feel that Clash of Clans got hit with this nomenclature thanks to their gem system, and I wonder if any competitive card game can avoid this.

For Legends of Runeterra, I hope that it doesn’t become painfully difficult to obtain the best cards without spending real-world currency. Once this starts happening, players feel the need to cough up cash to stay competitive or quit playing the game to avoid repeated losses.

Secondly, I’m excited to see how Riot rolls out new cards and I expect there will be an ‘item’ type card in the future. The game board is very clean as-is and I believe there is some space to add to it.

Finally, I’d love to see a mobile port of this game! I’d take either a full port on Nintendo Switch or a pair-down version for smartphones. Either way, Legends of Runeterra deserves to be played on the go!

Have you played any Legends of Runeterra yet? What are your thoughts? Leave me a comment below to discuss what you like and dislike about your experience so far!

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