When Bethesda announced that The Elder Scrolls: Legends was hitting the iPad, I wasted no time hitting the download button. I used to be a big fan of Magic the Gathering and spent a fair bit of time (as well as money) playing its iOS game Magic the Gathering: Duels.
Naturally, I had to see how The Elder Scrolls: Legends held up against one of the most popular strategy cards games out there and I couldn't be more pleased that I decided to try it out.
Play The Elder Scrolls: Legends today! (opens in new tab)
Story & Setting
If you're familiar with other popular strategy card games, you know that the story usually isn't anything special, but for what it's worth, Bethesda did pack some storytelling into the game.
When you first get started, you're treated to a scene depicting a group of people sitting around a fire, telling the tale of "The Forgotten Hero." The scene also sets up some other seemingly important details about the current conflict going on between the Elves, Orcs, and Humans; however, as someone who isn't super familiar with The Elder Scrolls universe, I felt a little lost while trying to follow along.
Lucky for me, this only lasted a couple of minutes — you are quickly thrown into the actual game, and that story is much easier to follow.
Once you are thrust into the heart of the game, you follow the tale of The Forgotten Hero, which starts off with a bang, as you are running away from some cultists. From here the story progresses between card battles through a series of screens and texts.
The story does try to reach out to the player through a series of choices. Throughout the game, you'll be presented with the opportunity to choose between to different actions for The Forgotten Hero to take. These actions give you access to different cards, so while they don't seem to affect the story, in the long run, they do minimally affect your deck building capabilities and can help you shape your deck a certain way. This kept me way more attentive to the story happening between the battles and helped me feel at least a little involved with the nameless protagonist.
Personally, I find it really hard not to look at the gameplay and mechanics of The Elder Scrolls: Legends and compare it to Magic the Gathering (MTG). After all, MTG is still one of the most popular strategy card games, and it has spawned severals iOS games, making the comparison rather apt.
When you tear down the gameplay to its most basic form, The Elder Scrolls: Legends is the same as the many other games that currently occupy this space. You take turns playing creature, action, and support cards in hopes to deplete your opponent's health to zero before they do the same to you. As you progress through the tutorial, more and more mechanics — such as the two-lane system — get thrown into the mix until you eventually have the entire game before you. The tutorial does a great job of teaching you the ropes in increments so that you don't get overwhelmed with all the information at once.
What makes The Elder Scrolls: Legends stand out from other games like Magic the Gathering or Hearthstone is it's two-laned battlefield. Each battlefield is split into two lanes and creatures in those lanes can only attack the opponent's creatures in the same lane. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong! The lanes can also have different effects that affect the outcome of the battles going on in that lane. One of the more prominent lane effects is the Shadow effect, which doesn't allow you to attack creatures during the turn that they are played. While it may seem like a small adjustment, it adds a depth to the game that I absolutely adore.
As you may have guessed, deck building is a huge part of The Elder Scrolls: Legends, and so far I have liked the way Bethesda has made it accessible. As your play through the Story mode, or battle in Play mode, you have the chance to level up and collect more cards. You can use these cards to build decks and the entire process can be daunting; however, I fully believe anyone can build a deck that is halfway decent by using the autocomplete function. I have played against the AI in Story mode and against real players in Play mode, and even with a deck that is auto-built. I found it possible to win a good chunk of the time each time.
Sure, now and then I would come across a human opponent who simply had much stronger cards than me, but it rarely happened. Even the pre-constructed decks you get through Story Mode are packed with extremely useful and powerful cards. I appreciate that Bethesda took the time to find a way to make the game feel balanced. Of course, The Elder Scrolls: Legends is new on the iPad and time may tell whether the people who choose to sink money into getting more cards will be infinitely better than the people who don't, but I'm hopeful that isn't the case.
Design & Sound
There aren't a ton of things to say about the design and sound of The Elder Scrolls: Legends as nothing really stands out as super bad or super good.
The animations during battle are crisp, short, and to the point. They run smoothly — even on my older iPad Mini 2 — making them a fun little side note during the brain-power intensive battles.
One particular thing I did appreciate was each creature card had some sort of battle cry. Whether it was an actual voice for the human cards or some kind of growl for the beasts, it made playing a new card more exciting. Plus, there were some hidden gems in those voice clips for The Elder Scrolls fans. One of the cards says "I used to be an adventurer like you" when you place it on the battlefield. It's a welcomed and friendly reminder that this game is a part of an already well-established universe.
Normally, this is where I would give a star rating; however, strategy card games are a bit of a unique beast. This is a game you really need to try for yourself to see if you'd like it. It's a free download and after about an hour of playing you'll be able to tell if you think this game is for you.
That being said, if you're a newcomer to the strategy card game world or a seasoned veteran The Elder Scrolls: Legends gets a lot of things right, and I highly recommend giving it a shot.
While the in-game tutorials do an excellent job of explaining the game to even the most novice of players, its massive catalogs of cards and two-laned battlefield system offer plenty of depth to the gameplay for the hardcore audience as well.
Play The Elder Scrolls: Legends today! (opens in new tab)
Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way.
Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.
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