CCG Week: Elder Scrolls Legends, Star Crusade & Lost Portal

By Joe Robinson 15 Sep 2016 14

As we approach the end of our first themed week, it's my turn to take you through some of the other emerging CCG's being released in the wake of Hearthstone. Originally this was just going to be an article focusing on Bethesda's offering, The Elder Scrolls: Legends, but in recent weeks quite a few other CCG's have appeared on our radar. It'd be a shame to miss them out.

Generally, we're starting to see games emerge that are really trying to explore what a 'digital' CCG really means. It's more than simply creating a card-game for computers – videogames are capable of enforcing rules to a greater extent than a person and are also capable of more complex calculations and combos. Sure, a lot of newcomers seem to be shooting themselves in the foot by doggedly following the F2P business model, but we're still seeing some interesting concepts emerge.

And oddly enough it's Bethesda's own take on the post-Hearthstone CCG market that's proving one of the more interesting contenders.

Elder Scrolls Legends

Out of everything we've seen so far, Legends has been the most thoughtful and the most experimental in terms of how it's trying to capitalise on the success of Hearthstone. Faeria, while a great game in it's own right, is approaching things from a very different place – it was actually started before Hearthstone and has since adapted to its emergence, rather than trying to replicate the success outright. Thus you see a mixture of truly unique mechanics and design choices coupled with subtle acknowledgements of Hearthstone's formula.

Legends follows the design of Hearthstone very closely, but brings to it some interesting experiments and some high-production values. Almost too high in many respects. The 'Story Mode', which serves as one long tutorial with some interesting set-piece matches, seems entirely unnecessary. I suppose it's the rather stark disconnect between the gritty and serious writing of the Elder Scrolls team, and the fact that all conflicts in the game are settled by card battles. Sure the card battle is just an abstraction, but it still borders on the farcical.

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But as ridiculous as it is, it's also here that you get a glimpse at how Legends is playing with and trying to adapt the Hearthstone formula. For starters there are two 'lanes' where a player must choose whether to fight on one side of the play area or the other. There is no attacking across lanes (yet), although card effects etc... aren't restricted. Typically, you have a normal lane and a 'Shadow' lane where creatures summoned here are immune from direct attacks for one turn. The story mode introduces some other things as well though – we've seen 'Wind' & 'Ship' lanes, where creatures are randomly moved between the lanes and even a lane where every creature summoned there gets a random item.

You've probably read all about Legends from other places by now: the different colour categories, the keywords (new and similar), even the modes available in the game. There's a lot here that is familiar and a lot that is different and trying to push boundaries. Legends' Prophecy mechanic is one area that I imagine is quite controversial. As a recap this is the bit where, as you lose health, you get a free card draw every 5 health lost. If that card has the 'Prophecy' keyword it can be played for free. From a deck-building perspective, this is a very dodgy keyword to build around. Typically, Prophecy cards are decent but over-costed to compensate for the fact that they could come out for free.

Legends will be one to keep an eye on, for sure. It's got enough good ideas that it could occupy that sweet spot where it's Hearthstone enough to attract that mainstream audience, but different enough so that it can stand as a legitimately separate product. At the moment it's only playable on the PC, but rumour has it a tablet version could be on the way sooner rather than later.

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Honourable Mentions

Like I said, there have a been a few other games to hit our radar while we were planning this week's content, so here's a quick overview of some other CCG's that might be worth your attention.

Star Crusade: War for the Expanse

Hearthstone in Space is probably an easy label to throw at Star Crusade, and while the game wears its inspirations on the shoulders (and we're talking about more than just mechanics here), that's not to say that it too isn't also trying to be different.

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There are a few key layers that Star Crusade tries to leverage to stand out. For starters, Classes utilise concepts such as Modules and Energy to further diversify the strategic choices available to them. Additionally, a deck can be between 25 and 40 cards and your deck size determines your health. There are six factions/classes, and over 400 cards already to choose from.

It's Free-to-Play, and we haven't had a chance to really evaluate how it presents itself there, and currently available on Steam and iOS. An android version is due soon, and the game is cross-compatible across all platforms. Here is a gameplay trailer for you:

Lost Portal CCG

Lost Portal is the wildcard (hur hur) we're throwing into the mix, for a few key reasons:

  • It's singleplayer only.
  • It's actually nothing like Hearthstone. Like at ALL. Magic: The Gathering is cited as a primary inspiration instead.
  • It's a premium game. So no IAPs, and no grinding (other than what the game makes you do naturally).

A single-player game is a very odd choice for something like this, but it also means it can blur the lines between the fact that it's a CCG and the fact that it's a 'game'. As we noted above, The Elder Scrolls CCG tries to be creative in its story mode but this is clearly a side-show to the main multiplayer-driven event.

As for Lost Portal, in the designer's own words:

“Lost Portal is a collectable card game where you explore, complete quests, combat enemies and gain new cards.  You create and enhance your deck and level up your character to gain new abilities.”

So card game meets RPG then, which can be seen in the way you move your avatar around the map before encountering enemies to duel. As far the card-game itself, instead of generic energy you have four different coloured resources you can generate which are required to play certain cards. You can get a better feel for the game by looking at the video below:

That about wraps it up for CCG week – tomorrow, we'll be finishing off this series with Matt talking about the great behemoth itself, and what makes Hearthstone so robust in a growing sea of competition.

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