Review

Legends Of Runeterra Review - Much Ado About Nautilus

  • First Released Oct 14, 2019
    released
  • PC

Legends of Runeterra brings dynamic card design to life in a way that undeniably draws attention to both its snappy back-and-forth and the colorful world of League of Legends.

Runeterra is the world of League of Legends, Riot’s MOBA that has arguably experienced a Golden Age of esports in the past few years. The MOBA has undergone various lore overhauls, but centralized all of its bits and pieces in 2016 to come up with a vision for Runeterra and its competing factions, as well as the backstories of the game’s champions. The latest step in fleshing out this world is Legends of Runeterra, Riot Games’ flagship contribution to the current online card game market--with DNA that’s a highly entertaining splice job between streamlined design sensibilities and touches that harken back to the original card game great, Magic: The Gathering.

The realm of Runeterra feels fully realized here, and part of that is how the game revolves around the various in-universe factions that are currently playable: Piltover & Zaun, Bilgewater, Demacia, Freljord, Ionia, Noxus, and the Shadow Isles. You’re not playing for rounds of ale at a tavern; this feels like a conflict of a uniquely larger scale because of the game’s insistence on you not embodying a hero but instead commanding them.

Each faction has these heroes, though they’re called champions. They’re souped-up cards representative of characters from League of Legends who are somewhere between Legendaries in Hearthstone and Planeswalkers in Magic: The Gathering--game-changing because they’re stronger than your average unit, but not game-breaking. The factions have their own unique playstyles that span the whole spectrum from aggro to control, spell-heavy to flood-dependent, and more. The champions themselves all buy into each faction’s playstyle fantasy, with flashy animations that depict their unique personalities and strengths.

Each deck is built from two core factions; which two factions you choose is left entirely up to you. You can build a Zaun and Ionia combination deck that relies on cards that reward you for both making and spending spells. You can alternatively decide to build a deck all about flooding the board or powering up attacking allies by going with Demacia and Frejlord.

Each faction’s core identity is intended to be very different, and with more factions to be added down the line, it’s likely that the game’s meta will evolve for as long as new champions are introduced. The recent Bilgewater patch introduced fan-favorite additions from League of Legends like Miss Fortune, and with new champions regularly released into Runeterra’s ecosystem via Riot’s MOBA, it’s easy enough to see how a steady stream of trickle-down hero introductions can give the game a sense of content longevity.

Where a healthy amount of Legends of Runeterra’s charm lies for the average player, though, is likely going to be in the fact that it’s eye-catching. It’s all shiny and chrome with large buttons, seamless scaling of visuals in windowed mode, and cosmetic pets that will be a hit with the Little Legends crowd, and card effects both look and sound spectacular as they play out across the board.

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Whether you’re doing something as simple as forcing an enemy to block one of your units or leveling up a champion, the sound design complements whatever’s happening visually: cards are dragged into place with a satisfying thunk, and going Deep (powering up, essentially) with an aquatic unit has an answering croon worthy of the Loch Ness monster.

It’s these touches that make Legends of Runeterra appealing from an aesthetic perspective, but the test of a card game’s stickiness is more than whether or not it looks good; it’s about the pace of play. On that front, Legends of Runeterra’s quick and inherently reactive playstyle feels itself like a reaction to some of the complaints that have been leveled at its competitors. Matches are reasonably fast on the face of things: Everyone’s working with 20 Nexus HP (the health of your base), and that’s what you’ll have to knock off each other to win. However, unlike Hearthstone, there are distinct phases that make up each player’s individual round.

The flow generally looks a little like this: summoning units or casting spells (who don’t have summoning sickness, which in itself speeds up play), declaring attackers, declaring blockers, countering with spells or other unit effects, and the resolution of both combat and Slow spell effects. There’s an Attack token that flip-flops between players every round, ensuring predictability of whether you’ll be attacking or defending at any given time.

With each card played, your opponent is allowed to make a corresponding move of their own--it feels a lot more like a game of chess, where pieces move across the board in the service of a larger gambit, while very much reacting to immediate threats as they occur.

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This sort of play generates a very back-and-forth flow, both within your individual round and also within an individual match. The balance of power can shift in a single round quite effectively, especially in spell-heavy duels where players have a lot of mana and enough cards on the bench to counter each other turn for turn. You can, in theory, resolve a board state before you even get to the combat phase by taking out your opponent’s units while they do the same to yours because of rolling spell effects and card passives that come into play once attackers have been declared.

This is the kind of experience that you can’t quite get from existing offerings without a framework that raises the difficulty floor. Magic: The Gathering has often been noted as being a game that can feel impenetrable to newcomers, but Legends of Runeterra has a number of ways in which it tries to ease first-time players into the experience.

Making factions the essence of deckbuilding is one such way, but making cards themselves strongly tied to easily identifiable champions and playstyles is another. Elise, the eight-legged arachnowoman champion, summons Spider units when she attacks. The faction she’s from, the Shadow Isles, has spell cards that buff Spider units specifically, and plenty of cards with an interaction called Last Breath: Cards either summon units or trigger an effect when they die, so killing off allies can set you on an inexorable death march to victory.

Even if you don’t know the first thing about what type of terminology describes that sort of deck, it’s very clear how a deck with Elise is going to work. Because of the limited number of champions available, and the fact that she’s the only one who ties in with arachnids like this, if you see an enemy playing spiders, then you can intuit what to expect even if you're going in blind.

Legends of Runeterra tries its hardest to be something that’s easy to pick up and difficult to put down, and the way that it limits real-money purchases rewards your time investment instead of a monetary one.

The same goes for every champion and its accompanying archetype--encountering a new one in the wild feels challenging but not daunting since you have a common base of understanding. Legends of Runeterra’s various modes (Expeditions and regular PvP) offer you the chance to sharpen your understanding of how to compete against others, whether it’s building a deck from random presets that you can refine between victorious moments or just testing out a new formula with no restrictions on your creativity.

Expeditions will be familiar to those who have played Hearthstone’s Arena mode. You draft a deck from selections of cards, picking two faction archetypes and then a combination of cards that will ideally take you to multiple victories as you progress through a series of matches against other players who have done the same. When you win, you get the chance to tweak your deck which Hearthstone’s Arena mode fails to give you; you can trade cards that haven’t performed for you in your match-ups for ones with more synergy, allowing you to refine your strategy as you go, pushing you on to greater heights.

Other quality-of-life innovations to what’s already available in current online card games include the underrated Oracle function, present in the form of an eye to the left of your board. If you’re not sure about how your chosen actions in a turn might play out (because let’s face it, it can be hard to track a bevy of nested card effects, especially if you’re trying to calculate lethal), Oracle will tell you by showing off the board state when your actions have concluded--an obvious game-changer if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed.

There are also Challenges that are fleshed-out tutorials to acquaint you with various champions and how their archetypes work, though they’re clearly also vehicles to deliver the lore of Runeterra. Each Challenge gives you valuable experience with various types of decks or card passives, and they all tell a story of their own that’s rooted in how various champions conflict with each other. With each Challenge, you’re not only gaining mechanical knowledge; you’re also being exposed to the nuances of the space that each faction and its representative units occupy in the in-game world, replete with engaging cinematic effects and more.

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However, while champions are introduced organically via those Challenges, some of the ways that Legends of Runeterra explains or handles its mechanics via card text aren’t always obvious. Connecting with these stronger cards is one thing, but separate deck mechanics like going Deep (powering up cards based on rapidly drawing and discarding others), or Scout (allowing a second Attack round in a turn but only if your first go exclusively uses units with this passive) aren’t as easily explained in practice. Those who play League of Legends already might be able to intuit a fair number of card effects without even reading them, just based on familiarity with a champion or faction’s ethos, but the same can’t be said for those approaching this with totally fresh eyes.

That being said, Legends of Runeterra tries its hardest to be something that’s easy to pick up and difficult to put down, and the way that it limits real-money purchases rewards your time investment instead of a monetary one. Leveling up various factions by using their cards leads to cool rewards like new champions over time, opening you up to new possibilities in-game as you gain more mechanical skill and ways to exercise it.

Whether you’re playing Expeditions, drafting a wild deck in traditional PvP, or picking apart a previously successful strategy, Legends of Runeterra finds a way to reward you for it by always having something for you to gain experience toward. Spending time in the game is investing in your future success, and the gains are often represented quite immediately in the form of new cards to toy with, bringing the most avid players back to the drawing board for more. While balance changes are undoubtedly on the horizon and the state of the game will evolve over time, Legends of Runeterra currently does a good job of introducing players to a colorful world popularised by League of Legends, and it’s a rollicking good time to boot.

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The Good

  • Champions are full of personality and an easy hook for those new to the franchise
  • Call-and-response flow of play is a nice twist on the usual format of rounds for online TCGs
  • Players can stay competitive without lapsing into pay-to-win
  • Deck building’s two-region rule allows for innovation without the frustration of total random encounters in a growing meta

The Bad

  • Specialist mechanics aren’t as intuitive to those without any League of Legends experience
  • Tutorial matches auto-failing you for coming up with a different solution can be needlessly frustrating

About the Author

Ginny Woo has been pursuing wins in Runeterra for years in League of Legends, and she jumped at the chance to cut her teeth on a new type of victory with familiar faces in tow. For the purposes of this review, Ginny played Legends of Runeterra’s Expeditions mode (draft), Challenges, beat up some robots, and enjoyed some good, old-fashioned PvP as the icing on the cake.
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deactivated-5ec5a31955a50

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Ok so you are giving this game the same score as The Last of Us..... https://www.gamespot.com/games/the-last-of-us/

The disrespect. This is a card game, and a trash one at that. It's not original, it's not engaging, it's not feature rich, it's full of bugs, it has a toxic community, it doesn't promote skill, it's not entertaining.... Insanely inconsistent reviewing from Gamespot's side here. It seems as though they were paid by Riot to give a good review.

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Poodger

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Edited By Poodger

@norjayy: Two wildly different games. People who like card games may not like 3rd person shooter games. Games from different genres shouldn't be compared to each other when it comes to scores.

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@Poodger: I don't agree with this at all. Games of different genres are constantly being compared, including (and probably most notably) by GOTY awards. However, for argument's sake, let's take away the comparison to TLoU... This game is still wildly overrated here. Hearthstone got 8/10. Pokemon TCG Online did not even warrant a review by Gamespot.... Legends of Runeterra is still full of bugs, feels completely unfinished and unoriginal.

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Poodger

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@norjayy: Games absolutely shouldn't be competing against games in other genres. An RTS game will have wildly different criteria for being a good game than a first-person shooter.

I loathe racing games, so when I see a high score for a racing game, it just tells me that it is a good game for gamers that are racing game fans. Not that it is a better game than the lower scoring horror game I enjoy. It is pointless to compare scores from games in different genres.

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@Poodger: At an age where monetization is a crucial factor to enjoyment, they definitely SHOULD be compared across genres.

You will get more GAME objectively out of a game like BoTW than you will paying 5 bucks per champion card.

You absolutely can compare games across genres just like you can compare music of different genres or books of different genres.

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Poodger

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@Sound_Demon: But if someone likes Card games, and hates open world games, they won't get more game out of BotW compared to Hearthstone for example. A high score for Skyrim won't mean much to that kind of person, and won't give them any information on how good a lower scoring card game might be to them. A "10" rating in one genre might mean that it is a phenomenal game for that genre because it hit all the points that genre needs to be considered good. The same criteria might not apply to a game in a different genre. 10's shouldn't be "essential for all gamers", but rather exemplary for the genre.

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Edited By Sound_Demon

@Poodger: They don't have to play BotW if they don't like the genre of game. The sheer scope and quality of product is just reflected in the review. The sheer scope of quality of an online card game isn't comparable because it is an inferior product. I play and played many card games: Magic, Yugioh, AGoT LCG 2, Star Wars Destiny, KeyForge, Final Fantasy, etc... So I don't hate card games, I think the mechanics of Runeterra are pretty good actually.

However a good example of a card game that came out recently that deserves a praising score is Slay the Spire. For 10 or 15 bucks (can't remember) you get a far more compelling experience as a game than you ever will in LoR and that game was made by 2 people. Of course that's my opinion but I believe it has way more creative effort and brings out the most enjoyable aspects of a card game instead.

10s on Gamespot do mean essential for all gamers though. Or they did once. Anyone and everyone can enjoy these games *or at least appreciate the immense dedication to the craft* until the recent reviews anyway stating that RSSiege is a 10. The 10 isn't exclusive points for it excelling in its own genre, it excels in being a masterful game, technically and creatively on a great many fronts. It should be a compelling memorable experience, not a psychologically addictive one.

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@Sound_Demon: I understand where you are coming from, but I think tastes vary too greatly for a 10 to be considered essential for everyone. There is not a game in history that will please everyone. There are multiple 10 games on this site that I just didn't like at all.

I also don't think games that are rated 10 are equal to one another. There are plenty of 10 rated games that might be considered by many to be on different levels, despite the 10. A 10 does not mean "this game is as good as that other game that got a 10". A 10 means that the game accomplished what it set out to do, and very very well. A 10 means that the game pushed the bar further for that genre, taking elements that may have been seen in games like it, and elevating them to an even greater level. This is why I firmly believe that plenty of games can and should receive high scores, even if they are (as a whole) not as "good" (subjective) or "ambitious" as other games that got the same score, ESPECIALLY if those other games are totally different.

It is also very subjective to say that one entire genre is "inferior" to another. Such things are entirely taste-based.

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deactivated-5ec5a31955a50

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@Poodger: My god... you gave GTA IV a 2/10.... holy crap

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@norjayy: Ugh, yeah I hated the shit out of that game. ACTUALLY one of the most boring games I have ever played.

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siarhei

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@Poodger: Agreed. GTA IV deserves a 2.

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@Poodger: Actually I very much disliked GTA as well but back when games had to earn their 10s, it must have had something going for it to earn that score.

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@Poodger: Well that's your opinion and it's not shared by the majority. Since you you didn't respond to the second part of my argument, you're being selective about yours, which proves your inherent bias here. It's okay people are different, but no need to use terms like "ABSOLUTELY shouldn't be...", if it's not followed by "imo" or something similar. Objectively speaking, this is not a 9/10 game as it currently stands.

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@norjayy: He's right though. Trying to compare two dissimilar games is pointless. It's just whichever one you like best. There's no math involved, or ranking of genres, or universal criteria that all games have to be judged by. There's not even a universally correct score for an individual game. The score's an opinion, and the point of the review is to help you decide whether you think the game might be something you'd like.

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@mogan: The universal comparison value is cost Mogan... Video games are a form of entertainment that cost money, just like music, just like movies. For certain amounts of money, I expect certain amounts of game, effort, creativity.

BoTW costs 60 bucks, Witcher costs 60 bucks. Charging people 5 dollars for a one of three 'champion card' when you can buy expanded story content for those previous games makes it ridiculous.

Imagine I charged you full movie price for a 2 min youtube quality video. That's what's being compared here. The costs in card games are superficial because they are monopolized. You can claim it's F2P but the games making the absolute most money are all 'F2P'. Hearthstone, Fortnite, League of Legends, etc.

The argument is there just isn't enough in a card game to warrant its price model. A score should take into account that there are other games out there where you pay far less and get a far more engaging, complete experience with just as much replay value. That's why sports games are generally hated, because there is very little advancements in the way of creativity and design. This game takes a theme from one game and the mechanics of another, blenders them, coats it with paint and pretends it's something new.

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siarhei

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@Sound_Demon: Clearly you have not played LoR.

There's no reason to spend money there. Ever.

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Edited By Sound_Demon

@siarhei: I have played it. Earned max box 3 weeks in a row. It's way too slow paced. It looks like a lot of cards but it really is a trickle in the sea. Read the summary in the end. I've played it and have seen the reward system. You probably need to take another look at it.

"You didn't play it" isn't a real argument also. Say something with substance next time.

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Edited By Mogan  Moderator

@Sound_Demon: Cost constantly changes over time, from store to store, and region to region. Reviewers rarely have to pay for the games they review in the first place, and how much an amount of money or video game is worth will vary from person to person anyway. Trying to factor in value for money in a review would be a largely useless endeavor. Especially with the rise of subscription services like Game Pass or EA Access.

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@mogan: I mean how can you he's right and that it's pointless, and state that as a fact? That's still an opinion of yours. In your opinion you think he's right. If what you are saying was a fact then there would be no game of the year award. There would only be genre awards. People want to know what THE best video game was in a certain year, not just in a genre. I'm not saying there's a universally correct score for a game, but an unfinished game full of bugs can't in any book get a 9/10 (superb) and seem genuine... it comes off as quite ignorant and fishy (seeming to have been paid off by someone). It's just entirely misleading. Of course you can compare genres, and dissimilar games, just like the Oscars compare movies of completely different genres in order to find the best movie/actor/actress of the year... they are still just movies... just like these are still just games. They are in the same category of entertainment, and to say that comparing two video games that are not similar is pointless, is in my opinion quite limiting for a gamer to think, because one can easily make the argument that e.g. two FPS games are dissimilar because one tries to be realistic and the other one has monsters/aliens/jet-packs, and therefore should not be compared. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of course, I just don't agree with yours.

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@norjayy: You are over here trying to throw words of wisdom about how everything we are saying is opinions, and then you say things like "oBjEcTiVeLy SpEaKiNg, ThIs Is NoT a 9/10 GaMe As It CuRrEnTlY sTaNdS", as if that isn't just your opinion.

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Mogan  Moderator

@norjayy: That's fine. We don't need to agree.

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G-Corleone  Online

@norjayy: the Last of Us was an 8/10. Not a 9. I seriously dont know how GS is not clear about this.

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@G-Corleone: I seem to remember that too, but went to check the score now and it said 9, so they must have changed it

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@norjayy: i guess they reviewed it again on PS4? Which would be a very dumb reason. But this being GS you can never be too sure :)

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I'm sure the author loved this game, but giving it a near perfect score just illustrates the flawed scoring system right now. It's a card game - and that's fine - but as a video game surely you have to take graphics into account, and what would the score be if the reviewer wasnt a league of legends fan?

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@sealionact: Graphics should really only matter if they are important to the overall game. Some of my favorite games of the last 10 years have been retro-style low graphic games. Graphics don't mean anything when it comes to the score of a game, unless the graphics are an asset that push the other elements forward in a meaningful way.

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@Poodger: Well, I'd feel the same about it if those retro style low graphics games got a 9 because it was the reviewers favourite game. It was more an observation on the review system, which will never make everybody happy.

I'd still prefer old, old school of marking with separate scores for Graphics, sound, value, gameplay and overall.

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Legends of Runeterra

First Released Oct 14, 2019
released
  • Android
  • iOS (iPhone/iPad)
  • PC

Face off in dynamic, alternating combat full of opportunities to adapt and outplay. Make your move, but be ready to react, because your opponent has a plan of their own. It all comes down to this—can you outwit them and win?

9
Superb

Average Rating

8 Rating(s)

5

Developed by:

Published by:

Genre(s):

Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
Teen
Alcohol Reference, Blood, Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes