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.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

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.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3

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.

No Caption Provided

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.

Back To Top

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.
63 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
  • 63 results
  • 1
  • 2
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for siarhei
siarhei

2937

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 15

User Lists: 0

A lot of old comments below.

Don't like netdecking? Play labs

Don't like the pressure of ranked and want to try something original? Play casual

After 2 months playing, this is still the least financially predatory TCG I have played.

Upvote • 
Avatar image for LoveBird-
LoveBird-

77

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

This game was fun initially, but then over a month or two I slowed down and then eventually I completely stopped playing it.

There are too many times where you know what your opponent is going to do, but there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop your opponent from doing it because of the mechanics (i.e. "burst"). Combine that with everyone netdecking the same damn decks, the game got old way too fast.

My latter complaint isn't so bad -- that's going to be any card game (or any competitive game for that matter) but the burst mechanic completely ruined the game for me.

Upvote • 
Avatar image for DuoMaxwell007
DuoMaxwell007

210

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Coming December 31st 2098? Ummmm so no one reading this is gonna be around to play it? ok

2 • 
Avatar image for LeCage
LeCage

49

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

I'm a fan of a decent card games I thought I'd enjoy this, I love Gwent and 'used' to enjoy HS until it became the P2W mess it is today [though I do enjoy Battlegrounds] - I've tried MTG and even Artifact [talk about a mess!] - LOR falls somewhere between MTG and Artifact, I find it boring and repetitive because of the stale meta. You face the same decks every other game, you know you're going to win or lose from the off, you know what's coming but you cannot stop it because you tried to be different and actually create your own unique drafts. If you're not willing to sheeple it, this aint for you. 9/10??? did the reviewer play for just a week or something? it seems great to begin with but a month in and it really wears thin - 4.5/10 at a push, really can't trust scores on here with reviews like this

Upvote • 
Avatar image for basketballfan
BasketballFan

344

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 5

I can see that some of the men grew bigger breasts than the women. That is an artistic decision I cant behind.

Upvote • 
Avatar image for Phooey442
Phooey442

479

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 0

This site used to at least try to seem legit.

5 • 
Avatar image for siarhei
siarhei

2937

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 15

User Lists: 0

@johnh2014: Lack of lootboxes and direct buys are the defining features. Try that in Hearthstone or MtG.

2 • 
Avatar image for systemoverload
SystemOverload

415

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

This is a pretty good card game and there is a lot of interaction and play.

2 • 
Avatar image for Kezzy123
Kezzy123

532

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Really good game that is slowly getting ruined by all the neckbeards playing control boring decks where nothing happens all game and takes forever. Stun, recall, stun, froze, recall, stun, destroy all enemies, stun, bleh bleh bleh. That illusion of skill.....

Upvote • 
Avatar image for djezhel619
djezhel619

184

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 3

User Lists: 0

Has anyone played LGoH (Legendary Game of Heroes)? Its a mobile game and all these ****wads do is make you believe its possible at the beginning to win with the cards youre getting. Only to make you hit a wall with their bs changes to the game because they claim that the majority asked for it. When they mess up, when the game gets buggy, all they do is send you some bs gift that isnt worth anything. Yet they charge 100$ for 12.500 gems. Then they want you to gamble it at a broken vault where they put worthless stuff in, to see if you hit the jackpot with the cards you need to be (somewhat) successful during that event. Mind you, there is an event starting every Wednesday through Monday.

2 • 
Avatar image for proceeder
proceeder

879

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 15

User Lists: 0

I thought this was a BS card game.

And...it's a BS card game.

4 • 
Avatar image for jyml8582
jyml8582

1593

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 2

User Lists: 0

Card games are such low effort cash grab.

4 • 
Avatar image for Pierce_Sparrow
Pierce_Sparrow

1437

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 40

User Lists: 0

This, to me, seems to be like giving WoW such a high score (it has a near perfect 9.5). This, despite the fact that WoW didn't really present anything that original or new at the time of it's release. But according to reviews from the time of it's release, it was a highly polished, accessible, and well crafted version of what we'd seen come before it. I have little interest in this game, but even looking at this objectively, I am skeptical. Despite the score, the review says a lot of stuff about the bells and whistles, without really talking about how this is different than what's already out there, besides the fact that maybe it's a little more accessible better paced. Does that warrant a 9? I'm not so sure. A score of 9 is supposed to reflect pretty grand heights in gaming. Heck, even the interface here is a derivative of Hearthstone, like so many others. If this didn't have the LoL franchise attached to it, would it even get a review on this website? I'm pretty skeptical that this game joins others on some of the highest echelons of gaming.


Upvote • 
Avatar image for Crazy_sahara
Crazy_sahara

742

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 2

User Lists: 0

Edited By Crazy_sahara

The only card game I like is from final fantasy 8 and 9, get this sh.t outta here.

Who the hell is Ginnywoo 😱 omg CBS did you do what i think you did.

2 • 
Avatar image for Ultima_Dragoon
Ultima_Dragoon

153

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

I'm very skeptical about the Pay to Win aspects

6 • 
Avatar image for siarhei
siarhei

2937

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 15

User Lists: 0

@Ultima_Dragoon: There's no pay to win in this game. You can have a top deck in 2 weeks. After that it's just skill.

2 • 
Avatar image for deactivated-5ec5a31955a50
deactivated-5ec5a31955a50

24

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 2

User Lists: 5

@Ultima_Dragoon: I mean even after you take away the pay to win aspect, a game just ends up being dependent on the cards that you draw and if they somehow counter your opponents cards. There's no skill at that point, it's just a randomized set of tasks. Literally pointless as a game at that point. A game is supposed to be fun, entertaining and challenging, not mundane.

4 • 
Avatar image for siarhei
siarhei

2937

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 15

User Lists: 0

@norjayy: I take you never played card games like poker or blackjack before?

Upvote • 
Avatar image for gamingdevil800
gamingdevil800

7146

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 76

User Lists: 0

Edited By gamingdevil800

@siarhei: Kinda a difference between classic card games and quirky card games with monster art lol.

2 • 
Avatar image for gamingdevil800
gamingdevil800

7146

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 76

User Lists: 0

@norjayy: Probably why the only card game I've ever really liked was Yugioh at least you can build your whole deck around a strategy and there are countless decks you can choose from. Liked Gwent in Witcher but they ruined the independant standalone game.

2 • 
Avatar image for deactivated-5ec5a31955a50
deactivated-5ec5a31955a50

24

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 2

User Lists: 5

@gamingdevil800: I agree. With card games, once you start introducing a bunch of boundaries and such, you are completely limiting the experience... for seemingly no reason. If there are tournaments for this game in particular, it will be so much up to chance who wins.

Upvote • 
  • 63 results
  • 1
  • 2

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