League of Legends is going mobile, and along the way it's taking a crack at Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone. With no card packs and a promise to offer more a little more depth and deckbuilding strategy without some of the RNG, Legends of Runeterra is a fast, but neatly layered digital card game within the League universe.
I had a quick hands-on session with Legends of Runeterra at PAX Australia. Most of the gameplay will be immediately familiar to fans of Hearthstone, with cards all having a mana cost, toughness and damage. But unlike Hearthstone, Runeterra borrows from Magic: The Gathering by letting players build decks from up to two of the game's six regions, which are like Magic's colours. (A drafting mode will be added post-release that will let players draft decks featuring up to three regions.)
Runeterra will launch with 24 champions and 318 cards, with those cards a mixture of support characters and minions from the world of League, as well as utility cards and spells. The game plays out in turns, with players swapping between attack and defence, with players able to react any time a unit is played to the board.
A key difference with the champions is that they level up over time after meeting a certain set of conditions. Shen, for example, levels up after seeing allies get a barrier four times, while Thresh becomes more powerful after 3 enemies die after he's been played to the battlefield.
Champions and other characters have smaller abilities as well, like regenerating health at the end of each turn — damage persists in Runeterra — or taking less damage from all sources. Some of those abilities have direct parallels with Hearthstone or Magic, and anyone with any experience in either game should be able to parse the gameplay relatively quickly.
A key to getting damage through is managing mana correctly and planning the timing of your spells. Spells can come in three forms: burst, the equivalent of instant spells, which resolve immediately; fast spells, which come into effect during the combat phase; and slow spells, which kick in after combat. The combat phase gives the defender the chance to respond, and you can attack at the beginning of your turn or the end. There's no summoning sickness, which makes games of Runeterra fly past.
As for your mana, you don't have to spend it at every opportunity. Like Heartsthone, Duelyst and most CCGs, you start with one mana and get an extra one after each full turn. You can bank up to three mana for casting spells, however, which is handy if you get some damage through on your attack phase, switch over the next turn, and need a little bit of extra mana to clear the board on defence. The mana is stored by simply passing when you have the option to play a card, and turns end when either player can't or chooses not to play.
There's some extra features that are nice to have as well. There's a preview option that lets you see the end result of a combat, which makes complicated board states easier to parse. Mill decks won't be a possibility for Runeterra at launch, which is a plus for anyone who hates the slow, interruptive decks and classes from Magic and Hearthstone. Deck sizes were around 40 cards in my particular session, and by the time the game fully launches, it'll have a ranked mode, direct challenges and friend lists, and cross-play support.
The biggest structural change with Runeterra, however, is the progression system. Instead of using card packs, players either unlock cards by gaining XP with a particular faction, unlocking cards and champions along the way. The game will ship with a quest system that grants more XP, unlocking new cards from the faction of your choice.
Separately, you can also unlock wildcards. Wildcards are basically vouchers that you can trade for any card in the game, although a limited amount of those will be available for purchase directly each week. You can buy cards directly if you just want to build a specific deck, using in-game Shards that you've either accrued through gameplay or bought directly. (It wasn't revealed what the microtransaction model or pricing was at this stage.)
Along with that is a chest system called "The Vault", which grows in level as you play and unlocks once a week. Once you're at level 10 and above, you'll automatically unlock a champion from The Vault, and each level you gain improves the cards and items that you unlock every week.
The first public test for Runeterra kicks off now, with a preview period running from October 16 to October 21 for select accounts and a second session kicking off from November 14 to November 20. If you have your League account linked to YouTube or Twitch, you'll also be in with a chance of getting into the first test phase by watching the official Riot, Runeterra or League accounts via the various platforms.
If you'd rather wait, a wider closed beta will begin early next year with the release "sometime in 2020" across PC and consoles (but not Mac).