Legends of Runeterra EGX 2019 Hands-On Preview

Riot’s recent opening of the floodgates which unveiled a smorgasbord of projects the League of Legends studio had under wraps was arguably the big internet happening of October. Not only were its MOBA darling and its auto-chess inspired offspring announced to be heading to mobile next year but a whole slew of other projects in a variety of genres were also revealed. One of these was a digital card game called Legends of Runeterra.

For the uninitiated – such as myself before writing this up – Runeterra is the expanded game world of League of Legends, and before you ask, yes, LoL has an actual story. The mythos of the popular MOBA takes place in the war-torn planet of Runeterra, which, just like any other planet, both real and fictional, is comprised of nations and coalitions. Think of Runeterra as League of Legends’s Azeroth. This is somewhat significant to know as the geopolitical status of Runeterra plays a role in the game itself.

In Magic the Gathering cards are categorized by color, in Hearthstone they represent elements related to different WoW classes, and in Runeterra, they’re tied to some of the nations and factions that occupy the world. If you don’t know what Garren means when he screams “FOR DEMACIA!”, then now is a good time to brush up a bit. Categorizing by nation was somewhat recognizable to me as I’m familiar with LoL champions referencing their respective places of origin, such as Ionia and Demacia. I had no idea, however, that the Freljord, often quoted by Ashe, was a divided country or somesuch. In any case, it made considering that champions are a big part of the game yet each of them comes from different combat disciplines. It wouldn’t have made sense to categorize cards by, say, classes like warriors and mages. 

The aspect of the game that I found most interesting was the way turns work. Each turn is separated into two, for lack of a better term, “sub-turns” with players alternating between Attack and Defense. When my turn came, I was designated as the attacking player with my opponent assigned as the defender. Defense goes first playing whatever cards they want, but by playing what are known as Ally cards (think followers or minions) the turn immediately goes to the attacking player. Whatever action Attack takes, Defense is always given a chance to respond. Once the “sub-turn” shifts back to the attacker, it’s time for combat and upon that getting resolved, players swap sides for the next turn. The core takeaway here is that there aren’t many “cheap” tricks a player can pull on the other such as casting last-minute spells on the opponent’s turn. Both sides are always given chances to deal with whatever their opponent has thrown at them. 

Combat is also interesting as the placement of Champions and Allies is extremely important. Cards can only attack and block cards opposite of them. I believe I was able to place about five cards but didn’t have a chance to test the limit. There are cards with abilities that buff adjacent cards and other placement-related mechanics. Blockers need to be aware that leaving an opposing card unchallenged results in free damage to their nexus which is what constitutes each player’s life points. Even more interesting is that each Champion has a level up condition that transforms them into an even more powerful card by way of a spectacular animation. There are a lot of such crazily over-the-top animations in this game, by the way.

I had a lot of fun playing Legends of Runeterra at EGX 2019 and I’m happy to report I’m quite excited for its release sometime next year. The Riot people explained to me that the game will not be making use of lootboxes or other “surprise mechanics” – paraphrasing here. Instead, they want to give players the ability to buy the exact cards they want for their decks and collections. “If you want to buy Draven,” I was told, “you can just hop on the store and buy Draven.” This is pleasantly surprising considering that the de facto model of card games has always been randomized packs of cards. There will also be a system in place to protect from duplicates when receiving rewards. There’s no concrete release date for Legends of Runeterra quite yet but we will be keeping our ear to the ground as usual so stay tuned here to The Digital Fix.

Yannis Vatis

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

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