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Hands on preview: Legends of Runeterra - A surprisingly good hand

Published: 21:34, 18 November 2019
Riot Games
Key art for Legends of Runeterra.
Sometimes, we're at the mercy of the key art. In this case, the crop was literally perfect.

Legends of Runeterra is something of an out of left field play, steering the action focused origins of the League of Legends franchise into uncharted, card battling territory. We went hands-on with the game earlier this year at EGX 2019

Despite not being a genre that we're particularly familiar with, it is to Riot Games' credit that they've crafted an extremely accessible take on the card battler without bogging you down in frivolous mechanics. However, don't think for one second that any depth has been sacrificed in favour of appealing to the masses. There's a huge amount to take in, and plenty of nuance for players willing to invest the time. Crucially, it's presented in a manner that won't overwhelm, and if anything, made us want to dig deeper and experiment further.

It's absolutely steeped in League of Legends lore, acting as a love letter of sorts to fans of the franchise. But if you're reading this with only a passing association with prior efforts, you're not left out in the cold. In fact, there's a sense here that Riot Games are pitching Runeterra as a door opener, expanding the franchises reach beyond the already enormous, but admittedly hardcore, PC faithful. 

Mechanically speaking, if you're familiar with Hearthstone, there's not a huge amount here that will catch you off guard, but there's a couple of interesting things on the back end that could potentially help define the experience. Additional cards for your deck can be earned via completing challenges and accruing XP, but even though this is a free to play title, the monetisation steers well away from random, loot box style unlocks. You're also not bombarded by notifications to spend real world cash, and there's a rotating set of weekly challenges that allow you to earn XP without grinding.

Riot Games A defensive turn in Legends of Runeterra. Sometimes, you've just got to play the hand you're dealt. Insert another card related cliche here.

Balancing these elements is a massively important factor in making this whole thing work, but fortunately, Riot Games haven't skimped on the presentation either. Graphically, it's quite lovely, with elements of the hand drawn art style and distinctive character models ripped straight from League of Legends. There's some neat visual flourishes, like the sparks when cards collide, menu transitions, and other appreciated sprinkles of detail that goes a long way towards elevating the finished product.

Despite still being in Beta, with several closed tests still to come before the final, free to play release, the game is in a good state. Loading was minimal, the action was fluid, and it felt like a premium product. Honestly, we came away from our hands-on time surprised with just how addicting it was! Every move you make before ending your turn can have a huge impact on the end result of a round, forcing you to consider what's in your deck, and how best to move forward.

The whole thing is deceptively simple, but the best part is it's that very same straightforward, no frills approach that makes this such a successful attempt at broadening the franchise's appeal. We couldn't be happier with what we played, and so long as Riot Games manages to ensure that nothing introduced during testing breaks the meta, they could absolutely have a hit on their hands.

Riot Games Playing an attack move in Legends of Runeterra. Balance is key with every engagement. Don't burn your best straight out the gate!

We'd like to say a huge thank you to the teams at Riot Games and Kazoo for giving us hands on time with the game. Legends of Runeterra is due out sometime in 2020 for PC, iOS, and Android. 

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