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Legends of Runeterra Launch Impressions: A Rising Tide Lifts All Decks

Michael Bitton Posted:
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I’ve been playing Legends of Runeterra in beta for a couple of months now, and this week the game finally launched into full release (on PC and mobile) with update 1.0, which includes the new Rising Tides expansion set. The launch update added over 120 cards, the region of Bilgewater, some fun cosmetics, including new emotes and card backs, and a number of gameplay and polish changes.

So, how does the game stack up now that it’s live? Let’s dive in!

LoR was already in a good place with solid variety in viable decks and Riot has been great at taking an active approach to card balancing, which often shakes up the meta, challenging players to adapt and often giving way to less viable decks that can in turn end up changing the meta entirely. This approach has been a win-win at keeping things fairly even keeled and fresh.

The new cards definitely take some risks for LoR in the sense that not only are there just that many new cards to play with and power creep is a real thing in card games, but there also are six new keywords that really open up the game in terms of adding new mechanics.  There’s also a bit more RNG injected into the game with some of these cards, something the devs deliberately kept to a minimum in LoR previously. Randomness can be fun, sure, but one of the best things about LoR is that it avoided the sort of “RNGesus take the wheel!” madness you’d run into in Hearthstone. I’m not seeing anything along those lines just yet, but it is a bit early and I can understand why some might be apprehensive over what any additional RNG elements could mean for the future.

Of the six new keywords, my favorite new additions are “Deep” and “Scout”.  Deep grants “Deep” units +3/+3 if you have fewer than 15 cards left in your deck. And this is where the “Toss” keyword comes in. Cards that “Toss” will quite literally toss (non-champion) cards out of your deck, helping you get to a “Deep” state. Toss is core to the gameplay of new champions such as Bilgewater’s Nautilus and Shadow Isles’ Maokai. Nautilus is particularly flavorful with an amazing level up animation, huge board presence as a 13/13 with Tough, and his synergy with massive sea monsters makes for a compelling deck fantasy. He’s also just as fun to play as he sounds, though there are concerns he may be a lot stronger than people thought he would be. Maokai, on the other hand, has basically brought mill decks (these win by emptying your opponent’s deck) into Legends of Runeterra. I personally hate these sorts of decks, so I’m not a fan, but we’ll see how viable Maokai ends up being.

Scout is interesting as it incorporates a rally effect into creatures with the keyword. If you attack first with only Scout creatures, you’ll be able to attack again. This can make for some pretty explosive turns and allows you to probe (or even remove) your enemy’s defenses before your main force attacks. Like Deep, Scout is both flavorful and mechanically interesting. I haven’t played around with a Scout deck just yet, but it’s next on my list. Quinn, one of the game’s new Scout champions, has turned out to be a lot stronger than people gave her credit for pre-release and I’m excited to put a deck together around her.

One thing that is really great about both pre-release and now launch is Riot’s continued commitment to monetizing cosmetics over cards. Not only is it easy to put together a full set in LoR without spending a dime on the game, but with this new release of cards Riot’s actually implemented a sort of catch up XP Boost mechanic for the first 12 levels of the Region Roads for all regions except for the newly added Bilgewater. This helps deal with one of the big pain points of playing card games like this by lowering the barrier to entry for people who join after new cards have been added to the set.

The first 20 levels for existing regions will also have a chance to reward Bilgewater cards and five additional levels have been added to each region which will exclusively grant Bilgewater cards until you’ve unlocked the full set. I don’t feel any pressure at all to spend money on the game to keep up, which is refreshing for a card game. And as I touched on in a previous article, this approach is also better for the game’s health as Riot doesn’t need to worry about invalidating player purchases when considering decisions around game balance.

I only have two real issues with the launch update at this point. One, I expected more PC specific polish on launch day. There still isn’t proper support for ultrawide resolutions and while the UI has seen some improvements, it’s still full of giant elements that clearly call out its mobile-first design.

And my second issue is the change to playing units on full boards. Previously, if you filled your board with creatures, you wouldn’t be able to play any new ones until you (or your opponent) got rid of one. Planning out your board state was part of the skill of playing the game and could even be used against your opponent by using certain cards to spawn token creatures on the enemy board. Now, you don’t need to think about it so much as you can simply choose a unit to get rid of if your board is full. This is useful for lowering frustration in casual players, but there’s no way around the fact that this lowers the skill ceiling a bit for the game overall. Shame.

Also, Riot’s really got to work on the inconsistently worded card text. This is more of a nitpick for me, but things can get a little confusing at times with the way cards are worded, and it’s honestly getting even messier as the team adds in new mechanics. I hope going through the card set and cleaning everything is high up on the team’s list of priorities because things will only get more confusing from here.

Those issues aside, I’m not exaggerating at all when I say Legends of Runeterra is my favorite card game on the market. Riot’s clearly learned from the mistakes of other games in the space and has come out with a card game that leverages the rich League of Legends lore the studio has spent years investing in building, successfully combines the best elements of Magic: the Gathering’s deeper mechanics with Hearthstone’s streamlined and casual friendly design, and all of that with a completely player friendly monetization system. Even if you aren’t invested in the League of Legends IP, Legends of Runeterra is absolutely worth checking out for any card game fan and there’s no better time to do it than now.


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB