Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
The Elder Scrolls: Legends

The Elder Scrolls: Legends (TES:L) is a recently released collectible card video game on PC and iOS. Well, recent if you don't count the beta version you could already play last year on PC. It is maybe slightly more complex than Hearthstone, but significantly less complex than Magic: The Gathering. Which is a disadvantage only to MtG grognards such as myself.

As TES:L is free to play, I can only recommend trying it out and playing the story mode. Depending on your point of view that is either the ultra-long tutorial of the game, or the main attraction of it. Personally I am in the latter camp, and might well uninstall the game after I have finished the three acts of the story. Because compared to the story mode, practice mode gives very little rewards. The arenas cost money to enter. And the button marked "PLAY" is the PvP mode, and I don't like PvP.

Which brings me to one of the most important issues when it comes to playing collectible card games: They are fundamentally always to at least some degree Pay2Win. That isn't to say that the richer player always wins, because the player with the smaller collection can always happen to have just the right deck build to counter his strategy, or might just get luckier with the card draws. But everything else being equal, having more cards to choose from to build your deck is certainly an advantage.

You can earn cards by playing. Won games can give gold, and there are daily quests that also give you gold. Every 100 gold buys you a booster of 6 cards. But of course each booster only has a 1 in 25 chance to contain a legendary card, there are 52 different legendary cards up to now, and some of them you can put up to 3 times into your deck. Which means it will take a while to get a full set of everything, even if you can destroy cards you have too much to get soul gems, with which you can buy the cards that you are missing. Reddit estimates the cost for a full collection between $600 and €1,200. Or grinding for over a thousand hours.

That explains why I don't like PvP in collectible card video games. If you play against the AI, for example in story mode of TES:L, your deck just needs to be "good enough". And you can get to that point without paying anything (although for testing purposes I got the $5 starter set for 10 packs, plus 3 packs for registering an account). As soon as you play against other players, its a race to keep up with the Joneses. Either you match the time and/or money your opponents spent on the game, or you have to be content to play at a permanent disadvantage.

Personally I still prefer Magic Duels. You can only put 1 of each legendary into a Magic Duels deck, you can't find cards in boosters that you already have enough of, the game stops you from buying more boosters than you need for a full collection, and if you just play casually (e.g. the daily quest every day and not more) you end up earning enough gold during one expansion to buy the next one. Of course that isn't much of a help for late starters, because then there is a huge back catalog of cards to acquire. But the expansion blocks are nicely self-contained, so you don't really need all the cards from all previous expansions to do well against the AI. Magic Duels is my benchmark for generosity in Free2Play games, and The Elder Scrolls: Legends doesn't even come close to that benchmark.

It might not be as generous as Magic Duels, but a thousand hours is actually quite reasonable as far as these games go. I admit I haven't done the math, but I would guess Hearthstone is many times that. But this is just for the 100% collectors, I assume forming a single deck with all the cards you want would be closer to the 100 hour range (depending on your luck with Legendaries)?

What I would really like is a system of escalating cost to craft Legendaries. So your first one only costs X, your second one costs 2X, etc. So a new player can more quickly put together his first deck with even Legendaries, but gathering the 100% collection still takes as long or longer.
I think the original concept of these games was that you'd build a deck with the somewhat random cards you found, rather than fret because you don't have all the cards you need for meta-of-the-week. You get this against the AI (but AIs are usually very stupid, which limits the enjoyability). Though some games have random or draft modes which make for a pure skill contest between players, and again have the fun of building with a 'found' deck.
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