A small glance at The Elder Scrolls: Legends is enough to make you realise how big an inspiration Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft was for the game. On the surface, Legends seems like a simple clone of Blizzard's super-successful card game, but after diving deeper into the beta version of the game we found some details and mechanics that help Legends to stand out.
Just like Hearthstone, two players (or one player against the AI) face each other in a digital card duel to see which one can get the opponent's health to zero first. To reduce your adversary's life, you will need to attack with spells or creatures that you play from your hand into the board during your turn. As is also the case with Hearthstone, each card requires a certain number of mana points which the player regenerates every turn. Each player starts the game with one mana point, and you get a new one every turn.
The creatures themselves have attack and hit points. If a 1/1 creature attacks a 2/2 creature, the first one dies and the second one becomes a 2/1 creature, losing a hit point. Other cards allow you to improve the attributes of each creature, strengthening its attack and defence, while some creatures have their own effects. Some can attack as soon as they are played, for example, and others have a cloaking effect that prevents them from being attacked when they are played. These are again all similar to features we've seen in Hearthstone.
Fortunately there are also differences. The most obvious is of course the theme. Legends is based on the universe of The Elder Scrolls, and this includes the presence of all races and many spells, creatures, and weapons you may recognise if you're a fan of Bethesda's fantasy series. When you start playing you get to choose the race of your avatar, and within that choice, you can choose a picture that will represent you. Each race also has specific advantages, like being able to attract more cards related to their race.
Another major difference from The Elder Scrolls: Legends is the division of the battlefield into four sections. There's the classical horizontal division, which divides the two players, and there is a second vertical split, creating two lanes on the board. Creatures can be put on any side, but they can only interact with opposing creatures in the same lane. In other words, a creature on your left lane cannot attack an opposing creature on the right.
It may read like a small change, but this completely separates the strategic element of The Elder Scrolls Legends from Hearthstone. For example, a player can try to use one side to lure the the opponent to play creatures on that side, and then play the strongest creatures on the opposite side. The introduction of weapons and effects can also help to strengthen creatures, rapidly improving one lane and surprising the player, although there is also the option to try and maintain a balance between the two.
The Elder Scrolls Legends also has a rune system that doesn't exist in Blizzard's genre dominating CCG. Each player has five runes, and whenever you lose five points of life, you trade a rune for a new card from the deck. It's a system that helps balance the game, especially if a player has a very strong start. This also introduces a new card mechanic, Prophecy. When a card with Prophecy is acquired through the runes, it can be played immediately - even during the opponent's turn - and at no cost.
Bethesda's offering also distinguished itself in terms of its artistic direction. While Blizzard has opted for a very colourful and cartoon-like style with Hearthstone, The Elder Scrolls: Legends presents a more sober and realistic design. The images that illustrate the cards are much closer to something like Magic The Gathering. As a side note, we appreciated that the design of the cards offered more information about their skills - there are cards with specific details to Guard, for example.
Another difference in Hearthstone is the deck size. While Blizzard's game limits all decks to 30 cards, in The Elder Scrolls: Legends you can build decks between 50 and 70 cards. A larger deck will give more options to the player, while a deck with 50 cards will be more compact and have more chances to offer the important cards to the player. Still, it seems an excessive number of cards per deck. Since Legends will have a free-to-play format, you can of course buy card packs with real money or in-game gold. It's currently to difficult to gauge how competitive players might be without spending real money.
As for game modes, The Elder Scrolls Legends includes a relatively elaborate story campaign bolstered with illustrated sequences. This campaign introduces the player to the world of Elder Scrolls and also serves as a tutorial, clearly revealing the mechanics of the game. Then there are several online modes which will form the main attraction of the experience.
Many players will ask which is better, The Elder Scrolls: Legends or Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, but it seems an unfair question. While there are many similarities in concept, the details turn out to distinguish the two immense experiences. While Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is more compact and affordable, The Elder Scrolls Legends seems to offer more complex and tactical options. These details look like they're going to make the difference in the medium and long term, and as far as we can tell right now, Legends is going to give the competition a run for its money come the full release.