Collectible card games have been around for decades, but it's much more recently that the genre has garnered popularity online, with Blizzard's Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft being one of the games to thank for that. Other major franchises have attempted to jump on the bandwagon and piggyback off Blizzard's success, such as Fable with Fable Fortune, Runescape with Chronicle: Runescape Legends, and Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, lifted straight from The Witcher 3, and as one of the most well-known RPG series of all time, it's unsurprising Bethesda has conjured up Elder Scrolls Legends in the same way. As the games are so similar and Hearthstone is so well-known, there will be references and comparisons to the Warcraft-themed card game throughout this review.
One of the first mechanics you're introduced to you is perhaps the one that best distinguishes Elder Scrolls Legends from Hearthstone, and that's the two lane setup. On the left, you have the field lane, where no special effects are applied to your minions and you can attack the turn after placing a card down, but on the right is the shadow lane, where all minions played start with stealth, or 'Cover', as it's referred to in Legends. This means they can't be attacked by other minions for a turn, however, they can be targeted by spells, unlike Hearthstone where they're unkillable by anything except large AOE spells. Minions in opposite lanes can't attack the other lane, unless the card specifies they can, such as Blood Dragon.
These keywords often have the same effect as others in Hearthstone, but are known by different terms; Taunt is now Guard, Deathrattle is now Last Gasp, Freeze is now Shackle, and so on. Bethesda has also added a few new ones of their own, such as Breakthrough, which deals any excess damage after killing a minion to the enemy player, and Drain, which turns any damage dealt by a minion into health for your hero. Legends also seems to rely more on the effects of cards rather than their stats; you'll find a lot of the high cost cards have significantly less strength and health compared to a lot of Hearthstone cards, for example. Take Mantikora for instance - it's a 10 cost card for only 6/6 stats, but it has Guard and destroys an enemy creature when summoned. Nahkriim, Dragon Priest is another, as this costs 10 to play and only has a 5/5 body, but when played it draws a card and the next card you play that turn is completely free. Compared to most of the high cost cards from Hearthstone such as Alexstrasza, which has an 8/8 body for 9 mana and a powerful effect, you realise that it's much easier to remove minions from the board in Legends.
Each deck contains 50 cards, and given how quickly you tend to cycle through your deck, it's needed. Your options aren't just limited to one type of card per deck though, as you have two, along with any neutral cards you want to include. There's five separate categories that are split by skills, like in the main Elder Scrolls games: Strength (Red), Agility (Green), Intelligence (Blue), Willpower (Yellow), and Endurance (Purple). You're able to choose two skills to base your deck around, depending on your playstyle and what archetype you want to opt for, and classes depend on what two skills you pick. For example, the Battlemage uses both Intelligence and Strength cards, while the Scout relies on Agility and Endurance. Each class has different tools to win the game, whether that's relying on low cost minions and aggressive strategies, or board clears that pave the way for your expensive, powerful minions.
Each player also has five runes that are staggered at intervals of five hit points for your character. For example, when you go down to 25 health, one rune will be broken, again at 20, and so on. When a rune is destroyed, that player draws a card, and the innovative aspect here comes with the Prophecy keyword, which means that if you draw a card from a rune that has Prophecy, it can be played instantly. They can also be played normally for a cost if you don't draw them from a rune, but they're usually just average cards otherwise. They also tend to target the idea of defence, with most Prophecy cards being healing-focused, Guard, or removal, such as the Fighters Guild Recruit which is a 1/2 with Guard and Lethal, the Piercing Javelin which just destroys any creature, or the Dune Stalker, which can move another friendly minion to the other lane to protect it.