Like most kids growing up in the 90’s and early 2000’s, I had a strong infatuation with TCG games like Magic: The Gathering and the Pokemon TCG, but an important clarification I should make is that, while I enjoyed collecting the cards, I didn’t enjoy having to actually battle other players. It is because of this that my enjoyment of digital CCG’s like Hearthstone didn’t really extend far beyond playing through the high-quality single-player adventures (adventures which, sadly, appear to be going away as part of Blizzard’s new direction for Hearthstone.

I have come to begrudgingly accept that, much like their physical predecessors, digital CCG’s tend to favor a competitive PvP slant, which is why I only decided to check out the recently released The Elder Scrolls: Legends because it is free-to-play and because I am a huge fan of the Elder Scrolls RPG series. While Legends isn’t a perfect CCG by any means, I am happy to report that it manages to expertly balance its clear Hearthstone inspirations and its more original elements while also serving as one of the most robust and accessible digital card games for PvE players I have ever played.

Easing you in

If you’ve ever played Hearthstone, a lot of the technical framework behind Legends will be instantly recognizable. Much like in Blizzard’s own CCG, matches in Legends involve playing various types of cards (creatures, spells, items, and ongoing effect cards called “supports”), each of which has an associated Magicka cost.

Both players start out with one Magicka point and they gain another one during each new turn (sound familiar?) and the player who goes second also receives a Magicka ring which lets them gain one additional Magicka point three times during a match, though never more than once per turn (thus acting like a slightly different version of Hearthstone’s ‘The Coin’ card).

Legends also takes a page out of the Magic: The Gathering book by grouping different cards into various color-coded attributes which include Strength (red), Agility (green), Endurance (purple), Intelligence (blue), and Willpower (yellow) along with a sixth neutral category. When a player constructs a deck, they can pull cards from two different color attributes as well as the neutral group, allowing them to more easily formulate deck strategies since each color has unique traits and abilities that match up with different styles of play. A lot of Agility creatures, for example, have the unique “Pilfer” affix which triggers additional effects if the creature manages to attack the enemy player directly.

Building a deck in Legends can still be a tad intimidating since standard decks are made up of 50 cards (a good deal more than Hearthstone’s 30), but playing through Legends’ well-rounded story mode allows the player to unlock several pre-built decks which they can freely modify or use as inspiration for their own creations. Speaking of Legends’ story mode, I personally found it to be a little hokey at times, but it serves as an excellent way to become immersed in Bethesda’s patented Elder Scrolls lore while also familiarizing yourself with what is perhaps the game’s most unique attribute: the dual-lane playing board.

 In a typical match, the board on which you play cards is divided into two parallel lanes, a standard “field” lane and a “shadow” lane. Playing a creature in the shadow lane gives them a cloak effect which prevents them from being targeted by enemy creatures in the opposite lane (creatures can usually only attack enemy creatures in the same lane as them) but, unlike Hearthstone’s Stealth affix, the cloak only lasts for a single turn and cloaked creatures can still be targeted by spells and support effects. Also, the ‘Guard’ creature affix (think Hearthstone’s Taunt) actually overrides the stealth lane cloak, allowing you to fend off enemy creatures even if they’re in the stealth lane.

A battlefield of your choosing

There’s no denying that Hearthstone has a fair amount of different game modes which include both casual and ranked PvP matches (using either Standard or Wild format), weekly Tavern Brawls (most of which are PvP-oriented), the draft-friendly Arena mode (again, PvP-oriented), single-player PvE adventures (which have to be bought separately), and practice matches against AI opponents (which offer no worthwhile rewards). It’s a robust selection to be sure, but not so much if you prefer going up against AI opponents.

In Legends, there’s the previously mentioned story mode which encompasses three entire chapters that each contain six different battles, a practice vs. AI option which grants both profile experience and credit for daily quests, a standard PvP playlist, themed temporary modes like the Chaos Arena event (which will be a recurring event by the way), and an Arena mode which has both single-player PvE and PvP options. There will also be additional PvE story-based adventures such as next month’s Fall of the Dark Brotherhood which Bethesda recently unveiled.

For Elder Scrolls RPG/lore fans, Legends also has some fun little extras like the ability to decide your “character’s (i.e. your player profile’s) race (picking from recognizable options like Redguard, Nord, Orc, and more) and thus unlock cards of that race’s associated attributes more quickly, select a profile portrait to suite your tastes, and even equip unlockable character titles. The leveling mechanic in Legends is also a lot more generous than it is in Hearthstone which each new level gained awarding currency, card packs, and, sometimes, special upgrades which enhance the effectiveness of specific cards and/or allow the player to decide which enhancements the new card version gets.

Now, I don’t want to make this review sound like I’m saying ”The Elder Scrolls: Legends is better than Hearthstone,” but when it comes to offering PvE content that is just as rewarding as its PvP options, Bethesda has most certainly beaten Blizzard to the punch. It’s understandably hard to tell how much longevity Legends will have since it’s still a fairly new game, but if Bethesda continues to improve and iterate upon the game’s already strong opening charge (especially where PvE is concerned), I could easily see myself saying goodbye to Hearthstone for good, especially once The Elder Scrolls: Legends starts launching for more and more platform types later this year.