Every competitive game ends with someone walking away the loser. The key to these games being successful is to smooth the road along, so the act of playing is better than the pain of losing. Legends of Runeterra tries to follow this rule, but stumbles along the beautifully manicured and prepared path.
Riot’s League of Legends card game is rich with detail and carefully crafted. When I play a champion on the board and level it up, there’s a multi-second lavish animation. Characters chat among themselves on the board, expanding on interactions and dynamics from League of Legends, or hum a little ditty as they wait for me to take my turn.
When you combine this lush and vibrant environment with a slightly slower pace, wherein each player alternates between attacking and defense, I start to encounter some problems. In competitive games, I find the best way to improve is to fail faster. Legends of Runeterra won’t grant me a series of quick, painful wins. Instead, my foot is lodged under the train rail of beautiful graphics and stunning animations. I jerk my foot, trying to free myself, but the pace remains sluggish. In the distance, there are lights.
Every card game has players experimenting with decks, cards, and combos. Over time, I can unlock more powerful cards and begin to prepare new themed decks. But that requires me to invest time into the game; I need to find out what decks work with my play style, what I can acquire, and how to counter other powerful cards that my opponents may play.
Card games also have an element of randomness. I can’t coach myself by going into a practice mode and consistently pulling the same cards; I have to get right into the muck and learn as I go. Add in the fact that Legends of Runeterra’s current metagame seems to favor slow decks that control the board, instead of quick, high-damage rush decks, and everything adds up to lead to slow, plodding games.
Sometimes that’s fine; I’m sure there are some players who enjoy the pace and find it quite thoughtful. But when it’s combined with the tranquil graphics and gorgeous environments of Legends of Runeterra, my eyelids grow heavy. The game triggers a nap reflex in me. I can’t just jump into a game, fail, but learn something quickly on the way out. It’s a difference of minutes compared to a Hearthstone match, but those minutes feel like an eternity.
Graphics and game feel
The polished animations and sound effects of Runeterra are fantastic when I pull off something really awesome: I see a champion level up, clear the board, or pull off a satisfying combo attack. There’s a sense of power in pulling it off to much flash and grandeur.
But usually these plans are vanquished, or the opponent manages to pull off the exact same thing but better. I learn something from this and take it forward into the next game, but the fact that it’s a slow and methodical march toward my defeat saps the joy from learning. It just feels bad.
It’s the feeling of showing up to class to get a test back that you know you bombed. It’s like opening up the sole Christmas gift with your name on it under the tree, and it’s re-gifted lemon-scented bath products.
When I watch my opponent play something like a Teemo deck, and I can tell they have the upper hand, time seems to slow down further. Sometimes, a game of Legends of Runeterra feels like there’s a Terminator marching toward me. I run across a bridge and cut it down, but the opponent’s pronounced advantage is too strong, and they walk slowly through the river after me as I run away and scream.
There’s also nothing wrong with a slow-paced and methodical game. It’s the combination of the two that I’m trying to cope with. If I’m going to lose a lot to figure out the game, let me lose quickly.