Magic: Legends Hands-On Impressions: An Action-Packed Diablo-Like with Plenty of Depth
If you’d prefer to watch this preview rather than read it (or you just want to check out some gameplay), check out the video above.
On the surface Magic: Legends looks like little more than a Diablo clone. All of the genre staples are here: frantic mouse-clicking to attack, holding Shift so you don’t accidentally click to move during combat, and cycling through abilities in a flurry of flashing effects to mow down countless enemies. If you could distill the essence of top-down action RPGs and slap on a Magic: The Gathering coat of paint, then that’s exactly what we’ve got here.But thankfully there’s more to it than that by way of its deck system.
New Kind of Spellcaster
I got the chance to try out two different classes and two different decks of spells to put the game through its paces. Admittedly the character the developers set me up with wasn’t low-level at all, so the content I tried was easily soloable, but the actual game is designed to be more fun with up to two friends—although you can play alone too if you want.
The only thing your class has a major impact on is your basic free attack ability, some passive, and a couple of your specials. Each class in Magic: Legends is themed after a deck type, or mana color, but you’re free to mix a class with a deck that doesn’t match its mana type and vice versa. So you could play as a Geomancer, which leverages fire magic and traditionally Red abilities, but equip it with a Green deck. Mixing things up and experimenting is a big part of the game’s design since every character can swap classes and decks whenever they want back at hub areas outside of quests.
Characters in Magic: Legends are a bit unique in that there are multiple progression paths and customization arcs to dig into. Not only do you have a list of classes to choose from, which define your combat style and basic attacks, but you’ve also got your character’s equipment and, most crucially, your spell deck.
Magic: Legends – March 2021 Screenshots
To be clear though: in Magic lingo, a “spell” just means an ability. Technically, everything your character does is a “spell” in and of itself. For example, if they were to cast a fireball it would be a sorcery spell and if they summoned a skeletal warrior it would be a creature spell. Just like the collectible card game (CCG) everything in your deck is a spell, it’s just a matter of what type of spell it is.
Building a deck is full of choices and sacrifices. You can fill it with 12 cards in Legends, and depending on the types of cards you pick, your mana pool will be automatically generated and exactly proportional. So if you have 6 blue cards and 6 white cards, your mana pool will be exactly half and half between the two types, for example. Unlike in the CCG though, you don’t “draw” mana during a game, you just gradually recharge it naturally.
The randomized CCG influence in Magic: Legends comes from how your deck is distributed. While playing you only ever have four cards in your “hand” of the 12 total in your deck and they’re randomly drawn and assigned to your hot bar. The exciting thing about this is that it keeps you on your toes—you never really know which card you’re going to get at any given time—and adds an extra layer of strategy since spells will land in different hotkey slots each time.
It creates a lot of opportunity for strategies that are reminiscent of the CCG. For example, when playing Magic: The Gathering, you might hold onto super powerful cards until the right moment to maximize impact, but in Magic: Legends you might instead get them out quickly in hopes that you may draw another soon.There are, essentially, three deck play styles that I noticed during my play session: the creature-heavy summoning deck, the sorcery-focused non-creature deck, and a mixed deck that leverages a bit of summoning and a bit of arcane spellcasting sorcery cards. I gravitated towards that third type for versatility, especially as a solo player. Your class of choice determines this a bit as well. If you opt for a ranged glass cannon damage dealer type of character, then it makes sense to have lots of summoned creatures in your deck that can protect you and soak up damage while you drop big bombs from a distance.
One of the decks I tried was all about synergies. I had an item equipped that increased my percentage chance of summoning a dragon creature every time I cast a spell (note: that just means “used an ability” in this context), so it resulted in a big ol’ dragon spawning in my army every few minutes based on how rapidly I was slinging spells around. Another deck was all about raising corpses and summoning a legion of undead and it really felt like I was controlling a huge horde of creatures at all times. It’s a bit like what my middle school brain imagined when playing Magic: The Gathering in the cafeteria with friends.Leveling up your cards is a bit randomized here too, leaning into that CCG aesthetic even further. Not only can you buy “booster packs” from the shop and rip them open to see what’s inside, but as you play you’ll find spell pages around the world that gradually increase the power and efficiency of your various cards. From what I’ve been told this is intentionally designed to be random to level out progression and prevent people from just paying to upgrade a handful of spells and maxing them out on day one.
Cash Shop Concerns
Some aspects of the microtransactions have me concerned, though. Since Magic: Legends is a free-to-play game, you’ll pick a starting class when you make your character, and then all of the other classes you’ll have to unlock by saving up enough of the in-game currency to buy them. Or, you guessed it, you can just pay with real money to get enough currency to buy them. I also learned that there will eventually be classes that must be purchased with the microtransaction currency exclusively.
However, it’s not all bad. According to developer Cryptic Studios, you will be able to earn the paid microtransaction currency by “trading” your accrued in-game currency with other players on a marketplace. They have a similar system in place with their other Wizards of the Coast-based long-running MMO, Neverwinter. In this way it does mean that you can, technically, get anything in the game if you grind enough for it, but it also means there will be a rampant market full of currency farmers that will charge players with deep pockets to grind out things for them. I’ll be curious to see how that affects the game’s economy in the long run.Most of my curiosity and interest is focused on the tremendous creativity found with the deck system. There is so much depth and potential here that it was impossible to really wrap my head around it all in just an hour of playtime. I
still have a lot of other questions about the game too, such as how quickly you’ll level up and progress through the storylines, whether or not the quests are actually good or if I’ll skip through them just to get back to the clicking faster, and if adding more players will make it actually more fun or just more chaotic.
I don’t have answers to any of those questions yet, but we won’t have to wait much longer since the Open Beta for Magic: Legends kicks off on the Epic Store for PC next week on March 23 ahead of its full launch on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 later this year.
David Jagneaux is a regular contributor to IGN. Talk Magic: The Gathering with him on Twitter at @David_Jagneaux.