Legends of Runeterra has quietly become Riot’s best game

Lloyd Coombes

League of Legends and Valorant are great and all, but Legends of Runeterra deserves a lot more love. Here’s why.

Riot Games may have only laid claim to a single release for its first few years, but it’d be fair to say that League of Legends was a hell of a game to start with. In recent years, though, the developer has released the likes of Teamfight Tactics and Valorant, while also publishing titles like Ruined King and Hextech Mayhem.

And yet, there’s one game that doesn’t get the plaudits it deserves, and that’s Legends of Runeterra. A cursory glance at Google brings up the following “People also ask” questions — “do people still play Legends of Runeterra?” as well as “is Legends of Runeterra a success?” Yikes. The good news is that I’m going to answer those questions, and more, right here but telling you that you really should download it.

The best card battler around

Legends of Runeterra screenshot showing Garen's Judgement ability
League fans will love the faithfulness of LoR’s cards.

Between the likes of Magic The Gathering Arena, Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel, Pokemon Trading Card Game Online, and, of course, Hearthstone, there’s no shortage of CCG games on PC and mobile. What makes Legends of Runeterra different is twofold.

For one, the game’s presentation is absolutely perfect. Cards clash with an enjoyable weightiness, iconic Champions are bought to life in ways that lean on their MOBA heritage, and the game goes out of its way to provide helpful ways to present all of its information — right-clicking a card will give you the chance to highlight keywords, see all cards linked to that card, and give you some stunning expanded artwork. You simply won’t find a better-looking card game in 2022.

Of course, looks can only get you so far, but Legends of Runeterra stands apart from its rivals with a more conversational turn system; each turn, only one player can attack, but you have the chance to immediately counter an opponent’s move since you can play as many cards as they do, provided you have the Mana. It’s a system that sidesteps the boredom of watching an opponent dig through their hand and lets you blow things up, power up your cards, or set them up for a counter-attack, all before it’s technically “your turn” to attack.

As with League of Legends, Legends of Runeterra excels at making each of its growing cast of Champions feel distinct. While initial mainstays like Garen now look a little pedestrian (he’s just as tanky here as he is in the MOBA), new arrivals like Illaoi grow more powerful as she creates huge tentacles that can tear enemies apart. Once you hit a Champion’s criteria, they’ll “level up” to a more powerful card, and making use of their abilities can really turn the tide of a match.

Walk the Path of Champions

Legends of Runeterra screenshot showing Jinx's ability
Yes, that is a very big rocket courtesy of Jinx.

Aside from card stats, Champions and units can carry Keywords. Some are simple to grasp, like Elusive, which means a card can’t be blocked unless the opponent has an Elusive card of their own. Others, like Fury, power cards up after they’ve destroyed an enemy. It doesn’t take long to start to spot synergies between Champions and Keywords, though; Miss Fortune can deal damage to the enemy’s Nexus when attacking, but pair her with a card with the Scout Keyword that can attack twice per turn, and you’ll chip away at your opponent’s health very quickly indeed.

While Legends of Runeterra started with PvP battles, AI decks to practice against, and a series of reward tracks, the Path of Champions mode added a full PvE component complete with light story elements and a rogue-like structure. Recently overhauled as part of the Worldwalker expansion, it’s a perfect place to test out cards before you earn them yourself, while also letting players earn additional rewards for their own decks.

Players move through encounters that range from battles with different modifiers, collecting new cards or upgrading existing ones, and adding new powers to their “main” Champion. It’s a great learning tool for deck synergies, and once you’ve built a deck that can burn through boss battles it’s a great feeling. Each encounter can be completed in just a few minutes, making it an ideal way to drop in and drop out and feel rewarded for your time.

Value proposition

Legends of Runeterra screenshot showing a series of spells
If this all looks complex, then LoR offers an excellent tutorial.

I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking “Lloyd, this all sounds great, but I don’t want to have to pay for card packs” and you’d be right to expect that. After all, that’s how it’s done almost everywhere else.

Perhaps the best part of Legends of Runeterra, though, is that you can earn any card for free. Sure, it may take a while, but it’s possible. In fact, there are no purchasable card packs. Instead, you can break down duplicates into Shards to spend on the cards you want, but you’ll also earn Wildcards just by playing that can be exchanged for any card in that category. So if you’re desperate for Jhin to build a deck around him, you can spend the shards, or spend a Champion Wildcard to get him instantly.

Of course, there are event passes you can buy, and personalization items that will undoubtedly be ideal for League fans, but there’s even a weekly “Vault” that drops rewards every Thursday based on how much you’ve been playing. Complete a few daily quests for the week, and you’ll be surprised by how much you can earn. It’s a far cry from buying blind packs that are phased out every few seasons as in other titles.

Through collecting these cards, you’ll also gain a better understanding of the world of Runeterra, too. That’s great for League fans, but even non-League fans that were hooked by Arcane will find plenty of touchpoints.

So, to return to those initial questions, are people still playing Legends of Runeterra? They certainly are, and the community around the game is great for deckbuilding advice, with regular tournaments and genuine excitement about its latest expansion. Is Legends of Runeterra a success? That depends on Riot’s own metrics, but I’ve not been able to stop playing for around two years now and I can’t see myself stopping anytime soon, and it’s definitely worth checking out.