Legends of Norrath, An In-Depth Review

8.8 TCG RATING
Gameplay: 9/10
Sounds: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10

One of the deepest, richest digital TCGs in existence. | Unusual and inventive mechanics.

Steep learning curve due to complexity. | Slightly dated interface.

PC

Free to play, with in-game purchases.

September 5,2007

English, French, German

Legends of Norrath is a digital trading card game set in the fantasy world of Norrath from the MMO role-playing games EverQuest I and II. It focuses on a traditional trading card game design with lots of player interaction and diverse strategies, and even includes multiple victory conditions so that there are different paths to winning each game.

The game first came out in 2007 and has been growing from strength to strength with each new card set release, now totaling over 15 expansions. There’s a lot of cards to discover and build with, but is Legends of Norrath worth your time? Read on to find out…

combat2

A typical view of the battlefield in an active match. One great thing about the game is the way you can vary the sizes of cards and the scale at which everything is visible. I like the cards in my hand to be larger, so I have that setting switched on, but the game caters for however you find it easiest to view the battlefield.

Gameplay

Legends of Norrath has a somewhat complicated rule set, and I couldn’t do it justice by attempting to explain the entire system to you. Rather, I’ll attempt to give you a general sense of gameplay and some of the elements involved. The game’s design is very much a traditional trading card game which just happens to be being played digitally, rather than the more recent games that utilize the digital space to come up with effects that would be difficult or impossible to carry out with physical cards.

Players must bring at least a 50-card deck, as well as a separate avatar and Quest Pile (used for questing, explained later). Each avatar is a character card that has attack, defense, health, damage and other effects. A deck will be made up of these card types: Units, Abilities, Items, and Tactics.

The battlefield is split into two sides. These are considered separate battlefields for the purposes of combat and questing. Each side belongs to one of the players where the Quest cards are concerned, and if a Quest is completed, it will be replaced by the next one. There are three ways to win: reducing an enemy avatar to zero health, completing 4 Quests, or an opponent running out of cards in their deck.

combat5

It takes some time getting used to thinking about the battlefield as split in two, as you’ll have to think a bit harder about where best to send your units and delegate your resources. Nevertheless, I’ve come to love the symmetry of it and the strategic choices it requires.

Questing requires playing Ability cards onto your avatar’s Ability slots in the hopes of using them next turn towards the Quest phase. Ability cards have a “level” value which adds points to the total level required by a Quest to complete it. The Quests require higher values the more you complete, so they get tougher. Quests and Abilities have their own rewards and effects that can alter the course of the game, too.

Items are equipped to the Avatar and help with combat, defense, and other situations. Avatars can be involved in combat as an attacker or defender as well, but at the cost of exhausting them and most likely preventing them from attempting to Quest next turn (which happens before cards are refreshed).

Combat is an unusual system whereby you exhaust the characters you want to attack, and the opponent has to exceed their attack total by exhausting units to defend with their shield values. The winner deals one damage to a unit on the losing side, which the loser assigns, but the attacker can exhaust an extra unit to add its damage to the damage total. There is a constant back-and-forth with exhausting units and leaving them to defend next turn. Units can also attack the turn they come into play, and the pace of the game is much faster as a result.

The mechanics are a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the best I can do in giving you an idea of how it plays. The game is incredibly strategic and “thinky”, requiring careful delegation of resources, cautious attacks and defends, and a lot of foresight. There is very little randomness in this game, so everything comes down to your deck construction skills and your ability to play effectively. It’s a difficult game which can snowball quickly if you make any wrong moves, but the sense of satisfaction when you are victorious in this game is one of the best feelings I’ve got from any TCG — but it’s not for mere dabblers or the faint of heart.

combat1

Combat takes a while to wrap your head around, but once you understand the strategy of it, it’s refreshingly deep and complex compared to today’s oversimplified combat systems.

Modes and Features

Legends of Norrath has one of the best Tutorials I’ve ever used, but it is quite lengthy because of all the elements to the game that you need to learn. It breaks it up over 11 separate encounters, with step-by-step plays to teach you each piece of the larger puzzle. It’s easy enough to learn, but takes time to wrap your head around how it all fits together.

The game client itself focuses on being a digital space in which to play a traditional TCG, with a focus on PvP (player versus player) games — this means there are limited ways in playing the game on your own, but you do have some options. The Scenarios allow you to play through some crafted AI encounters with special rewards for defeating them at different difficulty levels and with different classes, from unique cards to rare foil versions. These get quite difficult and are challenging — I think it would be near impossible to complete them all with the game’s free starter deck alone, so you’re likely going to need to get some cards or another pre-constructed deck to help you with this.

scenario-select

While not very pretty to look at, I appreciate the game’s transparency by being able to look at each Scenario that is ahead in the campaign. I also like that there are graded difficulty levels to attempt with increasing rewards, which makes them more replayable.

You can play AI matches at will, called Skirmishes, and you can choose to fight against the Fighter, Mage, Priest and Scout archetypes. Nothing too special here, but a great way to test new deck builds. Beyond that, you’re going to be looking for the Casual Games which lets you challenge other players one to one, or the Tournaments mode where you’ll find various kinds of constructed and draft tournaments, for an entry fee.

You can also trade cards with other players in the player-driven market, which is what makes this a TCG rather than just a CCG. The shop will take you to the game’s website in a small browser window where decks and boosters are available there for prices similar to what you’d expect for a physical TCG, following the Magic: the Gathering Online model of costing the digital products at the same price as the physical ones. So be prepared to pay a premium for card decks and booster packs in this game, as it’s not like more modern games that have a viable free-to-play model built into their distribution model.

Another neat feature is the player profile, which sees you gaining XP and leveling up as you complete in-game achievements like defeating certain scenarios, beating opponents with specific objectives, etc. Higher player profile levels give a higher percentage to earn loot, which helps in the Everquest MMORPGs that the game is linked to. It’s not overly necessary, but it’s a nice touch to get a little achievement and XP notification pop up while you’re playing a match.

avatar-creation1

The avatar creation feature is one of the game’s greatest delights when discovering it for the first time. It offers a little taste of card customization inside a fairly traditional, TCG that uses unchanging cards and forces you to think a bit more about what avatar will serve your deck the best.

Deckbuilding and Strategy

Each deck requires an Avatar, which is a character card that represents the player in-game. There are a number of basic avatar cards that you can include, and there are some chase rares as well, but one of the coolest features is the ability to design your own avatar card to go in any deck. You’ll pick the art, special ability, and starting stats, before the game asks you questions about your character’s “personality” which modifies their stats slightly even further. You’ll end up with a uniquely named, one-of-a-kind avatar card to go into any deck. This is definitely one of my favorite things about deckbuilding in this game.

Other than that, the usual deckbuilding requirements are in place here for a traditional TCG: at least 50 cards, but no maximum amount, and no more than 4 copies of any particular card. You’ll have to match archetype-specific cards with your avatar’s archetype, but are otherwise free to mix and match most cards.

Strategy is difficult to talk about in this game because there is such a wide range of deck types and gameplay styles to go for. This is in part due to the many moving pieces in the game’s system, which gives players a lot of chances at focusing in on a particular aspect. Do you really enjoy the victory condition of questing? There are decks that help you push ahead on questing while keeping the opponent’s units at bay. More interested in combat? You can build heavy combat-focused decks to try and bring down their avatar fast and early, or later on after slowly controlling the early game.

For fans of control, there are also control decks that manipulate, exhaust, and generally terrorize your opponent into submission. I love just how many ways there are to tailor your approach to this game; you’ll be exploring so many combinations and strategies along the way as you explore the depths of Legends of Norrath‘s many expansions.

deck-editing

The game provides you with a free starter deck that is well-rounded in its aims, attempting both Quest mastery and enough units and combat shenanigans to be able to hold your ground no matter the situation. It’s a great deck to learn how to “think” around all aspects of the game’s mechanics.

Final Thoughts

Legends of Norrath really warms the bottom of my heart. It’s a TCG from an era gone by, when “complex” was not a dirty word in game design. These days, games have been increasingly simplified in their gameplay, mechanics, and player interaction. This has been mostly in order to give a fast-paced, video game-like experience that is suitable for mobile / tablet gaming, or provide simpler, short-lived bursts of gaming due to our increasingly busy lives where time is a premium. However, something has been lost in translation, and this game sharply reminds me of that fact. Strategic depth and yes, complexity, have been sacrificed on the altar of instant gratification.

Games like this are a niche within a niche, because not everyone wants to have to learn a bunch of new mechanics that are somewhat unfamiliar where the strategy takes time to wrap your head around. Further, the prices of cards are more like a physical TCG and so may be a bit steep for people used to cheaper digital TCGs. Yet, for those who are willing to sit down and give it a go, this game will bring back all kinds of feelings of nostalgia for the way TCGs used to be many years ago before the digital revolution changed the genre forever.

It’s huge, it’s unwieldy, there are way too many card sets to catch up on… and yet its one of the most fascinating TCGs I’ve ever played. The core game’s design and mechanics alone are a beautiful thing to behold, and even more exciting to play with. That’s why I deeply love Legends of Norrath, despite its flaws of a slightly dated and clunky interface and pricey card packs. To play this game is to experience a rare thing: a perfectly designed TCG at its core. This is one for the genre’s hardcore fans, and you won’t be disappointed.

For more screenshots, click here.

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Zac Phoenix
Author: Zac Phoenix View all posts by
Zac Phoenix graduated with First Class Honors in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics and has been playing strategy card games since childhood. He has a keen interest in the underlying mechanics and player interactions of trading card games, as well as tabletop game design in the digital space. He also designs card games in his spare time.
  • Taishi

    I donno where you heard that from Michael, the game is still live

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