Legends of Runeterra’s Progression System Is Free-To-Play Done Right

Arcane has changed my gay little life. While it delivered one of the finest sapphic pairings in animation history, a month ago I also would have never dreamed of being entranced by Legends of Runeterra, a free-to-play digital card game that takes place in the League of Legends universe. It’s a clear riff on the likes of Magic The Gathering and Hearthstone, yet keeps newcomers in mind like very few in the genre manage to do.

You don’t need to have an immense knowledge of mana, abilities, and other such meta concepts to compete against other players or delve into its myriad modes. Runeterra takes your hand and slowly guides you through each and every mechanic until you’re ready to stand on your own. When the dust clears it doesn’t matter if you’d rather compete against AI opponents or real people, since the game’s progression system allows for a level of flexibility I never would have expected from a free-to-play card game based on a toxic MOBA.

Like many, I developed an increased fascination with the League universe after watching Arcane, the show acting as a catalyst to Hextech Mayhem, The Ruined King, and now Legends of Runeterra. Basically I was enamoured by everything that isn’t the game that sits at the centre of it all, because who has time for that shit? After so many years building a bold and ambitious universe within the confines of a single genre, Riot Games has realised the potential it holds in its hands, and seeing that prosper is so rewarding.

As for Runeterra, I dabbled with it during a pre-reveal press event back in 2019, when the game was still finding its feet and figuring out how it would compete against the likes of Hearthstone. Its aesthetic is far more alluring, and even though it strips a number of mechanical ideas from its contemporaries, there’s more than enough innovation in here for Riot’s creation to stand out amongst the pack. It’s wonderful, and a recent seasonal event pieced together to promote the release of Arcane had me coming back each and every day.

Progress Day is a big deal in the world of League, and Runeterra celebrated this milestone with a bespoke battle pass filled with gorgeous emotes, card backs, chests, packs, and more that could be earned by completing regular challenges and participating in game modes that actively encourage regular bouts of experimentation. The rewards don’t feel like needless cosmetics – even if that’s what they are in many cases – since they curate the overall experience in a way that feels cutesy and personal. My investment resulted in these spoils, and now I can show them off to rival players or just feel fabulous as a result.

Arcane also saw Runeterra lean heavily into the characters of Vi, Caitlyn, Jinx, Ekko, and Jayce – each of these heroes receiving distinct card designs and items that could be earned if you decided to throw in a few pennies and grind through the premium battle pass. My personality is awfully addictive, which is why I’ve stepped away from games like this in the past, but Runeterra offers generous levels of experience that don’t feel built to take advantage of a player’s mentality. I can stop whenever I want, and that’s a relief as someone who would pour loads of money into things and not even know it.

Sure, some of the normal cosmetic bundles and decks are rather expensive, but no more than a skin in Fortnite or Apex Legends. You pay for things that have no demonstrable impact on gameplay, since with the right deck and cards you can emerge victorious in the large majority of situations. Unless you’re me, since I’m rubbish. Outside of this, progression also surfaces in a distinct trail of rewards dedicated to each region, meaning you earn themed cards, prismatics, and similar rewards across battle pass-esque tiers you can switch between whenever you like. Find a specific playstyle that fits you and pour all of your time into that, resting easy that valuable grinding sessions won’t be all for nothing.

Legends of Runeterra will likely see me hit a wall in the months to come as I complete the paths of progression I’m most focused on, but regular expansions and champions tease a future that I’m excited to be a part of. I hope the splendour of Arcane’s Progress Day will become regular occurrences in this digital card game since they offer so much, regardless of whether you’re a hardened veteran or a curious newcomer like myself. The Netflix show changed everything for League of Legends, turning a MOBA defined by toxicity and gatekeeping into a fictional world with endless potential, and Runeterra is just a small part of that ambition that still stands to travel so much further.

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