Magic: Legends Brings Streamlined Depth to ARPG Formula

Magic: Legends' action RPG action is built on a streamlined of the deckbuilding that makes Magic: The Gathering an enduring classic.
Magic: Legends' action RPG action is built on a streamlined of the deckbuilding that makes Magic: The Gathering an enduring classic. / Photo courtesy of Cryptic Studios/Perfect World Entertainment

Magic: Legends' greatest weakness is also its greatest strength. Its ties to the card game Magic: The Gathering may intimidate some players who have heard tell of that game's notorious (if overblown) complexity. But based on a special preview event held last week, Legends knows exactly how to wrangle all that noise — legions of interlocking mechanics and a sprawling lore — into an immediately gripping action RPG experience.

Developed by Cryptic Studios and published by Perfect World, Legends puts players in the shoes of a planeswalker, one of a special breed of powerful wizards. Planeswalkers are uniquely capable of traveling throughout the multiverse, allowing them to hop from world to world, explore, cast spells, recruit allies, and fight baddies.

A gameplay screenshot of the jungle of Tazeem, one of Magic: Legends many worlds.
The Greenwarden can be summoned by players in addition to being a PVE mob. / Photo courtesy of Cryptic Studios/Perfect World Entertainment

Planeswalkers come in all shapes and sizes, but Legends distills the archetypes to five playable classes: the Necromancer, the Sanctifier, the Geomancer, the Mind Mage and the Beastcaller. We played first as the Necromancer, capable of raising skeletons and melting minions down into power, then later as the Sanctifier, who invokes light magic both to smite enemies and to call for angelic aid.

But these classes are just the start of Legends' gameplay customization options. Rather than limit players to a single expression of magic based on their class, Legends incorporates a streamlined version of the deckbuilding that makes its card game cousin such a mainstay. Players choose up to 12 spells for their decks, and they aren't constrained by their choice of class. Our Necromancer, for example, used a pre-built deck full of goblin summons, lightning attacks and party buffs.

This is where Legends opens up. Spells play off one another and off your chosen class's base abilities, creating dizzying and tantalizing possibility. While out on missions, four spells in a player's deck appear in four slots on screen. Each slot is bound to a different key or button. When the player casts the spell in a slot, it's replaced by another spell, chosen at random. This forces the player to think on their feet, making do with what they have or burning through spells as quickly as they can to get to the one they most need. Spells cost mana to cast, and that mana regenerates over time during combat.

Merfolk leader Noyan Dar standing in a swampy area of Tazeem in a Magic : Legends gameplay screenshot.
Noyan Dar served as a boss in our demo. He's one of many familiar Magic: The Gathering characters that appear in-game. / Photo courtesy of Cryptic Studios/Perfect World Entertainment

There's also equipment, runes and more to customize in the pursuit of the perfect planeswalker. Like any good games-as-service entry, Legends will offer both a battle pass and microtransactions for its cosmetic customization options, but power won't be for sale.

Although Legends will feature both PVP and PVE modes, our demo focused on two of the PVE modes that will appear in the game. The first was a story-focused jaunt through Tazeem, a lush jungle continent and one of the game's many (and we do mean many) distinct locales. The story characters are a mix of new faces and old favorites from Magic's expansive cast (Cryptic says Magic owners Wizards of the Coast were closely involved in vetting the game's lore). Mobs rush out of the woodwork to attack the player, who then spell casts them into oblivion. Many of those mobs are also available as spells, letting the player integrate them into their own decks.

A screenshot of Magic: Legends' second PVE mode, played in the haunted locale of Gavony.
Magic: Legends can be played with keyboard and mouse or with controller, and the game's UI shifts according to the player's input. / Photo courtesy of Cryptic Studios/Perfect World Entertainment

The second PVE mode tasks players with protecting magical objectives in a haunted combination crypt-and-science lab as waves of enemies swarm. This mode seemed more geared toward competing for a high score than toward advancing a story, and Cryptic plans eventually to add leaderboard functionality.

Legends isn't without its hitches. Without intimate familiarity with one's deck, spellcasting can lose the strategic element and devolve into a frantic crapshoot. Occasional bugs still mar the experience. But the foundation is strong, and poised to delight players both old and new to the world of Magic.

Magic: Legends enters free-to-play open beta March 23.