'Magic: Legends' Is Fun, but Really Wants Your Money

It's rough, but not because it's in beta

Key Takeaways

  • The Magic: The Gathering multiverse makes a surprisingly natural setting for a smash-and-grab dungeon crawler.
  • Legends is in rough shape right now. Yeah, it's in beta, but it's making a lot of the usual 'freemium' mistakes.
  • Its combat system is tricky but interesting, thanks to how it handles card draw.
The cover art for Magic: Legends

Cryptic Studios

Magic: Legends has potential as a solid free-to-play action RPG, but it ends up feeling like a particularly cash-hungry mobile game.

I went into the open beta for Legends cold, knowing little other than that it existed. I was half-expecting a more traditional MMORPG, World of Warcraft-style, but instead, I found myself beating up fungus monsters with an ax in the finest Diablo/Path of Exile tradition.

It's a surprisingly natural fit for the Magic: The Gathering universe, where you can summon creatures and cast spells to mow down an assortment of Magic's trademark monsters.

It is an open beta, so I'm trying to be charitable, but Legends makes it hard. The graphics and framerate could use some work, but more importantly, it has a lot of cash sinks built right into its systems.

When a game studio has visibly put more work into its in-app shop than its opening cinematic, you know there's something special going on behind the scenes.

"It feels like it’s a lot more concerned with getting your money than your time."

Luck of the Draw

Both players and signature characters in Magic are called "planeswalkers," dimension-traveling magic-users endowed with the ability to cast spells and summon monsters.

In Legends, you're a brand-new planeswalker who leaves your home one day and ends up in the middle of a fight between two rival wizards, one of whom gives you a quick-and-dirty lesson on what you need to know.

Your first big adventure as a planeswalker is a violent grand tour through the Magic multiverse.

You're initially equipped with five character classes based on the five types of mana in Magic—black, white, red, blue, and green—and can switch between them in-game without having to roll up a brand-new character.

Screenshot from Magic: Legends.

Cryptic Studios

There's a lot here to like. There's a hypnotic quality to a good hack-and-slash action RPG, and Legends has a nice flow to it from the start. You start with a couple of go-to skills on short recharge timers and a permanent companion pet, but the heart of Legends, like Magic, is in its cards.

You get new spell cards as rewards from quests and dungeons, which are then dealt to you randomly. Whenever you use a card, a new one's drawn for you.

You're incentivized to constantly be casting spells rather than having to wait around clicking monsters until you can do something more exciting. Even very early in the game, it makes Legends' combat furious, flashy, and entertaining.

Card Sharp

The bones of a decent free-to-play action RPG are here. Legends is made by Cryptic Studios, the California-based developer that made City of Heroes and Neverwinter, so it's got a solid pedigree.

I'm particularly impressed by how fast the game is to learn; you juggle a lot in combat in Legends, from your mana pool to creature points to active summons. It could’ve been a UI nightmare, but it’s easy to keep track of everything.

However, Legends is in rough shape at the time of writing. Most of the issues I have with it come down to the typical open-beta jank.

It’s not a finished game, so I have to remember not to get annoyed when the framerate drops into single digits or the presence of other players creates massive lag.

Playing by myself, I didn’t notice too many issues with performance. Once I tried a dungeon, though, my machine immediately started to chug under the weight of three wizards’ worth of summoned monsters and flashy spells.

Screenshot from Magic Legends.

Cryptic Studios

I’d go so far as to wonder how well Legends will run on lower-end computers because the entire premise of the game is based around having a lot happening onscreen at any given time.

The most important disappointment is how Legends has adopted many of the most obnoxious monetization habits of free-to-play games.

There's already a lot of soft pressure to spend real money built into Legends, even in its open beta, with a battle pass, virtual "booster packs," paid cosmetic options, and 12 different in-game currencies.

The actual game’s still in beta and still needs a lot of polish, but the cash shop is ready to accept customers. It’s an unfortunate display of design priorities.

When Magic: Legends is firing on all cylinders, it’s entertaining. It’s one of those games that tries to make you feel like a force of nature, behind your legions of summoned monsters and your ability to wipe out entire area codes, and in that, it succeeds.

I can’t entirely hate any game that lets me solve problems by dropping half a ton of angry forest monster on them. It needs several coats of polish, though, and it feels like it’s a lot more concerned with getting your money than your time.

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