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Previews: First Impressions - Muscling in on Hearthstone's Territory

By Lewis Burnell on June 02, 2016

First Impressions - Muscling in on Hearthstone's Territory

Chronicle: Runescape Legends took me by surprise. Few would think there was enough room for a card game to muscle in on Hearthstone’s territory and yet Jagex have somehow managed to do it. Not only have they succeed in creating a game that’s fast, fun and visually appealing but there’s also a surprising amount of depth here, with some clear innovations.

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For anyone unfamiliar with Chronicle: Runescape Legends, players battle across a magical book - based on the Runescape universe - by using their cards to create a quest for their Legend. As you progress across the five chapters of the book, you’ll earn gold which you can then spend to improve your Legend before the final battle against your rival. Unlike in Hearthstone where players take it in turns to play their cards, Chronicle is played simultaneously. Both you and your opponent play your hand together and then watch the adventure unfold. At first it is a little strange, especially if you’re used to traditional card games because where you might typically react to a specific card that has been played on your turn, such a luxury isn’t possible here.

There’s a strange battle of wills as you not only manage your own deck and the adventure you need your Legend to travel, but also how you think your enemy will play and how they’ll then stack their Legend for the final battle. It’s a lot to take in and requires a very different approach to anything I’ve played before, especially when you factor in that certain cards allow you damage your opponent on route.

Chatting to Lead Designer Pete Brisbourne, I was keen to hear whether the audience he and his team were seeking were those who loved Runescape, Hearthstone or a bit of both.

“We really wanted to try and create something that could cater to as many different types of gamers as possible. There’s hope some Runescape players would want to explore Gielinor in a whole new way but it wasn’t a requirement for Chronicle where you had to have been playing Runescape.”

While similarities could inevitably be drawn with Hearthstone when it comes to artstyle or some Legend playstyles (The Raptor is akin to the Warrior) I think it would be doing Chronicle and Jagex a great disservice to lazily compare the two. Cards and a tavern-like atmosphere is probably where the similarities begin and end and that’s a very good thing because Chronicle provides a far more engaging playing space thanks to sitting opposite your opponent.

“Seeing your rival, stood on the other side of the book, was born out of a test with Oculus Rift.” adds Pete. “We’ve actually tried Chronicle on VR and did a quick tech test to see whether we could be inside the Hall of Legend. We thought that maybe we should do this in game and add some greater presence to your opponent or rival, having them behind the book was a nice way of doing that.”

There’s no doubt it has a huge impact on the feel of play and there’s certainly a lot of scope in the future to take the idea further. “It reminds you of the fact that you’re up against a rival and that’s an important part of Chronicle,” says Pete. “That’s the uniqueness of how Chronicle operates. That’s the thing that players first see.”

What I find particularly clever about Chronicle and what took me completely by surprise is the fact that you’re technically playing against yourself, while trying to predict your opponent.

Across each Chapter you can place up to a maximum of 4 cards and as your Legend travels to each card, you’ll have to defeat it. Some cards carry gold which you can then collect and spend on your next turn, while others will bolster your attack or provide you with a weapon or health. Unless you can kill enemies you encounter instantly, you’ll take damage and this - in the long run - can be very bad when you eventually meet your rival. Pete was keen to discuss the tactical depth of the game.

“There’s an anticipation as to how an adventure will play out. One of the important things about Chronicle are our different Legends and more importantly, how they embody different playstyles, he says. “There’s a certain amount of predictability when you go up against, say, Raptor - he’s the tank - so you can start to assume he’ll build health or armor but given your hand of cards, you can factor that into your own play.”

My early adventures saw me sacrifice far too much health against my own cards over the five Chapters and by the time I reached the end, I was always close to death. Eventually I adapted so that while I still play aggressively - securing as much gold and attack damage as possible - ensuring that I’m always ahead of my opponent when it comes to my health pool has proved pivotal. Interestingly, you don’t have to play cards if you don’t have them, or don’t want to. There’s its own tactical element to this as it might allow you to stack stronger cards during later Chapters, or to bait the opposition into thinking what you have is poor.

One thing that becomes instantly apparent is just how fast Chronicle plays and at times, it can be difficult to keep up until you become accustomed to it. It’s also incredibly refreshing to know that games can be over in a matter of minutes. Pete agrees.

“I’ve played lots of card games where you sit down and think it will take ten or fifteen minutes and you end up sitting down for an hour.” he says. “You sometimes can’t predict how long a game will go on for. One of the things we love about Chronicle is the fact we give that definite end point. You can sit down knowing full well that a game will be a maximum of seven minutes or so. We tried different amounts of time [to play] and it has been one of those things that has been refined and tuned. We’ve been very attentive to our player feedback.”

As far as game modes are concerned, there are several on offer. Whether you’re playing against AI across Bronze, Silver and Gold difficulty, against real players or Dungeoneering - there’s plenty to stay occupied with. Typically in any game such as this I’ll avoid offline play entirely as I find facing real players much more engaging and yet I’ve found playing against the computer particularly fun. In some respects I’ve needed to, simply to understand the game and how each Legend plays, but also because there’s a sense of progression and learning. It’s also nice to see that the rewards for a free to play title are fairly generous. A couple of wins secures around 100 Copper Coins and with 1000 needed for free pack of cards, it isn’t too bad. Considering you can amass the currency needed in a little under an hour, it’s a good compromise. If you aren’t willing to wait, you can always purchase Platinum directly from Jagex with two packs of cards costing around £1.99 / $2.99.

There is still lots I haven’t tried in Chronicle including Dungeoneering and its card crafting but as far as first impressions go, I’m very impressed. The game is fast, easy to understand but clearly brimming with depth and there are enough existing Heroes to suit a variety of gameplay tastes (with another on the way).

“It’s going to be really interesting to see how he [Morvran] affects the game. He’ll be arriving in a few months and we’ll see if the meta changes around him and his whole new set of cards,” says Pete. “We know new content is really important to players - they’ve told us that - so it’s on our roadmap to release new content into Chronicle. What form that takes and how it’s done I can’t reveal yet, but the most important thing for us right now is to see how the game operates in its current form.”  

If there’s anything to criticise the game for (and I’m sure you’re all waiting for the flaws) it’s the fact I’d really love an ability to look back over the previous moves made as the pace of the game can sometimes see you miss what has actually happened. I’d also love to be able to communicate to my rival in some way and would happily welcome animated emotes to congratulate or taunt my rival: the viewpoint is ideal for it. There’s also a need for slightly better animations on the Legends as they traverse each Chapter - I’m not entirely convinced having them as a static board game piece - with only minor movement works as well as it could. Seeing them run across the book and having them animated like Battle Chess could have been very special.

With lots of scope going forwards especially when it comes to customisation, new cards and Legends, it’s going to be very exciting to see just how Chronicle shapes up. Here’s hoping we get an iOS and Android version very soon.

Chronicle: Runescape Legends is as a free to play title available now on the Steam store. MMORPG.com would also like to thank Pete Brisbourne for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to us. 

Lewis Burnell / The only game to have distracted Lewis away from MMOs over the last 15 years was Pokemon Red. Despite that blip, Lewis has worked his way through countless games in the genre in search of something that comes close to his much loved and long time dead, Neocron.