Open Beta Preview
With their rich fantasy background, collectible card-games have become fertile ground for MMOs looking to expand into new areas. As a result, it’s unsurprising to see Runescape-developer Jagex enter the fray with a new title of their own. But, far from being a reskin of run-of-the-mill mechanics, Chronicle: Runescape Legends is something entirely different, offering a surprisingly interesting twist on traditional turn-based play.
Instead of taking turns to throw cards at each other, Chronicle has you playing cards against yourself. Enemies and support cards are stitched together to form a quest, which your Legend then encounters sequentially. Defeat monsters, collect equipment, and survive while harassing your opponent if the opportunity arises. Make it through five Chapters of quests, and the legends face off in a duel to the death.
Chronicle’s second twist is in how it presents the action. Instead of a top-down view of a flat board, the game takes place on a pop-up book, with small action figures representing the legends. Not only do you get a tabletop-style view of the action, but your opponent also lurks in the background. The change in perspective makes matches feel as if they’re as much about who you’re playing against, as with the action in front of you. It makes Chronicle feel refreshingly different, above and beyond those core gameplay mechanics. And, if you want to try it for yourself, open beta begins today.
Pick a Card
In what appears to be an attempt to distance itself from other CCGs (cough-Hearthstone), Chronicle has some pretty clunky terminology, so bear with me while I break it down. You play as one of five (currently) Legends, each one with their own particular play style. There’s Ariane, a spellcasting mage who’s heavy on damage; or Linza the Blacksmith, who specialises in collecting and reinforcing weaponry. My personal favourite, however, is the Raptor – a plate-wearing tank that focuses on using heft armour and replenishing health to outlast any opponent.
Matches themselves are fairly straightforward – pick the Legend and deck you want to use (yes, you can build and save custom ones), and enter Casual or Ranked matchmaking. From there, you get dealt a hand of cards, and then choose up to four of them for your Legend to encounter. There’s a bit of planning involved in making sure your Legend has enough attack power to take down an Enemy without being cut to ribbons, and ensuring you have enough gold to spend on the support cards you’ve played.
After that, each Legend progresses through their cards at an equal pace, moving across that pop-up book playboard as they do so. Apart from making sure your own legend is fine and dandy, you’ll also want to keep your eyes on the prize and disrupt your opponent where possible. Things like beefing up the monsters their legend is going to face, or destroying that shiny sword they’ve just built. The reason being, after five quests, both Legends face off in a duel to the death, so the more you can prepare for this the better the outcome. Of course, there’s no harm in stomping your opponent into the ground before then…
If both Legends survive through five rounds – or Chapters – of questing, then they duel each other until one drops dead. This is where all that strategy pays off – whittling down your opponent’s health pool while doing your best to fortify your own, and boosting your attack damage while you’re at it. Be victorious and… well.
Spoils of War
This is the point where the wheels start to come off Chronicle. During the week of Early Access, the rewards for winning seemed to tail off fairly quickly. When I started out, my Legends were gaining XP, levelling up, and unlocking new cards to complete their base collection. I was also offering small handfuls of Copper Coins, which I could put towards booster packs for more cards, but at an incredibly slow rate. If I lost a match, I’d still get some XP, but also a tiny handful of coins that felt like a bit of a slap in the face.
Daily quests are another way of picking up coins, but they’re also slightly dependent on luck. For example, a quest to win three games as the Raptor is great, because he’s my top pick. But a quest to play Ozan the Thief is annoying, as I’m not a fan of that Legend’s play style. There’s also quests around playing particular types of card, which are more of a grind than anything else, but at least allow me to bring in some coin.
On both of these, however, Jagex is changing the reward structure. With a patch that’s literally just gone in, there’s now more incentive to win matches and (crucially) keep playing to win more. A future update will change those daily quests from wining as a particular Legend to just completing Chapters with them. It’s a better incentive to persuade people to queue up, even if it’s with a combination they’re not strong at, in order to get those coins.
As for building out that card collection, Copper Coins are just one way of doing it. Booster packs can also be bought for real money, should you want a shortcut to power. It’s also possible to craft specific cards by recycling surplus extras into Gem Shards, which can then be used to make whatever card you want. Whichever route you use, this is the only way to get your hands on the rarer (and more powerful) cards.
Beyond levelling up your Legends, Chronicle offers some cosmetic-only advancement paths that encourage a little creativity in planning your quests. Skill XP is earned based on your play style: beef up your damage for Attack XP, throw around spells for Magic XP, and augment weapons for Smithing XP. Each track has levels to unlock new badges, and challenges to earn new titles, both of which can be displayed against your nameplate. Personally, I prefer to go with the unassuming ‘Rookie’.
If you’ve read this far, you’ll notice I haven’t really touched on what it feels like to actually play Chronicle, and this is where things really start to break down for me. Because of the structure of play – plan out your quest, wait for it to play through, get dealt more cards – each Chapter is much more outcome driven than moment driven. Because I’m less concerned about individual plays and more worried about the entire quest, the sequence of Legends walking across the board feels almost surplus.
As a result, after a while, the quests start to become boring to watch. Compared to some of the visually rich CCGs available that ratchet up the tension with impressive effects, Chronicle uses plumes of ether, clunky animations, and basic symbols. I might be playing with a small figurine, but if I throw a fireball or shoot a cannon at someone, I want to see that Legend eat it in the face. It might not be an issue now, but this lack of entertainment during the quest sequence could spell trouble, once Chronicle’s quirks lose their novelty.
Don’t get me wrong – the strategy and planning that Chronicle offers is interesting to play. With the new drafting-style Dungeoneering mode that’s just been patched in (and which we’ll bring details of in a further update), that strategy is only going to grow. But beta (even open beta) is still beta, and Jagex’s fledgeling CCG is still a little rough around the edges. If the studio truly hopes for the game to shine, it’s going to need to pour in the polish between now and launch later this year.