With Jagex already having a huge fanbase thanks to its highly popular MMORPG RuneScape still going strong and garnering millions of players, it's no surprise that its new project, Chronicle: RuneScape Legends, has already started gathering a significant amount of chatter in its own right. We had some hands-on time with the game and lead designer James Sweatman talked us through how Chronicle differs from other CCG games.
The first thing that struck us is how beautiful the art style is. The underlying concept is that each battle plays out as if it were a story; the turns are referred to as 'Chapters' and the match plays out on a landscape that emerges from the pages of an open book, known as the Chronicle of Legends. The art style incorporates this magnificently, it's as if the characters and environments were developed with acrylic paints decorated onto models; it could be suggested that this painted aesthetic is a love-letter to table top games such as Warhammer with its figurines and models, something that clearly is a big inspiration for the game's designers. The colours are vibrant and fit brilliantly, and the music is enchanting and calm when it needs to be, but boisterous and exciting during battle. Both the audio and video elements blend seamlessly with the fantasy atmosphere that Chronicle has adopted, and overall it's a very pleasant experience. This, mixed with our existing experience within the world of RuneScape, meant we were invested in Jagex's new game before we'd even played our first card.
Before starting any match you're presented with a selection of "Legends" to pick from. The Legends system is basically choosing which character you want to be, and at the moment there are only four on offer; The Raptor, Linza, Ariane, and Ozan. Some RuneScape fans may recognise these names, with the characters pulled directly from RuneScape lore, and each has their own benefits and costs depending on their respective characteristics. However, Jagex has developed Chronicle in a way that while it may be fun for existing Runescape players to see some of their favourite characters in a new environment, experience with the MMO doesn't mean that they'll have an advantage; Sweatman told us that they're "making a new game, not just a new Runescape game...in order to really enjoy the gameplay it's about knowing the cards and the stats".
The game is primarily for two players going 1v1 online, however the practice mode is there to hone your skills, meanwhile a Campaign mode will be added in time for the final release (it's currently in closed beta). Each match has five Chapters in total, and within each turn a player can play a limited number of cards on the board (usually four or five) that affect their defensive and offensive abilities. At the end of the five Chapters, the two characters will go head-to-head and battle with their remaining stats to see who the winner is (unless, of course, one of them has fallen before the final fight). One of the aspects that makes this new project stick out from the crowd is how the cards within the game are implemented; the primary difference from most CCG games is that the cards you place have a direct effect on you, rather than your opponent. Jagex wanted to make a game based around the idea that rather than developing a character to go on a quest, you develop a quest for your character to journey through, and each Chapter is an entry into a new mini-adventure that you're creating anew every time; it gels well with the concept of battles taking place in a story book.
Despite its unique twist on the genre Chronicle is still a CCG at heart, and the card system is simple and easy to pick up. Cards are split into two categories; Support and Attack. Support cards will provide players with some bonuses in exchange for gold, while Attack cards will present you with an enemy to fight that could provide gold or equipment, however it's advised to think carefully before placing an attack card as some of the stronger ones may offer better rewards, but could also inflict a devastating amount of damage to you, making you weaker when you battle the other player later on. Some cards also contain certain Effects that can raise stats, give extra cards, or cause damage and inconvenience your rival. On some turns you might kill your way through a series of enemies and gain loot and armour, or you might encounter merchants that'll upgrade your health and weapons. It's a situation in which you put your character through trials and tribulations to prepare them for the final battle, all the while using bonus cards to weaken your opponent.
It's certainly different from most other card games, and definitely requires a lot of tactical thinking so you won't get yourself killed before getting to the final duel. Plus, the way it's presented makes the whole thing very immersive, which Jagex definitely wants to expand upon by making the game compatible with VR headsets. We saw an early build of Chronicle running on a HTC Vive, and while there isn't any gameplay attached to the VR demo as yet, the experience was still impressive. You feel like you're in a stone room, one side of a small table with the book/board laid out, various models across it. On the other side of the table was another Legend, ready to play. We were told that later in development opposing Legends will perform gestures and actions depending on what's happening within the game. The sense of place, the level of immersion, was simply brilliant, and virtual reality works excellently with the table-top style format.
Playing the game you get a feel for what makes the newest add-on to the RuneScape universe so different from its peers. The first noticeable thing about Chronicle is how dynamic a battle can be; it's never really certain who's going to win at the start of the fight as its dependant on who plays which cards from their deck, and the tables could very well turn at any point during a match which keeps you focused for the whole contest. When chapters play out it's always tense as this is the first time you see your opponent's cards, so seeing them for the first time may turn out great for you, or it could mean a nasty end to your quest. Matches will usually only take around ten minutes to complete, which makes it quick and fun; a very easy game to pick up for a short burst.
After experiencing the game first hand and having a taste of what it has to offer, Chronicle: RuneScape Legends is shaping up to be an interesting new addition to, not only the RuneScape universe, but also to the CCG genre. It adds new and exciting ideas to the nostalgic fun of classic table-top gaming, while still managing to make itself its own unique entity. You can register for the closed beta now over on the official site. It's definitely one to keep an eye on if you enjoy innovative and tactical strategy games, or if you're a CCG fan looking to turn over a new leaf.