Thursday, 2 June 2016

Some Thoughts About 'Chronicle: RuneScape Legends', A Week After Launch

Chronicle: RuneScape Legends (just Chronicle, from here, on) is an interesting blend of board and card game developed by Jagex – the development team best known for the long-running RuneScape MMORPG. As someone who has never spent very much time with RuneScape (and, none at all, over the past few years), I'm not really in any position to comment on how, and why, this new game seems to be linked to the RuneScape franchise – but, in the end, it doesn't seem to matter all that much.

Seeming to exist, as it does, as something of a 'game within a game', Chronicle doesn't really seem to be a game overly concerned with developing a deep story-line around its cast of characters. And, that isn't really a bad thing – feeling like more of a stylistic choice, than anything (though, in saying that, I'm also aware that plays of RuneScape could be getting more out of the game, in this regard, than I am).

The context of a game of Chronicle, assuming that such a thing actually matters, seems to place you in the role of your chosen character seated at a table and playing a game on what clearly a magical game-board – one that seems to shift and change, as required (maybe Chronicle is a game that exists within the RuneScape universe?). It's an entertaining set-up, overall. Not only do you get to enjoy the sight of the bright and colourful game-board, but the sight of your opponent seated across from you, during a match, also adds an entertaining element to the game.

Within this game with the game, you take on the role of one of two adventurers (called 'Legends', in the game) in a race to reach some distant goal – each adventuring side-by-side as they attempt to survive the journey while, at the same time, hindering their rival however they can. The cards, therefore, are presented as challenges for your own 'Legend' to overcome, as opposed to obstacles to toss directly at your opponent.

A 'monster' card, for example, will be set in your 'Legend's' path, so that it can be defeated and you can earn whatever reward it has to offer. An 'item' or 'ally' card, similarly, will be presented as another opportunity to earn an advantage, provided that you have enough resources to be able to pay for it. At the same time, you also have a variety of cards that give your provide your own 'Legend' with opportunities to strike out at your opponent, in various ways.

This takes place over five rounds (called 'Chapters') of four cards, each – ending (assuming both 'Legends' actually reach that point) with a final confrontation to determined the ultimate victor.

A single match of Chronicle is, on the surface, fairly straight-forward – but, as with all games of this type, there are multiple layers of complexity to sort through. For one thing, before you even start, you will have to choose one of the five different 'Legends' on offer – and, your choice is going to have a significant impact on the strategy available to you, due to the unique selection of cards available to each. The Raptor, for example, is an armour-clad warrior – and, as such, many of his unique cards will be built around generating armour (which, naturally, makes him much harder to defeat). In many ways, he feels like the most straight-forward of the available options – and, as such, he is probably the best option for a new player (not coincidentally, he is also the 'Legend' I have spent the most time with).

The other 'Legends', also, have their own clearly defined themes. Ozan is a thief, and comes with unique cards that will allow you to steal gold from your opponent – which can then be used to pay for high-value 'support' cards. Ariane is a spell-caster who comes with a variety of different ways to capitalise on the member of cards in your hand, at any given moment. Linza is a blacksmith, with many cards designed around building, and maintaining, weapons that will allow her to deal out increasingly impressive amounts of damage – both to monsters put in her path, and to the rival player. And, Vanescula is a vampire – so, naturally, possesses cards that allow her to steal health from various sources.

On top of that, too, there is also the much broader category of cards that are available to everyone – giving you options to either build on the default theme of your chosen 'Legend', or go for something else, entirely. So, it already feels as though there is an impressive number of options available – which will, of course, only increase as more cards are added, in the future.

Beyond card selection, and the building of your deck, there is also the surprisingly complex nature of the game, itself. With each of the five 'Chapters' that make up a single match playing out in a back-and-forth manner between you and your opponent, when and where you choose to play certain cards can also have a significant impact on the flow of the game.

All of this adds up to a game which can be very entertaining – at least, when things are going well. At other times, it is a game just as likely to prove to be incredibly frustrating, as the constant 'back-and-forth' nature of the game can easily leave you at a significant disadvantage.

In both the 'ranked' and 'casual' PvP game options, for example, you can suddenly find yourself at fairly significant disadvantage simply by virtue of the fact that you are required to choose your deck before being assigned an opponent. With each of the available 'Legends' having their own selection of unique cards, and their own default play-style, there is an element of 'rock, paper, scissors' style balancing in the way that they measure up to each other. This is something that you can learn to account for, though – and, with players experimenting with different types of decks, as more cards become available, it is certain to become less of an issue than it has been, for me, in my time with the game.

One especially frustrating aspect of the game for me, though, comes with the selection of extremely rare cards currently available in the purchasable card packs. It's always difficult to determine exactly how well-balanced a game like this really is, of course, but I'm not entirely convinced that there aren't some balance issues that need to be ironed out. Or, maybe, I'm just a sore loser, and the incredibly effective cards that have been played against me are actually fine. I suppose that's also possible.

As things stand, at the moment, the game's pricing structure also feel incredibly generous. The game features two forms of currency which can be used to by new card packs – one of which can be earned in game, in various ways. Spending real money is the easiest way to get hold of new decks, of course (as it should be, really – since the game needs to make money to survive). But, with a generous selection of options to earn Copper Coins just be playing the game, it is quite possible to earn enough to purchase a new card pack every couple of days, or so – even if you are just playing casually, as I have been. If you're really willing to work at it, it could even be possible to earn a new card pack each day. Beyond that, it's also possible to earn new card packs through the game itself, in various ways. There's even an entire selection of cards which can be crafted in game, using a third type of currency which can also be earned in game.

Whether this is likely to change in the future is an entirely different matter, of course – but, for now, it feels as though the developers are being almost overly generous.

Overall, Chronicle is a game which has clearly tried to do things a little differently, and its efforts seem to have met with success. It is a bright and colourful game which manages to work in an impressive amount of complexity, despite giving the appearance of being simple and straightforward. More importantly, though, it's a game which launched with an incredibly generous 'free-to-play' model – meaning that there is absolutely nothing stopping you from having a closer look at the game, for yourself, it it sounds like something you might enjoy.

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