When talking about digital collectible card games (CCGs) nowadays, it’s practically guaranteed that four words will come up at least once: “it’s like Hearthstone, but…” – something that developers Jagex must have had at the forefront of their minds when creating their own CCG, Chronicle: RuneScape Legends. So, naturally, they’ve gone and made something completely different.
Okay, not “completely” different. Chronicle still has collectible cards – this is a CCG, after all – and you get them by playing games against AI or real people in practice or ranked challenge matches. You can still buy and open packs of cards – again, CCG – and you can break down extra cards that you don’t need in order to generate resources to create ones you do. In terms of design, the game feels very Hearthstone-y – somewhat cartoony, blocky graphics and the concept that the pieces for the game are all included in a little box or, in this case, a book that you open to play. Finally, some of the UI elements seem lifted practically wholesale from Blizzard’s pack-leading example of modern-day card games. So far, so not completely different.
The big – and incredibly important – differences come when you actually start playing the game. As opposed to facing off against your opponent and playing cards to do damage directly to them or their minions, á la Hearthstone, in Chronicle you’re using your hand of cards to generate a quest through which your hero will travel, losing and gaining health, power and money, so that, when you do finally meet up with your opponent’s hero, you’re strong enough to take them down (and not get taken down yourself).
It’s a compelling and incredibly interesting way to play that seems to take more from a great board game than it does from a card game. In fact, once you get past the cards, Chronicle does seem much more board-like: you play across five different scenes in the course of a match, each with several encounter points at which you’ll play your cards, and you watch as your hero – looking very like a miniature from Warhammer or Descent – steps up to them and beats them or buys them to progress. Ultimately, if you’ve managed to make it through all five chapters without killing yourself through gross card mismanagement, you’ll sit back and watch as the two competing heroes go at it until one is defeated and the other emerges victorious.
In a way, Chronicle seems to be a sort of PvE Manager, where you dictate the encounters that your hero is going to be involved in to prepare them for the battle to come, and I can honestly say that it’s a heck of a lot of fun. You’re essentially playing against yourself for the majority of the game – though there are cards that let you beat on your opponent throughout – and, as a result, it’s probably going to be your fault if you fail. Clever decision-making in regards to what card to play next is something of a staple in any card game but, in Chronicle: RuneScape Legends, it’s absolutely necessary for you to succeed as there are no reactionary moves: you do what you do with little or no recourse to your enemy’s decisions. The cards that you play will be recognisable to just about anyone who’s ever seen a CCG but with some subtle differences. Each card in Chronicle will cost you something, generally health or gold as opposed to some universal resource, but there are cards that you’ll need to sacrifice armour or any held weapons in order to use, too. Fortunately, each card will give you something in return: allies will often cost a few gold but will give gifts of weapons, armour or special abilities while enemies will require that you beat them – and may take some health from you if you can’t finish them in one hit – but give gold, health and more in return.
Similarly to the heroes in Hearthstone, you’ll be picking from one of a number of the titular legends to play each game with and they each have a number of role-specific cards that help you to understand exactly how these legends should be played. However, it’s not immediately obvious and it can take a fair number of games before you unlock the more potent cards for that legend. Fortunately, for new players looking to get into the game, Chronicle‘s pacing is actually quite fast and Jagex have taken Blizzard’s simplistic gameplay approach and pushed it yet another step further, meaning that it’s incredibly quick and easy to get into and play a game of Chronicle: RuneScape Legends. Picking cards and issuing orders is a single-click affair: there’s no dragging or selecting minions to attack, either, just choose a card, click on it and it’ll be placed on the next available board marker. Don’t like the placement? Click it again and the card will return to your hand – simple! Once you and your opponent have placed all their cards for this chapter, click the ‘Play’ button and let your legend do the rest – there’s no more input from the player but to sit and watch as the action unfolds.
Once you’ve gotten past the learning stages, though, that same simplicity is one of the biggest downsides in an otherwise excellent game. Interactivity with Chronicle is pretty limited: once you’ve set out your encounters, there’s nothing more for you to do – no instants to play, no wonderful “a-ha!” moments as you grab the right card in the nick of time, no way to save yourself from the stupid situation you’re, unwillingly, putting your legend in. Being blissfully unaware of your opponent’s moves means that you’re never able to plan for a particular outcome – the most you can do is play the cards you think you’ll get the most out of and hope for the best. The lack of interactivity really makes itself known at the end of a match: if you make it through all five chapters, your legend will be entered in a last head-to-head battle against your opponent’s. Unfortunately, there’s no way to intervene in the fight so all you can do is sit back and watch the two duke it out medieval-style. The worst part of this is that, if you possess even a fraction of a five-year-old’s maths knowledge, you’re going to be able to work out who will win before the two even begin going at it, making the whole thing pretty redundant. Not only that, but once a battle is joined, you’re watching for the duration and will swiftly come to the same conclusion that I did: Chronicle is in serious need of a “skip” button.
Design-wise, Chronicle: RuneScape Legends is, typically, rather cartoony. That’s typical for CCGs as a whole, though – not just those you might find confined to your PC, tablet or smartphone – so it’s almost to be expected. However, Chronicle‘s graphics do leave a little to be desired: they’re just a tad too blocky and there were still plenty of graphical glitches occurring during my playthrough. The boards are well designed and add a necessary flair to the flow of the game – you’re going to be looking at them a lot while your legend takes on the challenges that you’ve set for them so they need to be nice – but it’s all so much window-dressing around the actual gameplay. Unfortunately, while the cards that you play do burn up and change into little models for your legend to interact with, the constant barrage of animations and effects means that you’re sometimes not going to be in a position to admire them. The menus and deck-builder are nice and the book concept (borrowing heavily from Hearthstone‘s game box) ties everything together with a unifying theme that makes it all fit.
I’ve used the obvious comparison a few times more than I would have liked during the course of this review but I’d like to point out that, while Chronicle: RuneScape Legends does seem, at times, like a bit of a Hearthstone clone, that’s a) not strictly true: Chronicle‘s gameplay owes nothing to Hearthstone and manages to be at once entertaining and tactically engaging without being overly complex and b) not a bad thing. Hearthstone is an amazing CCG; it made a lot of design leaps and innovations that other digital card games had never made and its rise has been swifter than that of most other games. Jagex have simply paid homage to the amazing design work done by Blizzard and incorporated the lessons learned into their own game, making Chronicle not just fun but good-looking, easy to play and incredibly addicting.
Another thing Jagex borrowed from Hearthstone was its cost: Chronicle: RuneScape Legends is absolutely free (unless you want to drop some real cash on a few card packs, that is – your choice) so there’s nothing stopping you from going out right now and finding out why you’ve definitely got room for another CCG in your life – you’ll be glad you did.