Impressions of Chronicle: Runescape Legends

Forget about any associations you have with the Runescape brand. In fact, let’s just call it Chronicle. It looks like Hearthstone as set in a popup book, and it feels like nothing you’ve ever played – and that’s a good thing. Chronicle is a breath of fresh air.

Looks Aren’t Everything

To address the obvious, the aesthetic similarity to Hearthstone is undeniable. The familiar, light-hearted, high-fantasy style looks like Magic, Jr., but beyond aesthetics, the comparisons dwindle, because Chronicle is not a Magic derivative like Hearthstone.

The gameplay is wholly fresh, for a digital card game anyway. It’s hard to explain, but here’s the gist. Rather than game rounds where I go, then you go, and so on, Chronicle is played in 5 “Chapters” where both players simultaneously and secretly choose up to 4 cards to play. When both players are ready, or when time is up, each player’s first card is resolved, then the next, until all 4 cards have been resolved and a new chapter of simultaneous planning begins. At the end of the final chapter, players bludgeon each other in a battle to death.

The cards that you play in these “Chapters” will seem familiar, but they really aren’t. There are two card types: creatures, and non-creature “supports”. Unlike in Magic or Hearthstone, however, you fight the creatures. Creatures have attack and health, and so do you. When you encounter a creature, you attack it, and if it survives then it strikes you back. This continues until one of you is dead. If you survived, you’ll get to loot the creature for gold, health, armor, weapons, card draws, and other effects. Support cards cost gold (many cost 0 though) and produce a variety of effects, the same sorts of things that killing creatures can provide.

Like other CCGs there are various strategies available in the design space. The equivalent of an aggro deck, for example, strives to kill your opponent before the final duel to the death through the use of creatures and supports that damage the opponent directly – and there’s several good ways to accomplish this that each have their own advantages and disadvantages. A control deck might take a slow-and-steady approach, gaining health and armor over the match to attempt to outlast you in the final duel. Another common strategy is “Grief” – one such popular deck steals your health and attack power, sometimes screwing you over when attack power is stolen at an inopportune moment. This ability to interact directly with the opponent, despite the somewhat solitary feel of the game, has many implications that keep gameplay dynamic and interesting.

My only major gripe with the game other than an understandably shallow card pool (because it’s so new) is that the animations can make the game drag out. On your first few matches, the figurine animations are cutesy and novel. By your 10th game they start getting repetitive. It’s hard to grind ladder when a decent chunk of the time is spent sitting and watching, unable to interact. That said, some card interactions are pretty complex and at those times I appreciate the slower speed.

State of the Union

Chronicle is still new, technically in Open Beta but in terms of quality it feels like a full release. Cards are actively being released, still, right into the core set; cards are being errata’d actively; and I’m not convinced that the 6 heroes we have are the only ones we’ll see. It’s new, but in good hands. The devs are very active in the community and are actually listening to very closely. You can see their presence on Reddit and other forums, daily, and in a very meaningful way.

For example, there has been a lot of discussion lately regarding one of the classes being underpowered. The dev listened and buffed several of their cards. At the same time, they moved some simple cards from common and uncommon into the free, basic set that everyone gets just for playing. They also added 10 new cards directly into the basic set. Altogether this shook up the meta and brought a lot of excitement for new and old players alike.

Right now is an exciting time to get in on the ground floor of many new CCGs. (Save those black lotuses…) Given the polish and flavor of this game, I think Chronicle is one that will be sticking around for a long time. I’ve been trying this and several other CCGs and this is one of only three that I actually consider worthy of long-term play.

The MtG Perspective

Being an MtG-focused blog, I think it’s important to talk about the game, at least a bit, with respect to MtG. MtG players will be familiar with some fundamental aspects such as rarity, deck archetypes, mechanical asymmetry (e.g., Shock vs. Unsummon) between classes, reading opponents, card advantage, damage, and tempo. However the notions of mana and combat are completely reinvented. I could try to elaborate, but it’s really better that you play yourself if you’re genuinely interested.

The concept of priority is always reinvented in the digital CCGs, but in Chronicle it’s basically a mechanical impossibility because players plan and execute actions simultaneously. There is no notion of an instant, because there are no turns. This does feel notably less interactive, overall, compared to MtG, but there are also many ways in which it’s just… different, rather than lesser.

Since the game is played in 5 rounds, there’s no possibility (yet) to drag out the game further and grind. If you love control in MtG, it has no equivalent here. However, aggro very much does have an equivalent, as does tempo. Combo is inescapable in CCGs – Chronicle is no exception. Its mechanical space also allows for incomparable archetypes that are more reminiscent of MOBAs (LOL, DOTA2, etc.) than MtG derivatives.

Outside of gameplay, Chronicle has an important difference from MtG which most other CCGs share – there’s no trading. That’s why they are CCGs and not TCGs. If you like to speculate and play the markets, this isn’t for you, and same goes for most digital card games. However if you resent how difficult it is to acquire playsets of Goyf, Lilly, proper duals, FoW, and so on and so on, then digital CCGs have a lot to offer you.

The Hearthstone Perspective

Hearthstone isn’t our focus at Top Deck Legends, but it is indeed the king of online CCGs (sorry MODO…) and it would be a mistake to not say a little bit about another digital CCG without addressing it with respect to Hearthstone as well.

In the same way that Chronicle is largely incomparable with MtG, given that Hearthstone is an MtG derivative it should come as no surprise that Chronicle is also largely incomparable to Hearthstone. See the MtG perspective above for more on that.

Specifically in Hearthstone, RNG is a very polarizing feature. A lot of players don’t like the level of randomness that Blizzard has been introducing, and players often leave HS to flock to a less-RNG-intensive game. Chronicle has nearly 0 RNG-heavy cards. If you loathe RNG, rejoice and start downloading. However if you like that zaniness, you just will not find it here.

Price Of Entry

Chronicle is 100% free to play! Like all F2P games there’s a grind that equates time to money. Chronicle is decently generous as far as that goes. You are offered a smattering of small quests every day. You will also, eventually, unlock an “epic” quest that gives just enough coinage for a booster pack, but it’s a long quest. Recently they added daily login rewards in the same style as MtG Puzzle Quest. If you login daily, it’s pretty good, but if not it’s lacking.

If you’re a whale like yours truly, the bang for your buck exceeds Hearthstone tremendously. I put in $35 and got over 50 packs of 5 cards each, about twice what Hearthstone would offer, and among them were several mythics (which they call diamonds in Chronicle) that made it worthwhile.

As for getting the cards you actually want, Chronicle rips off Hearthstone’s disenchanting/crafting system but the ratios are waaay off here. It takes so so many resources to acquire a single diamond-rarity card, compared to a single common (aka sapphire), that it seems like a cruel joke. I’d like this to be rectified, but I’m not hopeful. To its credit, higher-rarity cards are, statistically, more plentiful in packs, which sort of balances it out.

Signing Off

Hopefully this has exposed you to a little bit about this relatively-unknown game and given you an idea of whether or not it’s right for you. I will be writing about other CCGs in the near future – Elder Scrolls Legends and Duelyst are up next. If you have any feedback about this article, it would mean a lot to me to hear from you. Please let me know at patrick@topdecklegends.com, or tweet us @topdecklegends. Thanks for reading!