Imagine my surprise when the company behind RuneScape made an entry into the genre that not only innovates, but is genuinely fun, and you can play competitively without spending any money. Chronicle: RuneScape Legends somehow does all of this, despite drawing from the IP that many of us know as the only childhood alternative we had to NeoPets.
Regarding visual style, UI, and out-of-game features, the game seems to take a lot of lessons from Hearthstone -- in much the same way that Hearthstone built on the successes and avoided the failures of online Magic the Gathering. This shows through most in the design direction of Chronicle. The casual observer might even mistake the two at first glance. They share all of the card crafting, ranked matchmaking, deck building and organizational elements that work well in Hearthstone, so the gameplay feels eerily familiar.
However similar the two games look, when navigating the menus and building your decks, the underlying flow of gameplay and mechanics present could not be more different when you start an actual game. Each game of Chronicle is broken into five turns, called “chapters,” where you have four card slots to build your “adventure.” the game revolves around making your character stronger as you progress through the five chapters, and either building your stats faster than your opponent, or hindering your opponent’s progress enough to dispatch them. At the end of the main gameplay phases, you face your opponent in a final battle where you utilize your weapons, stat increases and armor to bludgeon your opponent to death (hopefully faster than they can).
This parallel style, along with the visual presentation, makes the game feel very narrative, and closer to tabletop gaming than your average online card game. Each turn plays out with your miniaturized character progressing through a 3d environment, fighting the monsters, buying the items, and messing with your opponent in the ways you outline with the cards you play, while your opponent does the same simultaneously. They’ve achieved a very strong sense of nostalgia, harkening back to playing pen-and-paper RPGs, or other board games in meat-space, despite the disparity between the two experiences. To date, there’s no other digital card game that plays like it, or pushes those same buttons during play like Chronicle does.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the game is it’s card balance leaning away from rare-heavy decks. A lot of the stock-standard staples will be more than enough to play competitively, without invalidating higher level customization (I’m looking at you, C’thun decks.) Whether this is an intentional design decision or a lack of power creep, it’s a rare thing to find an free-to-play game from an (albeit very large) independent studio that remains competitive without investing money. If you’re looking for diversity and novel concepts in the online card game genre, and can forgive a derivative UI, Chronicle is worth a try.