First Impressions Of Runespell: Overture

By Lewie Procter on July 20th, 2011 at 6:00 pm.


Do you enjoy clicking on things? Here’s a puzzle RPG where you battle not with sword-stabbing or gun-shooting, but instead by card-playing. If you imagine something along the lines of Puzzle Quest, but with a poker/solitaire derived battle system instead of Bejewelled, then you’d have a rough idea of what to expect. But the devil is always in the detail, so please join me and my mouse on an adventure in Runespell: Overture.

Runespell has you taking the role of a cloaked Shapeshifter, suffering from an inconvenient case of both amnesia and a dark mysterious past. The tale of the Shapeshifter rediscovering his identity is the backdrop for the meat of the game, you’ll be spending more time in battles than reading dialogue, but the writing has got a smirk out of me more than once, and it’s all skipable if you ever want to get straight to business.

The quality of the graphics and level of polish in the menus, battles and animation all put the likes of Popcap and the Puzzle Quest games to shame. The map especially shows off the amount of care that has gone into making Runespell always pleasing to look at, where here each bird in the background is individually animated, the snowflakes to the side of the screen fall naturally, and the clouds to the bottom left move around in the wind.

A series of tutorial battles with some grumpy Northerners teach you the basics. You’re presented with two rows of cards, one for you, one for the baddie. You have to arrange your cards into poker hands, such as pairs, full house, runs and flushes. Poker hands turn into attacks, which you and your enemy use to chip away at each others health bars. You take turns, each getting three moves to make, and can move cards from either row into stacks on your side, but once cards are in a stack, they can’t be taken by your opponent. This trailer shows how it works in practice, and the card play is entertaining enough that even without the bigger RPG framework, it would be a nice little timewaster.

On top of the card system is magic. You get a big boost to your rage meter every time you dish out damage to your opponent, and a small boost when you receive damage. You can then use rage to perform magic attack from any power cards you have equipped. Some cards have unlimited uses, with a cooldown after each use, and some cards have a limited number of uses, but can be topped up at traders. Cards I’ve encountered so far offer magic for special attacks, healing and temporary power ups.

All the while, during battle, you have a nice 3D model representing your character in the top left, and one for the baddie on the right. These act out your attacks, so you get to see the Shapeshifter run across the screen to attack your enemy whenever you complete a hand. Power cards too get their own battle animations. It’s really just window dressing, but it’s nice to have.

Possibly it’s because I’m not that good at it, but it does seem to me that very quickly the difficulty jumps up. After finishing the extended intro section, on the first major quest, I encountered a brick wall of difficulty. Well, it was less of a brick wall, more a series of stones on the ground. In a battle with four different haunted stones, I found that it took me many many attempts to be able to beat them all. It seems to me that, by design, there is a large element of random chance about which cards you receive. Possibly just because I’m still early on in the game, and I don’t have many power cards, I’m still more dependant on getting the right card at the right time. So far, my experience has been that if you retry any battle enough enough times, you’ll eventually win with luck of the draw.

I’ve got a few gripes, mind. So far, every single quest has essentially amounted to “Go here, have a fight with whatever is there, then come back”. I’d love to see some quest or minigames which mix up the formula a bit. I’m only a few hours in, so perhaps they’re just saving that stuff for later.

When travelling around the world map, you just click on a destination, and it automatically navigates towards it. Annoyingly, if a town lies on your path, instead of walking straight past it to the destination you already selected, you automatically enter the town. To get out, you have to pick “Leave” from the menu, and then pick your destination again. It’s a minor inconvenience, but it does make navigating long distances across the map a bit more cumbersome.

It hasn’t got me hooked, playing “just one more go” way past 3am like Puzzle Quest, just yet, but I am enjoying Runespell: Overture. To be seriously engaging for any extended time period, I’m going to hope to see either more variety in the quests, or interesting things to do outside of quests, and perhaps they will introduce a few more strategic elements into the battle system.

Runespell: Overture is available on Steam now, as is a demo.

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34 Comments »

  1. Schaulustiger says:

    Oh, this is out already? I’m a sucker for these kind of games (some casual mechanics combined with RPG fluff), so it’s an instant buy for me. I hope this is as good as it sounds.

    • Schaulustiger says:

      I’ve played a fair bit yesterday and my biggest gripe so far is the combat itself. Power cards are great but they don’t influence the extremely random nature of the yahtzee/solitaire card mechanics. If you’re lucky you draw a straight flush in round 1 and the battle becomes a cakewalk, but most of the time you’ll struggle with the random crap on the board and lose to opponents with a) as much health as you and b) the same strong powers as you.
      Puzzle Quest was so great because you could reduce the randomness of the Match-3 mechanics by directly influencing the board. In Runespell, you need to actually get lucky to have enough RP for your spells.

      Maybe I’m just bad at this, but it feels too luck-dependent for my taste. Which is a shame, because I like how turns become your most important resource. Do I use three turns to match a lot of pairs and secure possibilities? Do I use my last turn to make an attack or do I deny the enemy an important card so he can’t get his 4-of-a-kind?

  2. Anthile says:

    Look, it’s even turn-based!

  3. Wolfox says:

    For the record, the developers say they will provide free content updates later, with more cards, quests and features – and perhaps even multiplayer. It does depend on how much they sell, though, which is exactly why I’ll buy it as soon as it’s available (which, in my case, means as soon as I get home today). It’s only $10 too, which is a great price.

  4. johnpeat says:

    I’ve been playing the BETA and it’s nicely produced with good writing and it’s fun to play.

    My only complaint would be that apart from using Poker ‘hands’ for scoring, it has nothing to do with Poker – it appears to play with unlimited decks which means there’s no skill in predicting cards looking at the odds of finishing a hand etc. – it’s all down to luck, really.

    That may be good or bad – depending on your view of Poker and the randomness of your card games :)

    Note: The developers ducked my questions on the topic of how many decks were in use which may even suggest they aren’t using ‘real’ decks and that the cards are entirely random – certainly I’ve had battles where I was upto my ears in Kings and high cards seem to predominate the early battles.

    • dadioflex says:

      You would NOT be happy with Sword and Poker on iPhone….

      Oh, this does appear to BE Sword and Poker in everything but appearance.

    • IDtenT says:

      That’s just silly. If you’re implementing a classic game which thrives on the statistics behind it and then just cut out the statistics part, then what the hell is left? That’s beyond fail.

      Then again, the only version of “poker” people know these days is varying versions of strip poker and we all know how much that follows the rules…

  5. xsikal says:

    The difficulty concern reminds me a bit of the Xbox Live Arcade Might and Magic ‘stacks’ game, which also relied at least in part on a hefty dose of randomness and (for me, anyway) scaled up pretty quickly from manageable to brutally difficult.

  6. Baconberries says:

    So when you mentioned the card part, I really didn’t expect actual planet-Earth-human-being casino cards. They couldn’t have dreamed up something a bit more fantastical than hearts, spades, clubs, diamonds?

    • johnpeat says:

      The rest of the game is imaginative and beautifully designed so I suspect the use of ‘regular’ cards (which are also quite pretty) is just to get people started a bit quicker.

      When you’re writing game tutorials (or even proposals) you sometimes get sick of explaining EVERYTHING – e.g.

      “So when you get a fortle put it onto another fortle but not one which is in the same schnabling”

      “Wot?”

      “Clubs, Spades, Diamonds”

      “Oh – right – OK!”

    • Diziet Sma says:

      That is a bit of an odd choice, having just watched the trailer. OTH given the gameplay it makes sense to choose something that is familiar and known.

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      I was in the same boat. Having played the demo, though, I think it’s an acceptable decision.

  7. Kheto says:

    It’s on Steam for £7.19.

  8. DarkFarmer says:

    hah hah, love you guys but… worst. screenshots. ever. :D

  9. Teronfel says:

    It’s all i love in one game,rpg,card games and poker. Hell yeah!!!

  10. mmalove says:

    That’s a very reasonable opening price, but I’m just not “hooked”, in spite of the achievement I got for finishing the demo.

  11. Wetworks says:

    I was in the Beta and had a chance to test it out for several hours. It’s a fun game with a lot of polish but I’m not sure if there are enough rpg features in the game to make it a classic.

    After a while the battles get very repetitive and there is no hook to keep you playing aside from the story. You don’t earn levels, have a talent tree, or get equipment. Your advancement is essentially buying 1 time use scrolls that are kind of expensive.

    • Veracity says:

      Yeah, it does seem from a quick look to be missing much in the way of Progress Quest incentives to push you onward. Don’t think I necessarily mind, as having them introduces its own issues when every encounter can take half an hour.

      Still, not that convinced about an hour into the demo. The setting does the Darklands thing, but the presentation, while it looks like it cost as much as all its sub-genre predecessors combined, is quite generic fantasy and the dialogue’s a bit jarringly modern. There’s certainly some tactics amid the luck, but most “better” moves seem fairly trivially obvious if you’re not TotalBiscuit. Fate + Glory also seemed a bit much, but they’re quite expensive, so you probably can’t spam them all the time.

      Plus it’s called “Overture” and cheap, which makes me think there’s more of it they want me to buy later. Think I might do that reprehensible thing of remembering to keep an eye on it but not buying until it’s tuppence.

  12. Jae Armstrong says:

    “true warrior of the north?”

    That’s some cheek for a nithing, that.

  13. Maxolius says:

    I picked this up and I have been fairly happy about this game, until I got to the starting camp. This game is reusing the soundtrack from the game called “The Guild 2″ – was a fairly good sim back from 2006. If you have the game, you can listen to the track from “The Guild” here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7ZijZ48IMI&feature=related and compare it to the music in the first camp that you get to in the game.

    Now, I have no idea what relationship does Mystic Box have with Jowood, Deep silver or whoever owns that game’s soundtrack. I also hate to be jumping to conclusions, but if it is what I think it is, it would make me one hell of a sad panda to see indie devs reusing soundtrack without permission, especially in a commercial game that is on steam.

  14. Maxolius says:

    Do people usually license bits and pieces of other obscure games’ soundtrack? Mind you, what made me a bit concerned was the fact that it wasn’t the entire track, but some bits of it spliced all around. If they did, however, then I am very, very silly and should wear my tinfoil hat a little bit more often.

    I’m also retarded, and, as such, can’t use the reply function.

    • amandachen says:

      It’s just a bit mean-spirited to try to stir up trouble for Mystic Box. I checked with Dynamedion and the music was properly licensed.

    • Maxolius says:

      Right, and I’m happy that it all checked out fine. While it was not my intention to stir trouble, things occasionally do happen – do recall stuff, like, say, Limbo of the Lost. Nevertheless, I’m very happy that everything is in order and should have probably bothered to check it out myself before being alarmist about it, and for that I apologize.

    • Maxolius says:

      Right, and I’m sorry if it came off as me trying to stir trouble, as it was not my intention. While bad things do happen – Limbo of the Lost, for example, – I should have probably bothered to check it all out before being alarmist about it, and for that I apologize. Back to enjoying the game, then.

  15. BooleanBob says:

    Poker? I hardly even – sorry, bit obvious.

  16. Gothnak says:

    I played the Battle Slots game to death, so i’ll likely play this.. Am a sucker for RPG games with different turn based battle mechanics…

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