My word, check you out, Chaos Reborn [official site]. Don't you get bigger and prettier every time I take a look at you? I quite like the stark, neon outlines it used to depict its assorted bestiary back in the old prototype, then I liked the later move to Fantasy-Tron-With-Figurines, and now I like the ornate, characterful land its latest Early Access update presents even more. X-COM co-creator Julian Gollop's Chaos Reborn always felt like a boardgame in videogame's clothing, but its tailor has done so fine a job this time that it's increasingly hard to see the boardgame beneath it all. Also new as of this update is a whole lot more equipment stuff, so you can unlock customise your wizard as you play. In other words, the metagame has begun.
You wizard will change in appearance and ability as you obtain and choose new gear for him or her, essentially. I must confess to mixed feelings about a sequel to revered Spectrum strategy title Chaos incorporating the vogeuish unlock/rank model that makes so many contemporary games less about the taking part and only the winning. At the same time, I can see why Chaos Reborn's short, fixed battles would benefit hugely from a metagame, and a firm reason to keep playing and challenge yourself further. As-was it was too tempting to feel you'd hit a personal ceiling of ability and feel little need to carry on. With goodies in the offing for more and better performance, it's a different matter. I've only just started delving into this stuff, but so far it looks as though the focus is much more on tweaking your 'deck' to suit your preferred playstyle and summons than it is on getting tougher as you claim more scalps. But we'll see.
For instance, there are now "Seven different types of talisman allowing you to bind spells to your deck, buff creatures, gain mana, buff your wizard and transform entities." Binding spells to the deck is something of a game-changer, particular from Chaos classic - a great deal of the challenge, and satisfaction, stemmed from making do with whatever random creature summons you wound up with. Going in with some degree of certainty as to what you'll have is a profound shift.
Of course, the idea is that every player will have a talisman or two before long, so everyone's going to have a preferred deck. They'll also have their preferred staff and robe, which dictate whether their spells are more inclined to chaos, order or neutrality and which 'mega-spell' they can cast if they lay hands on enough mana. There's also a new in-game store which - deep breath - doesn't involve any real money, but lets you spend gold earned from multiplayer wins on random packs of gear, Hearthstone-style.
Fingers crossed that's not going to move beyond in-game currency. I like the idea of 'ooh, what have I got?' more than 'I am going to keep playing until I get this one specific thing', but I do hope it doesn't lead to long-term imbalance or a strong-get-stronger vicious circle.
'Hundreds' of equippable items are now available, apparently, and you can also upgrade your wizard, their staff and their armour as far as level 33. Phew. A simple game is becoming complicated; that's certainly going to make me play it more often, but I'd hate to see this disappear down a micro-management rabbit hole. It does feel like a more significant offering than as-was though, and there's the singleplayer mode - which I am particularly looking forwards to - still to come.
Also it's much prettier now. More creatures have been added and redesigned, the environments are lively rather than muted, and there's a ton of neat animations, such as vampires turning into a cloud of bats when they move. There's a long way to go and, clearly, a ton of experimentation going on, but I've still got a very good feeling about Chaos Reborn.
The game's 25% off until the next Monday, if you want to take a punt. The singleplayer mode should be along later this year.