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First Impressions Of Runespell: Overture

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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