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Hands-On: Runespell: Overture

I recently spent some time with a preview build of Runespell: Overture, developer Mystic Box’s foray into the topsy-turvy world of fantasy RPG-lite poker. Here are my thoughts.

None shall pass.

The basic battle rules of Runespell are relatively simple: players must make poker/Yahtzee hands (straights, flushes, pairs, etc.) out of 5 sets of cards, accomplished by using up to 3 action points per turn to move their cards around. Once a set of five is complete, that set may be launched at the enemy for a predetermined point value, assigned based on the rarity of the set. Attacks eat up the opponent’s HP directly, much like in Magic: The Gathering, and once the enemy drops to zero, the player is victorious, and there is much rejoicing.

Players combine poker hands and bonus "power cards" to defeat the enemy.

Layered on top of this simple battle setup is an RPG-inspired, fantasy-themed “Power Card” system, allowing the player to spend their precious action points and Rage Points (granted via attacking and defending) to heal, attack with magic, set up defenses, or call upon allies to invoke special abilities. There is a simple elegance to the battle structure, and it forced me multiple times to mull over whether to steal the last card the enemy needs or finish my combo, set up a defense for a possible melee attack, or drain the enemies’ Rage Points with a special move. Several battles ended with me just scraping by, emerging bloodied and beaten with only 1 or 2 HP left; it’s clear the developer has put considerable effort into the game’s balance, an essential part of any card-based game.

Victory is mine!

This battle system is baked neatly into an overarching RPG-lite experience, including an overworld, towns with shops and quest-givers, an extensive inventory, and recruitable allies who help out in battle (some enemies are also recruitable once defeated.) Dialogue is well-written, though not much story is revealed throughout the 2-hour preview build we were given (spoiler: easy amnesia!). The setting is shown via title cards to be 1046 AD in beautiful England, though with a heavy low fantasy angle. The final boss in the preview build took a slight amount of strategy and a good degree of inventory management to overcome, but I did manage in two or three short tries. Challenge seems just about right, though it is hard to say how well the difficulty curve will hold up over the full length of the campaign. Players may save anywhere, a nice touch for the pick-up-and-play style of gameplay offered.

You don't get much more linear than actually having lines to follow!

There appears to be plenty of content, with (randomly?) generated enemies appearing across the map to go back and grind for silver or new allies, and the high number of side-quests in the first town alone show some promise, assuming that keeps up throughout the rest of the game. Presentation is nice, with fully 3D attack animations, and clear, easily understandable indicators of what effects are currently in play, backed by appropriate fantasy-styled orchestrated tunes.¬†Runespell is one to watch closely if you’re into trading card games, or even just enjoy a good game of poker in smoke-filled, seedy¬†back-rooms. My main concern at this point is content: we can only hope Mystic Box will deliver a full-length adventure on par with the fun, if simple, battle system that’s worth the asking price, seeing as online play does not appear to be on offer here (leaderboards, however, are.) Still, when the game faded to black and my two-hour demo ended, I was left wanting to experience more of Runespell’s world. Mystic Box is targeting a July release on Steam and an Impulse release at a later date.

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