Review: Runespell Overture


Runespell Overture Review

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High Stakes Pagan Hold’em

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I enjoy watching the birth and maturation of game genres.  It starts with a snow flake.  A game is released that is both unique and beautiful.  This first game does something different, special but the game must also be polished enough and popular enough to catch the eye of other developers.  Then a confusing and painful puberty begins.  Other developers see this first game and are inspired.  They tweak the original game’s systems and aesthetics and make it their own.  Pessimists say these developers are just cashing in on a gimmick and call these derivative games copycats.  But if the original game system is strong enough, tweaking it and changing the aesthetics can create very different experiences.  The only difference between a really good game with a bunch of crappy uninspired copies and a bunch of games that are part of the same genre is how long people keep making copies and how good they are at changing the formula enough so that it still seems fresh.  When Puzzle Quest came out its combination of traditional RPG storytelling, character building, and structure with a bejeweled based combat system was something completely unique and unheard of.  Puzzle Kingdom, Galactrix, and a sequel came after.  Now we have Runespell Overture as the latest Puzzle RPG.  Is it a shameful copycat or does it help establish the Puzzle RPG as a new and exciting game genre?

The reason to play Runespell Overture is its poker based combat system.  In combat, the player and his opponent each have a set of cards setup in a solitaire like fashion with stacks of unrevealed cards topped with a face up card.  The player gets three actions each turn.  He can use an action to cast a spell, move a card or group of cards, steal an opponent’s ungrouped card or cash in a group of five cards to attack the opponent.  The player tries to build poker hands out of his groups of cards and can only turn them in to attack if he has a group of five cards.  So if you want to attack with a two pair you need to add a fifth random card to the group before you can cash it in for damage.  The more valuable the hand, the more damage it does.

The game quickly becomes complex.  Building your own poker hands while denying your opponent the cards he needs to complete his own is only one thing you need to manage.  You also need to time cashing in your poker hands properly so that you can take advantage of the new cards that are revealed.  Furthermore, at any time you also have to ask yourself if your action would be better spent using a spell to attack the enemy or put up a temporary shield in case you think the opponent will be casting one of his own soon.  All of this creates a very unique experience and stretches your brain in ways you might not be used to.  The demanding nature of the battles makes mindless grinding impossible, although Runespell Overture isn’t really a game where grinding would be useful.

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Unfortunately the RPG elements are lacking.  You don’t really level up in the game, your hit points and mana just increase at specific moments in the story.  You get items and allies that you can choose from to determine your selection of spells during battles but there are very few differences between your options.  Most of them are attacks of a certain element or a shield against a certain element but enemies don’t have any weakness or strengths against certain elements so there isn’t really much of a point to it.  Occasionally you come across an enemy who has a shield spell against a certain element or has one specific kind of elemental spell but there are so many element types that whatever shield the enemy has usually isn’t for an element you’re casting and even if the enemy does have a shield that matches up, the shield is only on for a few turns and you usually have other spells to attack with that aren’t being protected against.  Some spells mix it up a little and give you extra actions on a turn or reduce the opponent’s mana but these make up only a very small portion of the options.  Additionally each item can only be used a certain number of times before you have to restock but you usually have another item that does the same thing, just with a different element, and most of the allies have unlimited uses.  The whole customization system for the most part just seems kind of pointless and tacked on.  Since there isn’t much of a reason to restock items, the money and shopping aspect of the game seem pointless as well.  I think I bought items maybe twice before I beat the game.

The story seems like it’s going to be good at first but ultimately disappoints.  The setting is interesting.  It takes place in medieval Europe and creates a sense of realism by making references to historical figures and events, especially to the conflicts between pagans and Christians.  The protagonist, in traditional RPG fashion, has amnesia with the story promising to reveal a mysterious origin and mission and the side characters all have interesting back stories and personalities themselves.  It provides the set up for what could be a very interesting tale but in the end doesn’t do anything with it.  The game ends right when it seems like it’s about to start.

Runespell Overture’s combat system is the meat of the game.  The poker combat system is fantastic and is fascinating to try and wrap your head around.  Unfortunately though, the game just doesn’t do anything interesting with it.  The game could really benefit from some expanded content through free updates or expansions.  Still Runespell Overture is a unique and enjoyable experience and I highly recommend it, it just needs to polish its RPG elements a bit.

Is this game worth $10? Yea  Rating: C

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