Runemaster Preview (PC)

It was only a matter of time before Paradox Development Studios, formerly known simply as the ‘Internal Studio’ for Paradox Interactive, decided to do something that wasn’t grand-strategy. With Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV being big hits for them, they’ve now got the people, resources and money to maintain five teams inside the studio. Personally, I’d prefer a proper space-4x game or something like that, but I can’t begrudge them wanting to follow their hearts with their new tactical-RPG Runemaster.

Runemaster was the second major announcement to come out of this year’s Paradox Convention, inspired by Norse mythology; it’s essentially a King’s Bounty/Heroes of Might & Magic style game where you as the player experience Ragnarok – The End of the World. In Norse legend this isn’t as bad as it sounds. Yes, pretty much every one dies in fire and brimstone (or Ice and brimstone, I guess, it being Scandinavia), but then a new world is born out of the ashes of the old one, and then things essentially begin anew until the next Ragnarok. In Runemaster, the existing ‘worlds’ and races are divided into two factions – the Thor faction, who want to delay Ragnarok, and the Loki faction, who want things to start again. It’s not so much a clear cut Good vs. Bad scenario, as some of the Loki guys have very good reasons for wanting to press ‘Reset’ on everything, but I get the feeling it will basically lean along those lines.

The ‘facts’ as they stand sound fairly impressive. Eight races (four for each faction, although you don’t have to go for the faction your race leans towards), across six worlds, and like similar games you explore the world, go on quests, and fight turn-based tactical battles on a hex grid. Wonderful. Quests are randomised, and as you make choices in the early game, the Quests that are thrown at you will adapt themselves to your earlier choices. If you make your character choose ‘greedy’ options, you will get greed-inspired quests thrown at you later in the game. I imagine there’s scope to lose this assumption, but it still sounds cool. Obviously, on the tactical battle side you’ll need to recruit an army, and there’s supposedly going to be some XCOM-like squad management involved here, as well as maps that actually feel like a battlefield, as oppose to a pretty looking chessboard.

It all sounds great on paper, but being brutally honest there are some things that make me reign in my enthusiasm. First and foremost – this is completely new territory for Paradox Development Studios, and I think it’ll show. The game’s been worked on for several years now, and even then the code we saw looked extremely early and dated, if that makes sense. I’m sure it’ll polish up just nicely over the coming year, but I have a feeling that this is going to be a fairly tame example of these types of games. It helps that the market for this type of thing has room for contenders – obviously games like Expeditions: Conquistador have already done a good job at breaking in with a new and fresh angle, but aside from that there’s only really Heroes of Might and Magic and then Kings Bounty. It basically comes down to how much you hate Ubisoft and/or 1C.

Still, it’s got a clear style – Norse Mythology is an amazing resource to delve into, and being Swedish natives PDS are bound to get it right. The popularisation of Norse Culture from Marvel and Skyrim should help them as well. Plus, if there’s one thing they do know how to do, it's emergent Story-telling. I maintain that emergent stories in RPG’s differ widely from emergent stories in Crusader Kings II, but it all comes down to how they design things and how flexible the moment-to-moment gameplay is going to be. On top of that, they’ve said they’re not going to overdo combat either. Combat should be “fun, special and exciting”, and they want to have a pacing of at least 20 minutes between fights. Conquistador did this rather well, I thought, so if they can capture some of that and have the rich and varied tactical environments then this stands a good chance of doing well. The game itself is going to be powered by Clausewitz, the same engine powering their grand-strategy titles, and the worlds are going to be procedurally generated along with the randomised and adaptive quest-system that we mentioned before.

As it’s all still early days, all we’ve really got to go on is early screenshots and wishes, essentially. The release date is set for next ‘winter’, but that could be late this year or early next depending on how things go over the coming months. Like I said above, I’m hesitant to get too excited about this game given all the factors, but it’ll be good for them to branch out I think, do something else. As long as the PDS guys give it the same care, attention and patience they’ve been showing to their grand-strategy titles post-CK2, then there’s no way this will be a terrible game. How good it’ll be though really depends on how well their team can adapt to an unfamiliar genre. Also worth noting at this point is that platforms are ‘TBD’, so it’s possible this could be part of Paradox’s new console line-up, but there’s no point speculating much there right now.

Most Anticipated Feature: The world has to be interesting enough to want to explore, and the battles have to be engaging enough to want to slog it out. Watching these two facets evolve over time will be interesting.

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By LS35A (SI Member) on Feb 02, 2014
Norse mythology? I'm in.