At a glance...

Previewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Release Date
Richard Pilot PC/Mac Paradox Interactive Paradox Development Studios 1st Half 2015

Runemaster preview

Paradox have a long history of strategy games, however almost the entire catalogue has revolved around European history. That's why, when the team at Paradox Development Studio got the opportunity to work on a new game based on Norse mythology, they jumped at the chance.

Runemaster is a strategy adventure game set against the Swedish landscape. The land is being ravaged by dark forces and over the course of the game, the player will discover that there is a war going on between two gods, Thor and Loki. Your character will have an alignment to one of these two, which is tracked over the course of the game and towards the end, the player must actually take down one of them. It's not always obvious how the choices you make will affect this alignment; slaying another character will align you towards the more chaotic Loki, but so will allowing another character to take fate into their own hands. Defying the will of the gods is equally as chaotic as it's against the ordered nature of the game world.

Things are really hotting up

Things are really hotting up

The player can chose from six different races; Human, Dwarf, Troll, Giant, High Elves and Dark Elves. Depending on which race you chose you will be sent to one of three different starting areas. Character choice is important because in Runemaster you will not be banding about with a group of adventurers, although there will be recurring characters in the story. There are six worlds to travel between and again, these are all based on Norse Mythology. Character selected, your final choice is to decide what class you wish to play as; after picking human, I was given the choice between a combat heavy class, the Berserker, and magic wielder, Skald.

I was dropped into a 3D isometric perspective world, reminiscent of Titan Quest or Diablo. Much like the Blizzard game, the world is procedurally generated and whilst the quests objectives are fixed, the locations of them are much more flexible. Even which quests you are on is not set in stone, either. I was given a number of examples over how these systems work as the quest system also has an element of randomness to it. Whilst the overall story progresses along a set path, many of the optional quests have an element of chance as to whether they appear. In the build I saw, the character decided to take on a large spider; I managed to slay the beast, but in the full game this has the potential to trigger new quests. In one incarnation, animals would begin to eat from the carcass of the creature, mutating them and letting them loose on the nearby towns. Letting the spider live may lead down a completely different path, and in other games slaying the spider has no consequence at all. Quests can also be determined by your hero, which can have a set of traits, determined by the alignment of four sliders on their character menu. As the characters complete quests or interact with others in the game, these sliders will change. Get them high enough and you will gain a trait. In the game I played I was quizzed by an elderly crone and answers granted me the brave and intimidating traits. Your character can have up to four traits, and they also affect how other characters react to you, and unlock new quests.

Take care when taking on this creature

Take care when taking on this creature

It wouldn't be an adventure game without combat, and interestingly this is where Runemaster takes a different direction from the traditional isometric RPG. When you engage an enemy you are transported to a tactical map, much like the Might and Magic series. Your hero appears on this map as do any military units you have hired along the way. As mentioned earlier, you won't travel with a party of heroes, so keeping your army alive (and thus hanging around long enough to gain experience) is very important. From the character menu outside of battles you are able to configure the positions your army will appear in battle, for example setting archers behind your melee units. These are placed in squads which can contain up to three units, with an optional slot for your Hero, or a banner to confer bonuses. Once deployed on to the map, you can order your squads across the grid to attack the enemy. Location plays a very important part in this battle, as positions on the grid also have a height value, and attacking downhill grants you an advantage, and consequently you'll have trouble taking the fight uphill. There are other systems at work, such as a terror system which sees intimiated units run away to the edge of the map to regroup; your troops can also be affected by this when going against a scary foe. Either way, terrorised troops will effectively lose two turns in the battle.

Runemaster looks like an interesting RPG set against the backdrop of a battle of two powerful Norse gods. The team seemed very excited to work on this project as it's not about a new fantasy setting, but the stories and myths that the team grew up with. It is set to arrive in the first half of 2015, and due to the deal Paradox announced with Sony at E3, not only will the game arrive on Windows, Mac and Linux, it will also be heading to the PS4.

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