Paradox Departs from Strategy With Norse RPG Runemaster

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Johan Andersson helped make Europa Universalis IV and Crusader Kings II, but he’s been keen to create this RPG for years.

There aren’t many games that tap into the rich mythology of Scandinavia, and definitely not to the extent that Runemaster does. And even though the engine is the same as Paradox Development Studios’ strategy titles, it’s a very drastic departure from the types of games the Swedish house is known for. But that’s exactly what makes it exciting for the team to try something new.

“We want to make the game that we want to play,” said Johan Andersson, the studio head. He actually dreamed up the concept for Runemaster more than three years ago, and he’s visibly excited to have the resources to make it now. Andersson was so jazzed to announce the game to the press at Paradox’s annual conference last week that he was hopping up and down during the presentation.

After speaking to the team more closely, you can see why. Runemaster is an RPG with tactical hex-based combat. It’s set across a fantasy version of the Norse world, and it deals with the end of the world, Ragnarok. You can choose the race from six choices – Human, Dwarf, Light Elf, Dark Elf, Troll and Giant – and your choice determines whether you support Loki in bringing about Ragnorak or Thor in preventing it. Of course, Ragnarok is just rebirth, not oblivion, so Loki and his followers aren’t necessarily evil, they just want a new deal.

“This isn’t Tolkien,” said Linda Kiby, producer of Runemaster. She assured me the mythology will be made as accessible to as many players as possible, even those who don’t watch movies starring a Hemsworth. The game world will be littered with lore and tidbits to explore, so it’s possible you will even learn something while playing Runemaster. In fact, you’ll likely be a Norse expert by the time you have finished with it, because Andersson hopes you’ll play the game again and again.

“The average amount of time people play our games is 190 hours,” he said, getting those stats from Steam. Runemaster will be no different, even if it has a finite end that will occur around 100 hours in. That’s because the story depends on random events and will conform to the choices of the player. When you start a game of Runemaster, the engine randomly generates 6 worlds such as Midgard and Svartalfheim, and all of the items, events and NPCs will be different for every single playthrough. That kind of replayability is a pillar of Paradox games, and Runemaster is designed to follow suit.

We weren’t able to see the combat, but Andersson told us it will not be a slog like the battles of Heroes of Might & Magic or King’s Bounty. “Every battle will matter,” he said, and the current plan is for you to fight not more than once every twenty minutes. On the hex grid, you’ll have your player character you’ve been leveling up, but you’ll also control different units like archers or a Giant you’ve recruited along the way. Facing on the hex grid will matter, as will concepts like elevation and hiding behind cover. And there will of course be the trappings of RPGs, from leveling up your character as a berserker, skald, or runemaster to collecting loot and equipping sweet, sweet randomized loots.

Everything I was told about Runemaster sounds like it will be a blast to play, and my short glimpse of the UI and the top down view of the game world certainly looked stellar, but the development is a long way from complete. The projected release window is “winter”, and Runemaster could come out anywhere between December 2014 to February 2015. It’s in alpha right now, and the team has a lot of design work left to do before the polishing and bug-squashing begins. Paradox has gotten better with releasing games relatively bug free but the new genre could present additional problems. If the team delivers what they outlined last week, Paradox could very well have a hit on its hands.

If not, they can just scrap it all in a code Ragnarok and start again.

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