Runes of Magic: Another Elven Romp
By Jake Winters (Kibeth), OnRPG Journalist
Runes of Magic, developed by Runewaker Entertainment and published by Frogster Interactive, is another in a long line of fantasy-based MMOs and – surprisingly – shares many similarities with its peers. Let’s get this out of the way: Runes of Magic is very similar to World of Warcraft. However, it is also very different. While its interface and graphics may show similarities (and players often look no further than that when comparing two games), the game has enough unique properties to set itself apart.
In a surprisingly similar fashion to the Biblical creation story, the world of Taborea was created by Ayvenas, Runes’ de facto world-building god. Deciding he was lonely, the god created people, and it all went downhill from there. Let’s be honest, any time a god creates life you can put money on the fact that said life will gain free will, kill each other, and turn the world into a warzone. Runes of Magic is no different.
It’s a little disappointing that Avyenas only managed to create two races (Elves and humans), as the character creator seems surprisingly stifled. Despite being able to adjust every aspect of a character – from hair to boob size (gasp) to whether you have freckles or not – the immediate problem is the lack of races. The ‘wide range’ of customization too is deceptive, as much of what you can do to a character is often hidden away under a thick layer of armor, and higher level characters are near-impossible to distinguish from each other. At least the Elves in this game look masculine; oh wait, no they don’t (just once I’d like to see a masculine elf).
If Justin Bieber were an Elf, he’d look like this.
Where the character creator lacks, however, the job system does not. Runes boasts a multi-class system, and players are allowed to have two classes active at any given time (past level 10). This creativity allows some very unique creations, such as Rogue-Warriors, or Scout-Priests. The combination is entirely up to the player, and every combination has its set of ‘Elite’ skills that combine the best of both classes into a single ability; Priests and Warriors combine into monks, Knights and Scouts combine into long-ranged taunters, the combinations are near-endless. The downside is that both classes have to be leveled up separately, which effectively means you have to play the game twice to reach maximum potential.
Druid: An all-round class that has high healing and damage capabilities. They use combo points to unleash powerful nature-based abilities alongside their usual routines. Restricted to Elves only.
Knight: Holy warriors clad in the mightiest of armor, they fear nothing and smite enemies with sword, shield, and holy judgments. Restricted to Humans only.
Mage: Using the power of fire and lightning, mages dominate the field from afar with powerful spells and even more powerful summons. Available to both races.
Priest: De facto healers, they rely on their faith to keep a party alive and resurrect the dead. They have limited DPS opportunities. Restricted to Humans only.
Rogue: Cloak and dagger users, while seemingly weak, they can sneak up on foes and poison, backstab, garrote, or unleash any manner of gruesome punishments to gain victory. Available to both races.
Scout: The hunter-archer of Runes, taking enemies down from afar while remaining hidden, considerably weaker in close-range. Available to both races.
Warden: Close-range fighters that have the ability to summon companions to assist, and use debilitating magic to cripple his foes. Restricted to Elves only.
Warrior: Fearless fighters, they charge in with a variety of melee weapons to defend their honor and massacre enemy forces. Available to both races.
The Aim of the Game
The story of the game is not immediately apparent; in fact it’s not apparent even after hours of play, and it begs the question of whether Runes actually has one at all beyond the whole lonely world-making god. Right from the starting area, questing is generic and grindy; item collection and monster killing are the two big quest types, and things improve very little throughout the course of the game. Quests themselves feel mundane and directionless; helping a little girl find her lost treasure or pulling the intestines out of beetles is no fun unless it serves as part of the ‘big picture’.
Did you know that beetles taste quite good when cooked? Me either.
Combat itself feels rigid and uninspired; even with the abilities of two classes available the odds are that you can get by (for the most part) with just a single class. While spell and attack animations are colorful, having your character turn into a rainbow-colored blur during the middle of an intense battle is often more of a distraction than a benefit.
The game sticks to the tried-and-tested archetypes of ‘tank, healer, DPS’, and group play (in both smaller six-man groups and larger raids) works well, but again feels a little uninspired. The combat itself has no neat mechanics. Classes have their rotations and apart from the Elite skills from class combinations, players run a monotonous routine. It would have been nice if – for instance – the game had pushed a little further and brought something new and innovative to combat that wasn’t just a tank being healed while the DPS do the rest.
The in-game pet system allows some customization, with over a hundred different pets available, and this makes up for the otherwise bland combat. Pets that are more loyal to their owners are stronger and more useful, and occasionally provide players with unique items and stat boosts.
Pets serve as a key asset for any player.
Beyond combat and questing, Runes boasts a huge variety of sub-tasks. From the generic gathering and crafting skills to owning a house or guild castle, players have plenty to do.
While all crafting and gathering skills are initially available to a player (rather than being forced to pick only a small number of professions), players must chose to specialize later on. Along with cliché abilities like mining and herbalism, Runes offers some more unique professions like carpentry and woodcutting.
Alongside crafting abilities, Runes of Magic (unsurprisingly) focuses heavily on items called ‘Runes’, fragments of magical power that can be used in a variety of ways. Runes can be used in crafting high-level items, or used as reagents for spells (like teleportation), they can also be socketed directly into equipment to provide stat bonuses. These can be found as quest rewards, dropped from monsters, or bought from the cash shop.
Player and guild housing deserves a mention; many players across countless MMOs want the same thing: their own personal space in the game. Runes does this by providing players with their own house (for free!) when they reach the first major city. The house serves as a safe place for players to hide out, as well as allowing them to decorate the house however they please. Furniture can be purchased inside the game, and a house can be decorated and expanded using a combination of in-game currency and cash shop ‘diamonds’. Guilds also get their own space in the form of castles, and these provide a meeting place for members as well as a platform for GvG siege-based combat.
A fully-fledged guild castle; complete with burning oil and spike-based death traps.
No review can do justice to the huge amount of content that Runes has: mini-games, guilds, PvP, dungeoneering, and far more. Nobody can deny that the game has hours of gameplay, but with so much content comes a serious flaw: how accessible is the game to new players?
Even a seasoned MMO player might find themselves overwhelmed when first playing Runes. The sheer number of items, runes, professions, and other features is actually quite intimidating, and the learning curve seems to require multiple play-throughs in order to understand even the core gameplay mechanics. While a developer might consider a large amount of content a defining feature of the game, it’s important to not overlook how inviting and accessible that content is, and Runes seems to have made the mistake of throwing too much at a player too soon. Anybody considering the game should be ready to invest a large amount of time into learning its secrets, far more than many other MMOs which might have a little less content, but are much more available to new players.
Diamonds are an Elf’s Best Friend
Runes is funded by a large cash shop, and players spend real money to purchase ‘diamonds’. The shop provides everything a player will need, and while many of the items have no lasting advantage (such as ‘overpowered equipment’), their use makes the game significantly easier to play. With Experience scrolls, mounts, bags of runes, encyclopedias to power-level professions, the shop is burgeoning with items that a cash-happy shopper can use to bypass much of the game’s otherwise monotonous features.
The system requirements for Runes make it a great game for anybody on even an older PC. Unfortunately, this compromises the game’s graphics, and even with every setting maxed out the game’s appearance feels outdated. While use of color and vibrancy makes the game feel very warm and welcoming, graphical superiority is one title that Runes won’t be winning.
It feels like walking into a 4 year old’s coloring book.
Runes of Magic is certainly a competitive MMO. It has a good thing going with multi-class, player housing, the expansive profession system, and all of the other features. The developers pump out updates constantly and Frogster hold many annual events; it’s a rare situation where a game feels truly loved as opposed to just a cash cow.
Beyond the obvious however, there’s something about the game that just isn’t right. The game looks dated, and the soundtrack is repetitive (and so insanity-inducing that they should probably sell it to torture cells). The game mechanics and combat feel clunky and jagged, there’s no smooth transition between abilities, and the excessively bright texture effects make combat more of a hindrance than an enjoyment. The game lacks a true story, and lore-lovers might be disappointed by the all-grind-no-immersion style that Runes seems to employ.
Most importantly, however, the game feels unapproachable. It’s a huge game with so many interesting features, but the learning curve is just too steep. It’s the kind of game a real hardcore gamer could throw themselves into and love, but for a gamer wanting just a few hours a week then perhaps they should stick to Angry Birds, because Runes just isn’t inviting enough.
Ultimately, Runes of Magic is a masterpiece in a shoddily-built frame. It has so much that makes it unique, and it really does shirk the assertion that it’s just another Warcraft clone; but those few niggling problems make the game a little less loveable. All the same, give Runes of Magic a go and see for yourself; after all, there’s a whole magic-filled world waiting out there.
Graphics – 3 (vibrant use of color just can’t disguise the dated graphics engine)
Controls – 4 (the game and combat feel clunky, especially WASD controls)
Features – 4 (an incredible amount of features once you learn how to use them)
Customization – 4 (the multi-class system is almost unique, and definitely worth a go)
Community – 5 (the game is constantly updated, and feels loved by publishers and gamers alike)