Runes of Magic – Review
With a lifespan of about a year and a half during which it was complemented by no less than three expansions, Runes of Magic has earned its fair share of popularity among critics and MMORPG Games players alike. Although many things can be said about this game, I am convinced that one is bound to stand out: it’s free!!! Free to register, free to download, free to play, entirely free across the board – if that’s not an attention magnet, I don’t know what is. However, we’ve also learned, many times the hard way, that “free” comes with strings attached or is balanced by lacunas at a quality level. With this thought in mind we decided to take a quick late stab at this MMORPG and find out what the fuss is all about and why is everybody regarding it as a standard setter for F2P MMOs.
From many points of view Frogster’s adaptation of Runewalker Entertainment’s MMORPG strikes a familiar chord and for those of you who have played World of Warcraft the game will almost immediately give you a feeling of déjà-vu. Even for the untrained eye, the similarities between these two games are shockingly obvious. However, branding Runes of Magic as nothing more than a mere clone won’t do either of them justice as there are flagrant differences in quality and power of innovation between the two. For the last part RoM clearly has the upper hand as it takes a few daring steps away from the well trodden path of fantasy MMORPGs and adds a few new high-potential components to a recipe that lately has lost much of its original appeal.
A groundbreaking feature and probably the most important one the game offers is the dual class system. At the start your character creation choices are limited to two races (humans and elves) and to eight classes: warrior, knight, rogue, scout, mage, warden, druid and priest. The names are self-explanatory and all these individual classes behave as any player with decent genre experience would expect them to. But after you burn through the tutorials and challenges the starting areas has to offer – which will happen quite fast, you will be presented with a new choice: picking a secondary class. From that point on you will be able to play one or the other and you can switch between them with the help of an NPC. Even though they level independently, there are several symbiotic traits specific to each and every available combination. The result will not be a completely different class as many of the original skills will remain the same, but the gained abilities do offer a certain level of fine tuning otherwise unavailable in other MMORPGs.
Picking a secondary class has the potential of dramatically influencing your gameplay experience and it comes with certain limitations you should be aware of, so a bit of planning and preparation might prove useful before rushing into it. For example, depending on your race, only certain class combinations are available. So if you are thinking of playing a mage/priest make sure you first choose a human avatar since elves are apparently not very fond of robes, crosses and the idea of healing other people. They do love however to toss around fireballs and light up the forest (?), so an elven mage is not a rare sighting. Also resetting your skills or completely changing your secondary class is so costly that you might even consider starting fresh with an entirely new character, which is an irritating experience as nobody should be forced to face the game’s flaws more than once.
Runes of Magic is polished and almost entirely bug free, but seriously flawed at a basic game design level. The starting areas are suffocated by quest givers, vendors, crafting trainers, pet trainers, house maids, etc. The informational package provided by this colorful bunch of NPCs, coupled with the one related to your own class mechanics, makes the first few hours of gameplay a feat of mental strength. If you manage to survive them with your wits intact, the game will not waste any effort in testing your patience on a regular basis. Quests objectives will have you roaming the map with no sense of direction and many times will send on long strolls in search of an NPC located in a zone you’ve left and considered completed a few levels back. There is no obvious logical progression for the whole questing system and the story that was meant to keep everything together has hardly enough power to keep you interested for more than a few hours.
Daily or repeatable quests, available even from starting areas, will greatly add to the confusion with their special currency rewards. Quest tracking elements are either ubiquitous or entirely oblivious to your needs. The auto-movement path-finding system works brilliantly for a few hours, just enough to make the player appreciate it and then miss it later on when it simply stops functioning. Mobs’ movement speed is equal or less to the player’s speed, thus making any PVE encounter trivial as you can always outrun your foes – the same issue also allowing the exploration of dungeons by solo players. And the enumeration could continue, but regardless of the size of the resulting list, it only proves two things. The first is that Runes of Magic’s game design hasn’t exactly reached a performance peak and even if it did when compared to other Free to Play MMOs, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. And second: you need to be an open minded individual with nerves of steel and less than average expectations in order to fully enjoy its PVE content. Unfortunately things aren’t any better when it comes to Runes of Magic PVP.
Faithfully following the World of Warcraft design pattern, RoM’s PVP is limited to a set of instanced battlegrounds and arenas that can be accessed through the UI from anywhere in the world. That’s pretty much the only resemblance between the two, because where WoW managed to elevate a limited system to a worldwide competition platform, RoM can even wrap its head around the basic ideas that make such a system work. As you would expect the characters are organized into level tiers and matchmaking system will select and pit against each other characters from the same tier. It is also normal to expect a low level character to perform less efficiently in PVP when compared with a higher level character from the same tier, but Runes of Magic takes this one step further. By allowing enormous power differences between levels, the game makes any new player feel absolutely useless in a PVP encounter and turns the entire experience into an unavoidable death-respawn cycle. Since lack of quality usually points towards quantity, you would at least expect to have situations where large armies of players can come together in epic battles. Unfortunately that’s not the case as battlegrounds are populated by less than ten players who desperately run around like headless chickens trying to find each other and spill some pixel-blood. Things might be different once the level cap is reached, but asking PVP oriented players to invest weeks of time and energy into a chaotic PVE content so that later on they have a shot at something that might be a decent experience is not going to get you a lot of enthusiastic volunteers.
With PVE being nothing more than a tasteless disarray of underdeveloped thoughts and ideas, and with a limping PVP system that can only be described as a poor joke, I was hoping to be able to say that at least the game looks and sounds good. At a superficial analysis it does: most of the environments are eye pleasing even though they follow the same old low-poly, high saturation, cartoonish approach characteristic to World of Warcraft, and the background music moulds perfectly onto it to create the mystical atmosphere RoM is going for. But at a closer look the entire idyllic picture falls apart. Most textures lack detail, character animations are disappointing, and everything related to combat, from sounds to spell effects, seems to have been borrowed from a completely different game, one probably aimed at consumers with ages between five and six years. The more time you spend in the jagged, brightly colored world of Runes of Magic, the more you realize there’s a pretty good reason why certain games are free to play.
The game is… not bad, but with the exception of the dual class system and a nice instanced housing feature, it doesn’t shine and doesn’t impress from any point of view. It’s your average, run of the mill MMO Game, with just enough entertainment value to appear slightly more interesting than playing an old single player game. When compared to other F2P fantasy MMOs, Runes of Magic is indeed a standard setter, but only because in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king.
By Seth Lex