Runes of Magic Chapter Five: Ruins of Shadowforge Review
This game was reviewed on PC
I’ve dabbled in a bevy of MMOs since I first picked up World of Warcraft at launch so long ago. Each offering in the MMO genre has its own merits, but I’ve always had to carefully consider the economic merits of a game. Playing an MMO often turns me into a mathematician, weighing the hours of entertainment I gain versus the monthly fees that I shell out, not to mention the expensive base cost of the game. So when I found out that Runewaker Entertainment’s Runes of Magic was a free-to-play MMO with optional microtransactions, I was sceptical. However, the sheer amount of content amazed me, especially considering that you can access all of it without paying a cent.
Runes of Magic gets off to a promising start. The character creation system was fairly robust for a free-to-play game, equalling World of Warcraft‘s selection of faces and hairstyles while eclipsing its ability to customize your character’s body. There are only three races: humans, elves, and dwarves. I was pleased that the elves and dwarves looked suitably non-human and distinct. The hairstyles and colors are brightly neon and cartoonishly spiky or curly. Players looking for a gritty, grim fantasy experience may want to look elsewhere.
The most important choice of Runes of Magic character creation is picking your class. You begin with very basic fantasy archetypes: Warrior, Scout, Rogue, Priest, Warden, Druid, Champion, Mage, Warlock, and Knight. Classes are race restricted to some small extent, with each race being barred from four classes. Humans cannot play as a Champion, Warlock, Warden or Druid; Dwarves cannot be a Scout, Knight Druid or Warden; Elves cannot be a Warlock, Priest, Knight or Champion. I found this to be a fun mechanic, reminiscent of World of Warcraft’s early days before Blizzard made class/race combos more accessible. Each class is unique but easily recognizable for players familiar with the fantasy landscape. Priests heal and protect with holy nature, Knights don heavy armor and shields and call down light-based power to defend their allies, Warlocks call upon dark forces to inflict damage, Mages wield the elements, and so on. I chose the Knight, as it is the closest to the Paladin archetype in Fantasy. I was slightly annoyed at the fact that my noble Knight had holes in her armor to properly show off her battle panties that male characters lacked.
Once I had created my Knight, I entered the world. Runewaker Entertainment worked hard to make sure that players who are new to MMOs are not lost by providing a tutorial with hefty experience rewards. That being said, if you’ve played one MMO before, you’ll have Runes of Magic mastered in a matter of minutes. Runes of Magic is essentially a World of Warcraft clone in many aspects. The sound of the Howling Mountains gave me déjà vu of Elwynn Forest, the bright, cartoony environments were startlingly well done for a free-to-play game but essentially a poor man’s World of Warcraft, and the UI was also nearly identical.
Aspects of the game that Runewaker changed to differ from other MMOs often proved to be annoying or clunky Interacting with the interface and the world could be clumsy; for instance, as opposed to training new skills at an NPC, the player levels up their skills in an in-game menu. This is a fine idea, but in practice it often took multiple clicks through a couple of windows to register the changes, and sometimes the windows would randomly close or changes failed to register. While it is to be expected that Runes of Magic does not compare to big budget, monthly subscription games, Runewaker could learn a lesson from another free-to-play, microtransaction-based game by Riot Games, League of Legends, where the developers have paid fastidious attention to adding new content and reworking and improving old content that simply doesn’t work.
Runes of Magic does not hold the player’s hand. While World of Warcraft or The Old Republic leave breadcrumbs around their world to lead the player to trainers or quests to make sure that the player understands parts of the game such as training crafting skills, Runewaker instead leaves much of the onus on the player. Trainers could be a bit tricky to locate around the world, and figuring out where to head for quests took some time. Some players may find this a bonus, as it adds a sense of exploration and depth to the world; other players may find this a frustration that complicates early levels.
That being said, if players can persist past these irritating barriers, they will find an intriguing class system. Characters are allowed to multi-class during character progression – once at level 10, and again at level 20. Different class combinations open various Elite Skills. A Knight/Priest and a Priest/Knight, despite coming from the same components, have different skills and abilities My Knight/Priest ended up as a mighty paladin, who was able to use holy magic in combat by unlocking Elite Skills such as Holy Smite, which unleashed a blast of holy fire against my foes. If I had chosen to instead be a Knight/Rogue, I would have developed into an arms master who dished out deadly weapon-based damage. Altogether, there are 66 different combinations that the player can unlock. Players who love creating alternate characters, exploring class differences, power-gaming and progression through skills will find Runes of Magic to be a worthy offering.
When I realized the depth of this mechanic, I immediately began to go through the store, suspicious that Runewaker would charge players for class combinations or new classes in the same manner that Cryptic Studios charges for power-sets in City of Heroes. To my astonishment, players do not have to pay a single cent to access any of the content in Runes of Magic. Not only does the game have single player content of exploring a world, there is also player vs. player battlegrounds and crafting. Runewaker has even added features that players of popular MMO have been clamoring for: player marriage, player housing, and even an in-game butler.
Microtransactions are purely for in-game items. This does inevitably result in players who spend money obtaining in-game bonuses faster, and that does mean that Runes of Magic does not have a meritocracy due to players being able to buy their way to success. Whether this is a deal-breaker or not is really up to the individual player and their personal interests, and Runewaker does offer PVE servers where you will never have to fight another player.
In addition to the mind-boggling amount of free content, Runewaker is supporting Runes of Magic through adding updates in the form of chapters. Chapters are large additions of content that are equivalent to a World of Warcraft expansion. Runes of Magic recently launched Chapter Five. Chapter Five: Ruins of Shadowforge contains the Warlock and the Champion classes, and the Dwarven race. The Dwarves of Runes of Magic visually borrow from the Tolkien-esque dwarves of lore, while also blending in elements of the Chaos dwarves from the Warhammer universe. The Dwarves make a major impact on the world of Runes of Magic, as they have race-exclusive content that tells their story, and even their own city.
For players who aren’t interested in rolling new characters or trying out the new race, Runewaker has added end-game content. There are multiple new regions full of quests, monsters and dungeons to explore. An interesting mechanic they added is a dungeon that mixes traditional MMO monster fighting with solving puzzles with your group in order to progress. Chapter V: Ruins of Shadowforge really drives home just how much content Runes of Magic has available and the expansion is free.
Runes of Magic is definitely a flawed game. Not every player will be able to stand its problems, especially if that player comes from a background of lavish MMOs built to be the next big thing. However, if you’re tired of paying a monthly fee or a substantial amount of money to be able to scratch your MMO itch and you’re a fantasy fan, Runes of Magic might be just up your alley. In the end, it’s worth a shot – if only just so that you can live the thrill of having your own butler. Runes of Magic receives a 4.25/5.0.
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