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Runes of Magic

Score: 94%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Gameforge Berlin
Developer: Runewaker Entertainment
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: MMORPG

Graphics & Sound:

In June of 2008, without much in the way of fanfare, an announcement was released that Runewaker Entertainment was working with Frogster Interactive to release a new, free-to-play, massively multiplayer online (MMO) roleplaying game. The resulting project, entitled Runes of Magic (ROM), went live on March 19, 2009. Like many other active gamers, I had heard little in regards to this title, and thus, when I was asked to review it, I had very limited expectations. After loading the game and then downloading and installing the subsequent patches and fixes, a process which took nearly an hour to complete, I was already a little perturbed with the game. That did not last long...

The first thing I noticed when booting the game was the quality of the graphics. For a free game, the graphics are quite stunning. Yes, there is a passing resemblance to Blizzard's genre-king World of Warcraft, but as the old adage goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and ROM is more than just a WoW clone. The time taken to download and install the necessary files suddenly became forgotten, as I ventured into the tutorial level (which I highly recommend for all players, as the reward is substantial, although not immediately apparent) and quickly became immersed in this exciting new world. Not only are the play areas lush and alive, but the monsters are fluid, the movement of the water is realistic and the player character is nicely displayed. Combat and spellcasting are both equally well thought out. Character armor and weapons are distinct and varied, offering a large amount of customization and individuality. There is even the option of transferring the stats from a particularly nice, but not necessarily attractive, item found or purchased onto an item that matches the look and feel that the player desires. Zones, which are expansive, are laid out nicely, and with the exception of instanced areas, flow seamlessly one to the next. Other graphical highlights include particle effects on weapons, day to night transitions and even fire/electrical emissions from certain mounts (I'll leave the discovery of which mounts to the player).

The auditory element, while not quite as robust and surprising as the graphical side, is appropriately dealt with, especially in regards to combat sounds. There are occasional moments when the music picks up and becomes audible, but for the most part, the music stays in the background and is largely unnoticeable. Combat and magic sound effects, along with that of movement (galloping horses make a good bit of noise... who knew?) are really the high points of the sound stage. Overall, considering that this is a free game, the amount of detail and development time that has gone into the sound and, especially, the graphics is impressive and really ups the ante for future free-to-play offerings.


Gameplay:

In a game as expansive as Runes of Magic, it becomes increasingly difficult to cover the basics of gameplay without writing a small treatise on the subject. While this section could easily become huge and bloated (as it was before I took the editor's scythe to it), I have instead chosen to take the advice of a fellow reviewer, highlighting the most exciting and interesting aspects, while leaving some pleasant surprises for the intrepid gamers to discover on their own.

As with most MMOs, ROM involves creating a character and then adventuring forth to advance in levels and power, outfitting oneself with ancient artifacts and arcane lore. To a large extent, this is done by hunting monsters and completing quests. Before you can begin adventuring, an avatar must be created. The initial choices are very straightforward. Players are asked to chose male or female, and then pick from one of six character classes (Warrior, Knight, Scout, Rogue, Priest, Mage). At this point, you can customize the appearance of your avatar. While the choices for the various options are all presets, there is an extraordinary number of selections, providing ample opportunity to individualize. Once this is done and a name has been selected, it is time to join the ranks and sally forth. There is an extensive quest system in ROM, much of it being level-based and many of the paths becoming multi-stepped. Much of the experience gained to advance in levels will come from questing. Aside from the plethora of quests activated by talking to various individual non-player characters (NPC), there are also daily quests that can be found posted on various bulletin boards in various towns and outposts. Players can complete ten of these a day.

When not questing, players have a myriad of other activities to keep them occupied. One such timesink is the gathering/ crafting/ tradeskilling element of ROM. There are three gathering skills and six crafting skills currently available for players who so choose to participate in. While gathering the resources needed to produce crafted items can absorb massive amounts of time, it can also prove a substantial source of income for the entrepreneur character. For those that do not feel like investing the sweat equity, there is an auction house where players can buy (and sell) resources and items.

For those that just want to fight and kill monsters, there is no shortage of bad guys. Monsters respawn fairly rapidly, so camping for particular creatures does not seem to be much of a problem, at least on the server on which I was playing. As the player nears the end-game (currently, level caps are set at 50 for both classes), more raid-type events become available. Frogster also recently announced that they will be introducing more open-player events, such as a call-to-arms to help defend outposts from a wave of wolves, culminating in a battle with a boss baddie. Participants in these events will gain items and, in some cases, custom titles. There are many titles that a player can earn by completing various tasks, quests or errands throughout the game. These titles can be displayed beneath the player's name for other players to view. Frogster has also done a nice job so far in hosting seasonal events, such as massive "Easter" events including rabbits hunts, stolen eggs and spring song collections. While the awards for these events have not been anything really special that I've witnessed, they are still a lot of fun to participate in.

The one aspect of gaming which I did not get to experience, but which appears to be working well, is that of guild play. Guilds can provide various benefits to members, including access to a guild castle. This seems to be another nicely thought out element, one which I do hope to explore in my future playtime.


Difficulty:

At heart, Runes of Magic is a fairly easy game to play, with simple controls and fundamental commands that are easy to familiarize oneself with. Once the basics are figured out, I strongly recommend taking a moment to read through the system files, especially the areas on the user interface and hotkeys, as customizing these will go a long way in promoting a less frustrating game experience.

Because there is no written documentation, there are some elements of the game that are not immediately made clear to the player. Much of this comes in the form of item customization and upgrading, which, while a robust system, is somewhat daunting when first exploring the inner workings. Skills are probably the next biggest point of anxiety. While hunting and questing, a player earns talent points as well as experience points. The experience points are what the player needs to rise in overall level. However, talent points are needed to progress the level of the player skills. One of the most important pieces of advice I can offer is to look into what a class can do before you advance too far and pick a specialty path. For some classes, this is not as important as others, but I do not know of any class which ever earns enough talent points to maximize all of their skills for every level, so, for classes like mages and knights, it becomes extremely importantly to stay true to your play style and not waste points on a skill you will not end up using. For some quick insight, do a little reading in the forums or class areas of the ROM homepage to find out which direction you might want to go with your characters.

New players should be aware of "boss" and "elite" monsters. When targeted, the area surrounding the monster on the user interface will look different from normal mobs, alerting the player that these are special encounters. These monsters are extremely powerful, regardless of the level indicated, and normally need a party of similarly leveled players in order to be bested. Players should also take note that there are still some broken quests in the game. While this is a major annoyance to me, I have experienced this in just about every MMORPG I've ever played, so I'm willing to give Frogster some time to get them fixed, as they seem to be doing on a fairly regular basis. One of the best things I've noticed about the game so far is the overall incredibly helpful attitude of the majority of players. It is not uncommon for higher level players, when passing through lower level areas, to just shout out offers to help with powerful monsters that are needed for some quests. This, and the zone-wide helpful chat, really did amaze me. Don't for a minute think that there is not a plentiful supply of mouthy brats and, the bane of all MMOs, the zone-spamming gold sellers, but thankfully Frogster has made "blacklisting" annoying people very easy.


Game Mechanics:

As noted above, learning the basic controls of Runes of Magic does not take very long. Perhaps the hardest thing to learn is the use of the skills system. Instead of buying "spells," characters learn various skills related to their classes as they level up. Some of these skills are passive and simply need to have talent points invested to be useful. Others act as spells or specialized attacks and need to be physically activated in order to produce the desired effect. To handle this, ROM provides the player with skill bars, which can be used to short-cut skills (or items) for quick access. Learning to use these skills and skill bars correctly is of paramount importance.

Saying that players can dual class in most games means that players can pick a secondary class which provides a modicum of benefits associated with the new class as the player advances. ROM changes this up a bit. When a player picks a second class, he immediately gains access to the generic skill set for that class. However, that class does not advance unless the player switches to it, making it the primary while adventuring. Learning to maintain a balance in experience between two classes can be challenging, but it is also a very fun dynamic. At certain milestones, for instance when both classes are at or above level 15, the character gets the option of learning an elite skill. These skills, based on whichever class is primary at the time, offer significant benefits to the player in many cases and are well worth the effort to attain.

ROM allows each player access to a house. Houses are entered via interfacing with the house maid, who can be found in most cities, villages and outposts. She also serves as a banker and can be used to switch between classes. The house can be used to store items, rest, and can be decorated to an individual's personal taste. Players even have the option of visiting another player's house. Certain decorations offer beneficial effects to the player, such as faster crafting times and increased experience and talent point gain for a period of time after resting in the house. However, these decorations come with a price tag.

While ROM is a free-to-play game, and can be enjoyed without spending a penny, make no mistake, Frogster and Runewaker did not created this game from a sheer aspect of blessed benevolence. They are trying to make money. How do they make money, you ask? Well, they sell diamonds. As players adventure through the world, they collect gold and items from quests and from fallen creatures. Aside from gold, there is another form of currency; the diamond. Diamonds can be purchased from Frogster using a web interface. There are various amounts that can be bought, with the overall cost per diamond decreasing as more are purchased. For example, 100 diamonds cost $4.99 (US dollars), 1000 diamonds cost $34.90 and 3000 diamonds cost $74.80. Players can earn diamonds by selling objects in the auction house, but it will take a while to gather any significant amount. The going rate of gold-to-diamond exchange on the server I was playing on ranged from 5000-7500 gold/diamond. Diamonds, besides being used to buy items in the regular auction house, can also be used in the diamond shop. The diamond shop offers various goodies, including permanent mounts (199/395 diamonds), house decorations, crafting supplies, potions (extra experience, luck, etc), consumable objects (teleport runes, armor/weapon improvement stones) and various fun and extraneous things (pets and disguises). Diamonds can also be used to expand the player's house, allowing for more decorations. Another popular use is the expansion of the player's bank and/or bag. While some players complain about the benefits gained by those who have the diamonds, they should remember that many hours went in to creating the game and, if one chooses to do so, paying for some diamonds, even just one batch purchase, can go a long way in establishing a good house, good mount and some good equipment upgrades, all for less than going out and buying a game from your local electronics superstore and subsequently paying a monthly fee to play.

While there are still a few minor quirks to work out, I found Runes of Magic to be a genuinely engrossing and fun experience and plan to spend more time playing now that the reviewing phase is done. Frogster has announced plans to release new chapters every few months, so more content appears to lie just down the road. The lack of advertising might be a potential downfall, but for now, while the servers are not crowded by any means, there are a good number of players, with more joining every day. For fans of this genre, I do not hesitate at all in recommending that you give this game a try. After all, what do you have to lose, other than hours and hours and hours and hours...


-The Mung Bard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Buddy Ethridge

Minimum System Requirements:



CPU: Intel Pentium 4 2.0 GHz or equivalent, RAM: 512MB, Required Harddisk space: 3.8GB, Graphics card: DirectX 9.0c compatible with 128MB RAM
 

Test System:



OS: XP, Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo CPU 3.06 GHz, Memory: 3.35 GB of RAM, Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 512

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Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated