Years back, I used to regard the MMO bandwagon as a novelty that was somewhat getting old. Grinding and the hefty subscription prices they had when they first came out turned me off. Then came World of Warcraft.
Blizzard’s flagship project has effectively changed the way MMOs are designed: it has an epic, overarching storyline, engrossing non-quest activities, and quest-centric gameplay. The last intrigued me. I knew it was only a matter of time before some companies would emulate (and hopefully improve and innovate on) Blizzard’s work of genius.
Nearly a decade later, out pop all these free-to-play World of Warcraft clones that try to cash in on Blizzard’s wildly successful formula. Their gameworlds may not be at par with Azeroth but as I have been fond of saying, hey they’re free.
The following review is one in a series of reviews of World of Warcraft clones.
Interested in playing a World of Warcraft clone for free? The review of Runes of Magic, a free to play MMO role-playing game, after the jump.
Runes of magic, a free online medieval fantasy game, thrusts players into the world of Taborea, a world where humanity---after suffering grievous losses from titanic powers they have unleashed on their world---is getting a second wind. Assuming any one of the multitude of classes the game provides to its players (Knight, Mage, Scout, Rogue, Priest, Warrior, Warden, and Druid), users embark on a string of quests that soon make it apparent that all is not well in the new realms they have chosen to call home.
The class system is one of the MMO game’s strong points. While it does give players the usual stereotypical character classes in a fantasy RPG, it also innovates on the ages-old concept: it introduces a dual-class system. With this, players can choose a secondary class when they reach level 10. They can then switch between these classes according to the needs of a party.
More importantly, each class has two groups of skills that are classified as "general” and “class-specific." General skills can be used even if the player has shifted to another class while class-specific skills, as their label suggests, can only be used if the player is currently role-playing the class that those skills are native to. More importantly, a player using this innovative system can augment the repertoire of skills of his primary class with that of the secondary one.
For example, a Knight player can pick the Priest class as his secondary. While playing as a Knight, he won’t have access to resurrection spells (which are Priest-specific) but he can cast the “general” Priest skills like Urgent Heal and Regeneration, making him Runes of Magic’s version of the ubiquitous Paladin. In a similar manner, Scouts (the game’s archers), can pick the Mage class as their secondary class, further bolstering their ranged combat capabilities. Players wanting to be relentless melee masters can pick the Warrior class as their primary and the Knight class as their secondary. Or they can pick Rogue second and add lethal bleed and blind effects to their attacks.
Wort wort wort!
The dual-class system has more to it than the above; upon reaching certain levels with both your classes, you can opt to pick elite skills from various NPCs. Different class combinations have different elite skill rosters. Each one further complements the game style you have chosen. For example, Knight-Priest players have elite skills that specialize on protecting party members and smiting enemies using Light seals --- dormant debuffs that cause certain effects when activated. Knight-Rogue players on the other hand have access to elite skills that increase the probability of landing critical strikes.
These combinations---along with the addition of the elite skill system---refine the gameplay style conferred by the classes one chooses, providing more control on how one chooses to play his/her character.
Click your heels three times
Another improvement Runes of Magic has over most online games is its quest log system. Most quest descriptions have objectives highlighted in blue. Players simply click on the monsters’/NPCs’ names and an automatic movement system will direct their characters where they need to go. Still hopelessly lost? The game can show you the Quest Receiver’s/Giver’s Position with just a single click on the respective buttons --- a red flag will indicate where they are on a pop-up map.
Regarding the title, the game’s developers didn’t choose the game’s name arbitrarily. When they chose the label “Runes of Magic,” they really did intend players to play around with archaic hieroglyphs and arcane gobbledygook engraved on stones. Runes are a primary element in this MMORPG. Using runes, players can fuse them into their equipment, boosting several or all of their attributes. Each class can take advantage of a certain attribute better than others. Knights benefit more than all other classes from Stamina bonuses, for example.
Another feature that takes the whole rune-and-socket system to a whole new level is the game’s Arcane Transmutator system. With this, players can meld weapons and armor with attribute-copying catalysts called Fusion Stones. The results are Mana Stones. These come with the lowest six bonuses of the equipment fused with the Fusion Stones. Three Mana Stones can then be fused with a player’s prized equipment, imbuing it with six of the bonuses the three Mana Stones came with. What with the six-attribute limit, the whole system demands some amount of forethought, lest players end up with equipment possessing little of the attributes they wanted imbued. It goes without saying that this encourages hoarding and trading between players, providing a community that has robust interaction. This feature is so engrossing that it’s like there is a trading card game going on in there, with your character serving as your “deck.”
Similarities to WoW
While the above features set Runes of Magic from World of Warcraft, its gathering and crafting systems (along with items that soulbind) make it firmly a clone. Sure, it’s just two systems but, like the runes, they are integral parts of the game. From armor sets to potions, every equipment type can be crafted in this free mmorpg. Crafters out to make some money can go to the nearest auction house and sell their latest produce.
There’s also something WoW-ish about how the game’s engine renders Runes of Magic’s gameworld. Vibrant primaries color the world, swathing it in a color scheme that’s striking without appearing garish. Where World of Warcraft strives to be cartoonish in an effort to emulate the design scheme of Frozen Throne and Reign of Chaos, Runes of Magic’s game engine departs from this cartoonish style, rendering environs in a more realistic manner. As a result, the world of Taborea is beautiful: rustic villages, massive cities, crystal-clear lakes, burbling streams, and peaceful groves dot the world. And while the maps are massive, crossing from one map to another on foot (or on a mount) doesn’t involve a loading screen, providing a nearly seamless experience to players.
“Nearly” is a word that needs to be emphasized though; Runes of Magic isn’t perfect. One of the things that bother me is the way light bounces off characters in certain situations. While it’s not game-breaking, sometimes it shatters the suspension of disbelief. The specular effects for example, are not perfect: sometimes your character looks as if he/she is covered in sweat or has slapped on a prodigious amount of foundation. In areas where there is insufficient light (in dimly-lit caves or when you’re standing under a shadow of a large tree), the game oddly does away with subtle lighting effects on your character; so much so that your character looks as if it’s pasted on the surrounding terrain, shrugging off the laws of light and shadow.
The game also suffers from the usual MMO limitations: in what may be an effort to cater to a wider player base, Runes of Magic does cut down on polygon count. Thus, you will see ridges in your equipment that look convincing but upon closer inspection, reveal themselves to be flat things with no dimension whatsoever. Nonetheless, the free MMO’s engine does get the job done with eye-candy options providing breathtaking sunsets and light-suffused landscapes that tempt you to just stand still and take it all in. While flawed, Runes of Magic is one of the more graphics-intensive MMOs out there, requiring at least 2Gb of RAM and a GeForce 9500 GT (or its ATI equivalent) to ensure a fairly stutter-free experience. (It goes without saying that it is playable with PCs having the game’s minimum specs but you will have to turn off most of the game’s visual effects.)
The symphony in C
The audio is superb ---sepulchral tones in the Forgotten Abbey; idyllic tunes in the town of Logar; haunting music in the steppes of Tagena---the background music tracks are powerfully soothing or disturbing when they need to be.
Runes of Magic, unlike most MMOs, has a main storyline that players unravel as they roam the lands of Taborea. For a game that mimics World of Warcraft however, it disappoints me that it presents it in an anemic manner. While Blizzard’s game has this epic storyline involving three races and a ravenous, star-spanning demonic race, Runes of Magic has a plot that struggles to surface from the glacial sheet of filler quests that the game throws at players. Sure, you get ominous rumors of a conspiracy by Zuridhon disciples and wizard conclaves studying gigantic monoliths left behind by powerful magi of a bygone era but the game disappointingly buries these time and again underneath petty go-fetch quests. The story is there and while it is indeed intriguing, the game unfortunately meanders too much.
I am halfway through “Runes of Magic Chapter 1: Rise of the Demon Lord” so I’m suspecting the plot will thicken once I get to the game’s second and third chapters. I’m also hoping that the developers will introduce powerful, recurring NPCs. The game badly needs important heroes and villains with the same caliber as that of Uther Lightbringer or Maiev Shadowsong. Epics do need certain constants that players can easily attach to a franchise. In this Runes of Magic is lacking.
While it just teases players with (what is hopefully) an epic storyline that lurks beneath its pool of run-of-the-mill quests, Runes of Magic does have impressive audio, a capable (but relatively resource-heavy) game engine, and myriad engrossing features that will rivet players in the world of Taborea. It may not be as impressive or as grand as World of Warcraft but with more than two million players, an impressive game engine, immersive audio, and solid and innovative features that provide heightened character customizability, Runes of Magic is a must-play.
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>>>Runes of Magic Official site (this link will take you outside of Imbacore.blogspot.com)