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Runes of Magic (PC) artwork

Runes of Magic (PC) review

"From first glance, the game defines itself as a generic fantasy MMORPG. It doesn't even try to disguise itself as anything truly unique, making clear that its basically everything you'd expect from the get-go. All the usual features are here, from the typical character classes (warrior, mage etc.), to an extensive creation myth that has no relevance to the quests or characters in-game. "

When Lord of the Rings Online was first released, it was heavily criticised for being a World of Warcraft clone. While LotRO did retain the typical feel and features of WoW, the lore kept its original flair and resulted in it offering an experience that's different to WoW. Despite both being based in fantasy settings, right down to sharing talking trees, both games are well-established enough to attract a hefty audience for each. WoW is obviously hugely bigger than LotRO and continues to grow at an extraordinary rate, whilst EA's creation still possesses a large, loyal playerbase. Would the situation be different if LotRO didn't draw from an epic that has defined everything from the workings of Dungeons and Dragons to the lore of Warcraft? Would people be as willing to play second-fiddle to a cast of NPCs that the game alone really fails to develop, instead assuming everyone has read up on the back story themselves? LotRO is a WoW clone in everything except story, but imagine if that was removed and players were thrust into a world they had no knowledge about.

This is the situation that Runes of Magic presents us with. There's a short explanation of events in the manual, but otherwise the world is completely unknown to the player. Ideally the developers could have utilised this ignorance and provided a game with a new, refreshing experience that could change the way people perceive MMOs. This is a prospect that all new game releases face, but most fail to take advantage of it or rely heavily on previously established lore to entice players. RoM fails to grasp the opportunity that is presented here and essentially attempts to 'play it safe'. Unfortunately, this leads to an unsatisfying experience.

From first glance, the game defines itself as a generic fantasy MMORPG. It doesn't even try to disguise itself as anything truly unique, making clear that its basically everything you'd expect from the get-go. All the usual features are here, from the typical character classes (warrior, mage etc.), to an extensive creation myth that has no relevance to the quests or characters in-game. There are some tweaks that are obvious improvements on its peers, such as splendid graphics and lengthy, interesting quest chains that begin from level one. Such chains are not only designed to serve as a tutorial to new players, but to introduce them to some of the main characters and zones in the game. A few of these quest lines can even span entire regions, and hand out rewards appropriately. Unfortunately, many of these quests are of the typical 'go to a location, kill twelve boars' variety, which can quickly become boring after doing several missions of this type in a row. Moreover, it can feel like you're being constantly chaperoned through playing the game, as there is little opportunity to go elsewhere and seek out new quests due to the limiting number of regions overall. Once you've begun investing in one questline, it is difficult to back out and go do something else anyway.

The unoriginal feel to the game is tolerable, until beginning endgame content.

Eventually, you'll reach level fifty and wish to conquer the biggest challenges that RoM can offer. This can only be done by joining up with thirty others and charging into the nearest dragon lair or giant insect hive. It's in such an instance that you'll squabble over the best way to kill each boss, then row over loot distribution after the kill. This is a cycle you'll repeat until bored or overwhelmingly frustrated with the game. A decade ago, raid dungeons were the highlight of any MMO. What's the point in playing a game with others if you can't face huge enemies with them by your side? However, the inclusion of instances designed for large groups so they can kill a giant, flying lizard together is becoming stale very quickly to the average online gamer, who has probably gone through many by now.

The first time I came up against Onyxia in WoW or one of the many giant spiders in LotRO, I was genuinely scared, but simultaneously impressed. Upon the fifth or sixth time of battling one of these beasts, they didn't evoke any emotional response from me. Given enough time, anyone becomes desensitised to these kinds of foes, and eventually fighting them becomes a chore. There's nothing wrong with using an element of gameplay that has been highly successful in previous, similar games. On the other hand, raiding is no longer universally viewed by the online community with passion or excitement. By the time a typical player picks up Runes of Magic, it is likely that they've had to run through hundreds of dungeons in past games to get their hands on decent loot, so imagine having to take the same approach all over again with a new game. Its annoying, especially considering RoM does end-game content at a lot lower standard than other titles. Unoriginality is fine to an extent, but when developers begin to implement features that are bordering on disliked by MMO players, the decency of the game must be called into question. This is precisely the case with RoM, where nigh on everything is cloned from other games. Such mechanics are tolerable for the majority of playing, but when people reach the maximum level only to discover they have to repeat raiding ad nausea, then its understandable when their patience wears thin.

Runes of Magic has the fundamentals perfected. The game brandishes gorgeous graphics, some sublime stories and (best of all) there are no monthly subscription charges. The problems began when the developers opted to build something weak and unremarkable on top of such strong foundations.

Melaisis's avatar
Freelance review by Freelance Writer (April 22, 2009)

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randxian posted April 23, 2009:

I don't agree with the angle you take here. It seems to me the biggest knock on this game is that it essentially offers nothing new from LotR and WoW. But you also point out there are no monthly fees.

What if someone who doesn't want to pay those monthly tries this game instead? If a person has never played LotR and WoW, would this game have the same weaknesses?

I don't like how you assume everyone who plays MMO plays every MMO. I've only played Maple Story for the simple reason that it's completely free. Same with games on BYOND. Those are free. I've never played WoW or LotR.
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sashanan posted April 24, 2009:

The way I see it - and take it as you will because I'm not much of an MMO player - the monthly fee ones are one category and the no monthly fee ones are another. In the same way that I'd expect less of a $20 budget title than of a full priced game, I'd also sooner compare a "free" MMO (I assume there is an initial purchase involved though?) to others of its kind - be it Maple Story or CABAL Online, the one I've played most recently, than to WoW.

That said, the point that in terms of content it does precisely the same thing that all the others have already done repeatedly is well taken. Even your comments on quest chains just screamed "ah, exactly like CABAL then" to me, and even as somebody who knows WoW only from word of mouth I can see how raiding is not considered anything special anymore these days.
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randxian posted April 24, 2009:

Didn't mean to come down so hard on the review in my initial statement. I think it's well written and flows well; I just don't like the approach taken.

On the other hand, I understand MMOs obviously have a completley different dynamic than typical video games. Perhaps I just don't understand all the little nuances and the terminology.

With that said, I still think this review alienates people like me who don't play a lot of MMOs.
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Melaisis posted May 03, 2009:

Aye. In the initial draft I knocked the whole 'been there, done that' aspect hard. As you say, the review does alienate those of you who haven't played many MMOs, but this is 2009 and they've been around for almost a decade. Even if you've just played MapleStory or even RuneScape, you'll find that most of the features are simply copy and pasted here.

Thank you for the other compliments, though. ^^

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