Monday, February 9, 2009

Runes of Magic Beta Impressions

Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (mmorpg's) have always had to contend with a pitfall called the "grind". The grind is what we call endless monster slaying, farming, or any other mindless game play that only serves to level your character. In addition, mmorpg's have to contend with a sizable portion of gamers who don't play often enough to justify monthly subscriptions fee's, and the hugely dedicated fan bases of games like World of Warcraft. Some free-to-play mmo's now seem poised to tackle these issue. Runes of Magic (RoM) claims to be one of this new wave of titles. Does RoM avoid the pitfalls of the grind and can it appeal to a wide enough a range of gamers, or is it doomed to a quiet and lonely death?

Graphically RoM is surprisingly good. Human character models are nice and creatures look decent. Spell effects are a high point, with molten balls of plasma exploding into flames on impact. The art direction is strange, best described as squeaky clean medieval fantasy. The world is still under construction, but it is odd walking through it and seeing a scene of such Utopian perfection. Even World of Warcraft with its bright color pallet has re-animated corpses walking about.

Good audio draws you into a game, but right now the sound pushes you back into real life. The musical scores are solid high fantasy fare, but they cut in and out much to abruptly. Attacks and spell sounds are still works in progress. The major complaint is the near total lack of ambient noise. In a forest you should hear birds singing, wolves howling, and running water. A dungeon should ring with the primal shrieks of it inhabitants. It is in beta, so these issues are hopefully going to be resolved before the official release.

A mmorpg must be re-playable, as they are supported by periodic and not one time fee's. In RoM it is not monthly fee's you pay, but much smaller transactions like renting horses or buying inventory spaces. These mini-fee's are not required, you can have fun with the items you earn in game. There is a lot to do, unfortunately it mostly boils down to killing some amount of these creatures, or simply acting as a courier. RoM is not alone, most mmorpg's do this, but these types of quests get old quick. Ultimately the repetition started to wear thin before I was tempted to spend real money.

The game is pretty well balanced. No matter your character type, you'll be able to do some pretty substantial soloing. Most necessary items are affordable with your in game gold. Some creatures become easy very quickly, others remain challenging for multiple levels. Completed quests are rewarded with experience points, gold, and gear. Party's form near the most difficult area's, and there is a decent variety of in game player types. Warrior, Mage and Priests players abound. You'll get the impression the developers are paying attention to player feedback.

In character creation you choose gender, class, appearance and the name of you're adventurer. There is an optional tutorial that covers basic movement and controls. When you dive into the game you can immediately start hacking at evil mushroom men (no rats here!). Sadly, once you start farming resources and hacking assorted woodland creatures, you never really stop. The game does try to set itself apart by offering dual classing and player housing, but it does not really add much fun to the mix.

Most most games strive for ease of use and intuitive controls, however RoM is not yet user friendly. While most aspects of the interface are customizable, the default settings will probably drive off many prospective players. You can auto-travel using your quest log, which is nice. Another appreciated feature is a straight forward opt in dueling system; its good fun killing your party members while you wait for that boss to re-spawn.

In order to compete with the big boys, a new mmorpg has to be innovative in the extreme, or do the classic genre features better than the rest. Runes of Magic is shaping up to be a good game, just not in the same league as the conventional mmorpg's. For a free-to-play mmorpg still in beta testing, it is impressive. My in game time was mostly enjoyable and crash free. The player community is helpful, which bodes well for the games future. A lot of the criticisms presented here are pretty much normal symptoms of an ongoing beta test. The developers have their work cut out in preparation of the mid March release date. The grind still sucks, but at least now I don't have to pay for it.

5 comments:

  1. I'll be happy when the next great MMO comes out that is NOT built on WoW. It makes me cry.

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  2. Nice overview, thx for the write up!

    Regards,

    Stu

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  3. After trying it out, I see some areas where it really looks like they are aiming in the right direction, but they still have a long way to go.

    Awesome: Virtual keyboard for password entry to prevent key loggers from grabbing your password. Multiclassing should make filling party roles much easier for groups, although there are certainly bugs to work out with that system.

    Problematic: There are some clear issues with the grind that they really need to address and balance for the attention spans of western gamers. The interface is anything but neat at this point, and menus can be a bit glitchy. Still plenty of areas where the text is all in Korean (?) and completely unintelligible. Crafting, I love crafting in games, but I wasn't impressed with the lack of tracking on your skill level, making farming of materials difficult, and the number of raw materials and layers of refinement that must be done to them to craft anything useful.

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