IN A MARKET DOMINATED by several major payto-play massively multiplayer online games (or MMOs), smaller developers are breaking into the genre by offering their games free of charge, but with the option to pay for extras. The so-called “freemium” model (also known as ‘Real Money Transactions’) seems to be quite successful and will probably appeal to gamers here, given the lack of a subscription fee.
Admittedly, Runes of Magic is a fairly genericsounding name, and you’d be forgiven for thinking some of the visuals resemble those of World of Warcraft (or most fantasy MMOs, for that matter). However such games are, by and large, generic; World of Warcraft simply built on and refi ned the games that came before it, and Runes of Magic endeavours to bring this formula to the free-to-play market.
A much-touted selling point (if a free game can have a selling point) is that unlike other MMOs that feature “hybrid” classes, Runes of Magic has six basic classes (Knight, Mage, Priest, Rogue, Scout and Warrior), each serving its own purpose, with the ability to choose a secondary class after you reach level 10.
The idea is that each class makes use of a specific power type (ie: mana, though there is some overlap with that) and has two sets of skills, one of which is available at all times, as well as a smaller set for each class combination. A very nice feature, although it requires frequent switching between classes, which can be a little tiresome.
Along with that milestone, several more of the game’s main features are opened up: a large number of quests, the ‘arcane transmuter’ (more on that later) and player vs player (PVP) shortly afterwards, to name a few. On a related note, characters receive a free semicustomisable house, providing players with storage, bonuses, a way to swap their primary and secondary classes and a... French maid? There is a catch though: the ‘freemium’ part of the game consists of an item shop mostly paid for with real money, although players have the opportunity to earn a lesser item with shop-specifi c currency in the course of normal gameplay. It can also be used as charges for the ‘arcane transmuter’, a device for transferring item bonuses. It’s a nice feature, given the emphasis placed on augmenting items and how disposable equipment seems in most MMOs.
Unfortunately, Runes of Magic does not present a good fi rst impression by starting off with, quite frankly, oring quests. I honestly thought that being asked to kill several wolf cubs and return their tails was an in-joke with fans of the genre, but sadly not. The bland quest descriptions certainly don’t help either, but a little perseverance will see players moving on to more interesting quests, monsters, instances (a temporary copy of a dungeon created for your party) and so forth.
As mentioned in our April preview, there is plenty of potential for this game, even if that potential is mostly apparent in what is missing. There are no other playable races, the early stages of the game are lacking (though to be fair, this is a downside to most online games), as is its appeal to first-time MMO players, and even the patcher can be, well, patchy.
It would be unfair to dismiss Runes of Magic based on the aforementioned points alone, though. Much of the appeal of massively multiplayer online games lies in their constant and continued development. For all I know, by the time this article goes to print, things could have changed dramatically. Still, while Runes of Magic probably won’t put a dent in World of Warcraft’s massive population of over 12 million players, I can see some gamers appreciating the shallow learning curve and others enjoying the social aspect. Besides, it’s at the perfect price.