This project started with a question I haven’t contemplated before: How do you review an MMO? In the standard deadline given to review any other game, there is ample time to complete the main story and dabble with the multiplayer element, having probably put in about 20 hours of playtime. But what if a game can’t be cracked in 20 hours? What if its play-time is measured in months? Dedicating a mere week to such a title wouldn’t be fair and I couldn’t be sure my review was fully justified. It is therefore, with some trepidation that I will /dance with the devil in the pale moonlight for a full month in Runes of Magic, living and breathing in its world to really know the beast; to understand what separates this MMO from the host of others in a sea of greasy addiction.
Meet Rusty Ringstinger (I’m sorry Fista, but the name must live on), he’s a human warrior. Unfortunately Rusty is on a Spanish server, and my Spanish doesn’t stretch much further than asking for a sandwich, so a great start. As with most MMOs when you create a character you pick a server for the character to be placed and normally that’s where they stay. Why didn’t I pick an English server you ask? Because all of them were heavily crowded or full. Rusty is my second character, but my playing experience was heavily impacted on a full server: frequent disconnects and terrible lag thwarted me at every turn, this would not do. But let us not dwell too heavily on the language barrier, I will make do. I may even learn some Spanish. Olé!
A strange new world. As Rusty’s eyes open gently his first sight will be an NPC with an exclamation mark floating above them. Deja vu?! Through the medium of quests I am guided through the instanced tutorial. Anyone who has played an MMO will be right at home, the spell bar along the bottom, the character info in the top-left, mini-map in the top-right. But what of this new world? Well, first imagine World of Warcraft… That’s it, it’s basically a fantasy setting with a toonish feel to the characters very much reminiscent of the grand-daddy of MMOs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I just didn’t expect it to be that similar.
Tutorial over I emerged on a hill overlooking a the quaint village of Pioneer’s Colony. This was to be my hub for the next 5 hours, gently dipping me into the nuances of Runes of Magic without drowning me in a torrent of information. Having completed the first batch of quests, a pattern began to emerge. Either Frogster have further eased the orientation of players, or every quest is kill X number of Ys or gather X Y’s livers. Another aspect is my fledgling attempts at crafting, as a player can become proficient in all techniques (specialising in 3, artisan at 1) this presents a huge amounts of resources everywhere, and I do mean everywhere.
You see, I’m vaguely hinting at the nature of the game. It’s a bit… grindy. OK, there’s a lot of grind, but not in a bad way. Grinding has got a lot of bad press the last few years, it seems the go-to attack from dullards trying to bash MMOs. But if the process of grinding is presented well, it will itch that conformist scratch in the back of your mind and maybe bring order into your chaotic life. Grinding is everywhere in real life, most hobbies involve doing the same thing over and over again for pleasure. Runes of Magic’s grind is well implemented with a dynamic mini-map that highlights all nearby resource points and even enemies that may fulfil a quest you currently have. Navigation is also eased with an auto-travel system that allows you to click on a destination of your map and your character will automatically run there. Even the crafting menu has an intelligent queue system where you can line up several minutes worth of crafting without having to be there to click the mouse. Get the kettle on!
Ahem, excuse me I got on a bit of a rant there, back to Rusty. Soon he outgrew Pioneer’s Colony, a veritable mound of wolf corpses before him. It was time to move on and become a small fish in a big pond once again. Rusty mounted his stead (available for free for 24 hours before having to pay) and galloped to Logar, in the North, a town nestled in the rolling hills. The first impression is one of confusion, so many profession trainers litter the cobbled streets. As it turns out, the herbalism, mining and woodcutting professions I had learnt before are gathering professions. Lining the streets of Logar were all the secondary professions, opportunities to process those raw materials into something useful. I’m sure I haven’t learnt them all but I’ve already learnt 10 secondary professions, ranging from blacksmithing, cooking, tailoring, carpentry, armour crafting and many more. The anal obsessive completionist side in my head simply melted, it was all too much. I could easily spend 2 months in becoming proficient in these skills alone, ignoring all quests. Swallowing the large lump in my throat I decided to give crafting a wide berth for awhile, quests were afoot.
A quick scout around Logar revealed a multitude of people who needed 10 bear skins or 10 spiders dead (why is it always 10?). By accepting all quests at once I was able to kill 10 birds with one stone (pun partially intended) and complete several quests at once. Trotting back into Logar to hand-in I noticed an NPC with the title of house maid. Curiosity getting the better of me I gaily cantered to said buxom wench who informed me I have my own house. My own house already? With furniture slots and extensions and benefits for certain arrangements? A space to grow my own plants with varying effects? Again this was too much, although it’s great to have several detailed systems to occupy the players, sometimes the introduction is just too sudden. Either that or I’m a closet psychopath who can’t deal with rapid change. I decided that if this house business was really important, the game would nag me at a later time when I’m better orientated in the game.
The next five levels flew past in a haze of creatures in groups of 10. So frenzied was my fauna decimation I didn’t even realise I’d hit level 10. Above the mayor’s head was that tell-tale exclamation mark, apparently I’d saved the town and the warriors guild wanted to see me in Varanas immediately, where big things were afoot. I waved my goodbye to Logar and set off North again. To Varanas!
This Week’s Final Thoughts: This week has been a real pain. After spending two days levelling a character I had to abandon and now being on a Spanish server has dented my play-time a bit. Even on the second time through I was still confused with a lot of the aspects thrown around. The more I play Runes of Magic, the less it seems like WoW. The predominant task in WoW is the questing your way up to level 80, at which point you can do daily quests or arena. All your roles somehow feed back into the questing system, which admittedly are varied enough.
Runes of Magic is a different animal, with so many facets littered around one could spend years without even completing a quest. Until now the quests have been a little cookie-cutter but there’s a huge social element encompassing everything. It could be taken as the highest complement that I’m even comparing the two games seriously. Considering Runes of Magic is free to download and play it has a lot of potential within. And although the game is funded by micro-transactions, I’ve only encountered three scenarios where there was the option to drop some cash.
Well, that’s enough from me for now. Join me next week for my epic adventure into Varanas.