I've been looking forward to Runes of Magic (RoM) for a long time. Frogster Interactive has promised a free-to-play experience that uses story (in the form of quests) as the primary method of advancement. A F2P game that doesn't use mind-numbing grinding for character development? Count me in!
Frogster was kind enough to add me to the RoM closed beta in September 2008. Now that the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) has lifted, I can tell readers what I saw. In short, Runes of Magic mimics a lot of other games in much of its gameplay mechanics, but it provides a deeply developed story for the backdrop. The result is a gameplay experience that is immediately familiar and engaging.
Frogster Interactive has lore for each location and creature in Runes of Magic.
Check out the Hook While My Deejay Revolves It
The thing that hooked me about RoM was the incredible amount of detail built into each zone, dungeon, and creature. Just check out this preview of Aslan Valley. Each picture in the preview has two or three paragraphs of background story to go with it. F2P developers have a reputation for churning out games filled with pointless kill quests that slowly turn the treadmill on a leveling curve that is sadistic at best and tantamount to torture at worst. In such a dismal market, RoM could be a ray of sunshine.
In RoM, gamers will explore the world of Taborea, which is filled with budding outposts trying to carve out a place in a rough land. The player is an upstart trying to make his way rather than the blood relative of a legendary hero or a demigod who simply needs to unlock his powers to rule the world. The story does its best to make the events of the world the real draw for the game. You just get the pleasure of experiencing it all through your avatar.
Crafting a Winner
Any game that hopes to capture a cut of the MMOG player base needs a rich crafting system, and RoM does not disappoint in that department. Harvesting and crafting work a lot like EverQuest 2. Resources spawn in nodes scattered throughout the over world and in dungeons. Players can harvest from nodes of the lowest tier until they gain enough levels to harvest the next best node. Crafting involves using refined harvested resources with store bought additives and recipes.
Choosing a crafting system like the one found in EQ2 is an example of how all systems in RoM aim to be comfortable without reinventing the wheel. EQ2's crafting is more sophisticated than a simple "combine items in a pot and click a button" method, but it is not as complicated as a system like the one found in Vanguard, where players must labor over each crafting item, adding in elements in a timely fashion to prevent disaster. Players can choose to craft heavy armor, metal weapons, bows and staves, or clothing. They can even dabble in alchemy or cooking to make potions and consumables that give a buff.
Some mounts can be rented in the game while others can be purchased in the item mall.
Two other elements that seem to be required for MMOGs are the ability to obtain mounts and player housing. RoM fulfills those prerequisites with systems that are not original but that are very functional. Don't look to be riding any sea serpents or giant thunder lizards in RoM, but count on a nice horse to increase your movement speed. Likewise, don't expect to build a Fortress of Solitude for yourself on a frozen tundra, but do plan to get yourself a simple house that you can decorate as you see fit.
Get a Job, You Bum! Better Yet, Get Two!
Standard classes in RoM include warrior, knight, scout, rogue, mage, and priest. Warriors remind me of a D&D barbarian in that they can hit hard and have a lot of hit points but do not wear plate armor. Knights are the defensive bulwarks who aim to soak up damage. Scouts use bows to deal damage from afar while rogues cloak themselves in the shadows to come in close for burst damage. A mage is the direct damage caster, and the priest focuses on heals and buffs with the occasional nuke thrown in for good measure.
Much like in Final Fantasy XI, gamers can choose two classes in RoM. One becomes the primary class while the other is secondary. The cool part is that you change which class is your primary to fit the needs of your party. Want to be a paladin? Combine the tanking prowess of the knight with the healing magic of the priest. Want a battlemage? Try warrior plus mage. My personal taste tends toward the old D&D ranger, a mix of the scout and priest. The dual class system has been done in games before, and Frogster's not trying to improve upon a formula researched by other developers. Instead, the aim is to make the player's choices have meaning. Just like in D&D, a pure mage has better magic capabilities in RoM than a mage/thief combo, but the latter has some stealth abilities to compensate for the diminished firepower.
Continue to page two to find out about the graphics and gameplay.