Indie Wonderland: Runers

Runers is a strange game name. It doesn’t really gel in my mind well, for some reason, keeps sending me on weird association tangents. Runers. Runners. Ruffles. Rubbers. Rubles. Rupees? Does Runers take place in the super-convoluted Legend of Zelda timeline? It’s impossible to say that for sure about any game, to be honest: predicting the Zelda canon timeline is like predicting two plus two equals gumballs. But wait… Runers has six letters in the title, divided by two equals… Half-Life 3 confirmed?

In non-insanity news, Runers is also the first game by two-man outfit LGK Games, colloquially ‘Let’s Get Kraken’. It’s supposedly a game all about crafting spells, which I like, and then using said spells to adventure through infinite dungeons, which I also like. Two out of two sounds like a pretty good score, so I ‘leveraged’ some ‘industry contacts’ by ‘inadvertently whining at them’, and here we are!

Let’s see if spell-crafting and spell-slinging are all they’re cracked up to be.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, nonexistent. Mechanical, medium, but also quite low.)

Opening

Old-school profile creation right off the bat? I like your moxie, Runers.

I also respect your decision to actually tell me where my saves will be put.

Runers’ title menu is made up of white text over a ye-olde-writing-deske background. I immediately feel like… it strikes a certain note with me, for lack of a better explanation. Not necessarily a good one: there’s just something about this menu that immediately triggers my instincts. I can’t pinpoint why. Why are you tickling my brain, menu?

Leaving opening weirdness for what it is, Runers’ menu is pretty comprehensive. The standard suite of PC Game options are there: audio, video, rebindable controls, and more assorted gameplay options than you can shake a stick at.

For some reason, this triggers the same impulse again. What am I feeling, here?

There are achievements, that I cannot parse, a bestiary, that I cannot see, a list of spells, that I cannot browse too far into before hitting all-question-marks, and a statistics page, which is just flat-out empty. “Hey, asshole, how about actually playing the game first?”, Runers call me out. I respect that, Runers.

Looking at empty bestiaries and incomplete spell lists makes me sad, so I guess it’s time to dig into the tutorials. Runers has six, count ’em, six tutorials available, all of the guided-gameplay school of explanation that I dig very much.

The initial tutorials teach me the basics of Runing. Like so:

“Welcome to the tutorial! Press Control to immediately leave, again. We… we know you hate us.”

Initial impressions paint Runers as a top-down twin-stick-style shooter. WASD move my little guy around the screen, left and right mouse button continually cast the spells they’ve been assigned. Other spells, assigned to the number keys, have to be cast by manually pressing the keys over and over. The tutorial starting spell, Magic Missile — ho ho ho — has a cooldown of less than a second, so the left-mouse rapid-fire option is preferable to hammering my 1 key into mush. And the effect of said rapid-fire is… well, to give Runers a twin-stick-shooter kind of appeal. Before long, I’m running around the square room with one hand and lobbing magic missiles with the other.

The tutorial tasks me with destroying boxes, which don’t fight back, and rats, which do. It then uses the aforementioned rats to start teaching me about spellcrafting, which involves collectible runes and ‘Combiners’, various modifiers, the notion of shattering, and a whole mess of optional stats.

Seriously! I actually lost my train of thought, while playing the tutorial, upon reaching this stage the first time.

Crafting spells is actually relatively simple. There are ten rune types: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Light, Dark, Mind, Entropy, Shock, and Speed. Each rune directly corresponds to one simple spell. You can also combine multiple runes into one single spell, assuming you have the appropriate ‘Combiner’, a little Venn diagram with magical powers. Combiners come in two-rune and three-rune flavours, and I’m sure you can work out how that influences spellcrafting.

The tutorial doesn’t actually let you craft any non-simple spells. I understand why, but now that I’m tasted of the well of magic, I’m ready to get my wizard hands dirty. With mana, I guess. I rapidly complete the rest of the tutorials, which cover topics such as leveling up spells and leveling up my character — all important information — as well as the venerable classic of ‘don’t stand in the fire’. Then, brimming with knowledge, I strike out.

…right after hitting the information motherlode.

Excuse me while I am befuddled for a moment.

Right after selecting my initial difficulty — ‘Regular’ or ‘Wimpy’, and I’m not embarrassed to confess I picked the latter — this screen decks me right in the eyes. And it is at this particular moment that I finally manage to frame my earlier menu screen reservations. All of it makes sense, suddenly: the extraneous menu information, the highly complicated menu, the red-and-green minutiae choices involving dozens of seemingly interchangeable variables. Even the difficulty level colour coordination.

Runers looks and feels for all the world like I’m playing an Arcen Games game.

A brief Google search seems to suggest LGK Games is not, in fact, an Arcen Games subsidiary. Or in any way related. Still, the similarities are uncanny. I continue, dogged by the uneasy sense that I could be ambushed by space-faring hydras along the way.

For all my joking, the character select screen is actually not that bad to get a hang of. I have to make three choices from a whole mess of options. One passive ability, named after a fantasy race, which is either good or both good and bad. One active ability, named after a fantasy class, all of which sound pretty powerful in their own right. And one starting spell, from a list of ten: the ten basic spells corresponding to the ten basic runes.

I leaf through the options a little while, reading to and fro. At first, the choices are overwhelming. Do I go for chimera, or golem, or vampire… mystic, or paladin, or warlock… But then an idea hits me, square in the brain-jaw.

There’s a Blessing of the Human, which makes you a good all-rounder. There’s a class called Bard, which has the ability to stun targets in a short radius. And the Speed rune spell, Kinetic Bolt, fires fast energy projectiles of some origin.

Amazing jack-of-all-trades, nondescript energy blasting, ability to stun even the strongest foe with a careful application of sick performance moves?

Oh yeah, I’m totally going to be Star-Lord.

Initial impressions

Hey, remember those controls? Just in case you’re the kind of scumbag who skips tutorials, here they are again!

Star-Lord’s log, star-date… one. Star-one. Man, it feels good to be Star-Lord. I still can’t believe they let me lord over all the stars!

Though… if I’m lord of all stars, why am I standing in what appears to be a massive, mostly empty room? With dirt floors and ugly wooden walls?

I’ll confess: I haven’t read much of Star-Lord.

I run around the room a bit. There are boxes. I blast them with my energy blaster Kinetic Bolt spell. Nothing much happens, except that some numbers float in the air for a while.

“Oh, yeah, this is probably totally how magic works.”

The large room has a couple of doors, each corresponding to exactly one cardinal direction. I go through the southern one. This brings me to a much smaller room, actual-room-sized, filled with even more boxes. I blow those all up, too. Nothing happens.

No enemies, so far. Maybe… maybe this is one of those peaceful dungeons?

I move through another southern door. No sooner do I walk into another giant, spacious room, than portcullises drop over all possible exits. A swarm of rats attacks! Also, a bunch of glowing bright-white people, they attack too! They… seem to be in league with the rats? All of them have eyes only for me. But then again, I am Star-Lord. Can’t blame ’em.

Faced with these overwhelming odds, I employ a combat strategy that would put Sun Tzu himself to shame: I run around the edges of the room, firing my energy bolts into a massive crowd of melee-range-only targets. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel, except they’re rats in an ugly room instead. The white men cast nondescript projectiles of their own, but those are easy enough to dodge. Target leading wasn’t big on the magic school curriculum, I guess.

If enemies do get a little close, I bust out my ill funky jams. Even the rats, not usually billed as the most artistic of creatures, stop to watch when I dance.

Dancing like that does tire me out, though, so I can only do it once a minute at most.

I kill all the rats, and the white wizards. Then, as an encore, I destroy the rat hive, which seems to be regurgitating an endless stream of rats in a predictable pattern. My reward for doing so is… nothing.

Okay, I mean, I get some EXP. From the tutorial, I know that leveling up unlocks access to randomly selected perks of some description, which could be cool. But I’m not here for perks, I’m here for spells. And as far as that’s concerned… no dice.

Current mood: “:(“

I move on. Checking my space-age mini-map

…because that is what I would do…

…I find a bunch of rooms I haven’t been to. Maybe these rooms will have spells?

Success! After killing a whole bunch of white mages, pink mages, and those Legend of Zelda shield-eating monsters — god damnit, these games do share a universe! I knew it! — I find a Light rune! I don’t have any Combiners right now, or any other runes to mix it with, but the Light rune in and by itself resolves to a pretty neat Magic Missile spell! That’s twice as much magical firepower, right there.

Current mood: “:D”

Soon afterwards, I find out that firing two short-cooldown spells simultaneously… doesn’t really work, the way I’d envisioned it, because they somehow interfere with each other’s cooldowns. But hey: worth a shot, right?

I kill some more rooms. Boxes, buckets, rats, skeletons. I actually have to manually scatter the skeletons’ bones, otherwise they reform. Weird, huh? I also discover that some monsters glow yellow, that those are tougher ‘elite’ monsters, and that elite monsters have a higher chance to drop runes and an actual non-zero chance to drop Combiners.

In other words: a few rooms after the Magic Missile Flop, I find myself with another Light Rune, an Earth Rune, and a Two-Rune Combiner. Finally, time for some of that spell-crafting action!

I won’t lie: I’m anxious as a high school kid the day of the big test.

The result? Oh, only a wicked-cool Light Snare spell.

Behold!

The Light Snare spell deals high single target damage, and incurs a significant slow effect. It has a high cooldown, but it packs a wallop. In other words, it’s a good complement to my fast-acting Kinetic Bolt spell, and I’m glad I have it.

More rooms, more enemies, more runes. I actually quickly find another Earth rune. Rather than save that for combining, though, I decide to feed it to the Light Snare spell. Every spell can be upgraded with the rune type or types that go into the spell, for spell-specific bonuses. In Light Snare’s case — and if you’ll cast your gaze to the previous screenshot — a Light rune would reduce its cooldown, while an Earth rune would increase the duration of its slow effect.

Anyway, what was this about more enemies?

Here’s a bunch of rats, and some guy. They’ll do.

I kill some enemies. I kill some more enemies. I find a Challenge Room, which offer high rewards for completing certain optional challenges. The challenge in this room is ‘kill all enemies’, so I do so! This causes me to level up. And as dismissive as I was of the perks earlier, I’m not about to turn down a free power boost.

Sure, magic gives you zappy skin. I can actually accept that one without reservation.

Hey, do you know what happens if you stitch two Shock runes together?

Awesomeness happens.

Finally, after clearing another enemy room — one of many, it didn’t seem interesting at the start — the stairs down suddenly pop up. Touching these stairs down takes me to the next level, obviously, and provides me with a neat bonus. Crucially, going down a level is also the only place I can save my game, making these level transitions an excellent time to grab a much-needed breather.

Psych! I totally immediately continue. I move on to Floor 2, which is… more of the same dirt rooms, actually. More of the same rooms, more of the same enemies, more of the same boxes, more of the same everything.

There are *some* new things.

I fight some more monsters. I find some more runes and combines. I craft some more spells. I level up some more. I go down to floor 3. I fight a giant boss water droplet called Droploid, which seems to be the legitimate tri-state area boss here. Wait, how did that happen? I just walked through this random-looking door! … That… has streamers of red fog coming out from under it. Yeah, in retrospect, I totally understand what just happened.

Funny how hindsight works like that.

I kick the Droploid’s ass, of course. It’s a giant drop of water, honestly, what was its game plan? Killing it rewards me with a new active spell slot, as well as with a Three-Rune Combiner. Sweet! I use the Combiner to fuse Speed, Earth and Fire together into an awful spell that sucks.

“Cast this spell, and you’ll get faster! Also, so will your enemies!”

Soon afterwards, on the icy plains of Floor 4, I die. Coincidence? I think not.

“My hot feet made the ice all slippery!”

It sucks that I’m dead, of course. I had so much left I wanted to do in this life! Fight more monsters, and get more runes, and craft more spells… but on the upside, at least I go to the afterlife knowing that I’m a better spell-slinger than some Runers I could name.

I mean, it doesn’t really mean anything. I’m just better.

Plus, you know, being dead gives me the advantage of being able to try out different race-class builds. I’d been eyeing that Dryad race, the giant regenerating plants, from the start.

Being Star-Lord was pretty interesting. I wonder what it would be like to be Groot?

Onto page 2. >>

2 comments

  1. After playing the demo, I don’t think I’ll be buying Runers. Like yourself, I really like the idea of the spellcrafting mechanics, but I found that each spell (at least, the direct damage spells) didn’t really feel different to play. They were either fast firing and fast travelling (ie 90% of the spells I tried) or slow and unwieldy, but therefore not worth using considering the twin-stick shooter nature of the gameplay. This may change with different combinations, but as noted above those combiners are hard to find. On top of this, kinaesthetically the game feels… a bit flat? The player character doesn’t feel particularly solid and the spells lack punch. I want to feel a visceral thump when I throw a fireball, and it’s just not present here. Overall this seems to be a game with great ideas locked behind grinding, and not quite satisfying enough gameplay.

    1. Yeah, that sums up my thoughts pretty well as well. I agree about the kinaesthetics part; I didn’t mention it during writing because it didn’t influence my experience as much as everything else I wrote about, but it’s definitely a factor that could be boosted a notch or two.

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