Monday, October 26, 2009

Runes of Magic: what I liked

Previous post in this series: Enter the strange world of F2P: Runes of Magic

So I've spent some time playing Runes of Magic over the last two weeks - enough time to get a character up to level 15/15. And so far, here's what I've found likable about the game.

My general impression of RoM before I ever played it was that it was regarded as "a free-to-play game that was polished enough to be a subscription game". Interestingly, though, googling for reviews just now in the hope of finding some pithy quotes, it seems that most reviewers slammed it for it's overall lack of polish. Maybe they've gotten a lot of work done in the seven months since its initial Western release, because I didn't find it lacking at all. The general feel of the interface, the graphics, the sounds, the game mechanics, stability, etc., was indeed all good enough that I would not have found it out of place for this to be a pay-to-play title.

Class system

Getting into the mechanics, I'd heard a lot of "WoW clone" talk, and I guess I was expecting it to be a lot more WoW-like than it actually is. Sure, it's a race-class-level system, but if you stand it next to other race-class-level games I've played in recent years, such as Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online and EverQuest 2, it is no more similar to WoW than it is to any of the others - they're all different takes on the general concept that dates back to pen & paper Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s. And personally, I found RoM's "primary class / secondary class" system quite interesting.

Basically, RoM has eight classes, generally pretty standard fantasy archetypes like warrior and mage and priest. But once you've hit level 10, you can select a secondary class, which allows you to use some of the abilities of that class as well as those of your main. I started off as a priest and took knight as my secondary. This allows me to use some holy melee skills (whereas as a plain priest I couldn't do anything useful in melee), an armour buff and debuff, etc.

To be honest, knight as a secondary class doesn't feel terribly useful for a priest. But! When I'm in town, I can switch it around to become a knight with priest as my secondary class. In this fashion, characters have two distinct choices to switch between, much like WoW's dual talent specs. So I can be a priest/knight, and heal, or I can be a knight/priest, and be a tank with some healing abilities. This seems like a particularly powerful combination, having priest as a secondary grants my knight several healing spells, including a fairly powerful instacast heal over time, which combined with the knight's ability to regain mana using a melee move makes me feel almost immortal.

I'm not sure how many combinations are possible (it's not the full 8 x 7 = 56 since some classes are human-only or elf-only), but it's quite a few - certainly more than the number of classes offered by any single-class game, even WAR with it's 24 classes.

Item upgrading

We're all accustomed to the search for better and better gear being a huge part of any fantasy MMO. What really caught my interest about RoM is that customizing and upgrading your gear is at least as big a part of the game as obtaining it in the first place.

In WoW, for instance, weapons and most types of armour can be enchanted, with there being generally a handful of endgame-quality enchants to choose between. And some items have sockets that you can put a gem of your choice into, to enhance a particular stat. RoM, on the other hand, has no less than four different ways in which you can customize and upgrade items.

It can all get as complicated as hell, here's a thread on the RoM forums covering the various processes, but basically you're looking at stripping stats from unwanted items to put them onto your gear, breaking down other unwanted items and using the results to increase the "tier" of your gear, using refining jewels to add "pluses" to your gear, and finally drilling sockets in your gear in order to fit runes. It seems like an absolute mini-maxer or theorycrafter's delight.

And it really appeals to my opinion that crafting in MMOs should be all about customization, not just about making your own items but about making them exactly the way you want them. RoM's actual crafting system is nothing special - a pretty standard fixed-recipe system, not much different from a bunch of other games - but the item upgrading really forms a crafting metagame.

The downside is, to do a lot of this fun stuff, you need to spend money at the item store. Perhaps a lot of money. Using components purchased in game, you can put three or maybe four desirable stats onto your item - using purified fusion stones from the cash shop, you can get six. Using refining jewels purchased in game, you can realistically upgrade an item to +1 or +2 - using refining jewels from the cash shop, you can get +6. And as for rune sockets, if your item doesn't have any to start with, drillers from the cash shop are the only way to add them.

Needless to say, this flies in the face of the "play for free, pay for convenience" model of f2p MMOs, and will form a big part of my "what I didn't like" post.

Next post in this series: Runes of Magic: what I didn't like

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