Runes of Magic – Chapter III

Runes of Magic: LECH FOR FREE

All this talk about WoW-killers and who’s going to overthrow Blizzard in a bloody office coup, then Runes of Magic bypasses the whole conversation by basically just remaking WoW as a F2P clone. In a tradition that stems back to Pac-Man clone Munch Man, game clones are prone to being utterly shit. As a general rule of thumb you can pretty much measure how a clone will hold up to the original by watching the Devito/Schwarzenegger showpiece Twins, then stretching that metaphor far enough until you can decide which of the two is tiny, joke of the Gods, Danny Devito. Similarly, F2P games have a bad reputation gained from the South Korean MMOs you see in the graveyard of ads on Farmville‘s sidebar.

Now consider the most expensive and successful MMORPG of all time. Blizzard has had a vice-like grip on the MMO market since the Noughties; the sort of grip that makes SOE look like it sent gold-plated champagne to its competitors when Everquest was still leading the market. It’s an impossible barrier-to-entry as well as the leading cause of death for any up-and-coming MMO, made out of the cubic ton of Warcraft titles that have been continuously and successfully selling since the Nineties.

In a cold, bargain-basement shadow next to the biggest selling MMO, Runes of Magic had every reason to live out a short life shackled to the kind of people in Seoul who play Maple Story and Free Realms, but a year after its release we’re already looking at two expansion packs and over three million registered users and growing.

This isn’t the poor man’s WoW. God knows it’s not a WoW killer. But you’d be pretty hard pressed to even say it’s WoW‘s hapless twin. Because eight months after the release of Runes’ first expansion, Chapter II – The Elven Prophecy, we’re already looking at Chapter III. The game’s developer, Taiwan-based Runewaker Entertainment, has the work ethic of a studio with an original IP. They’re trying to make legitimate improvements on the game, establishing Runes amongst the husky turds of clone games by developing new material from out of the cloney foundation of its mother Warcraft.

The story of Chapter III goes something like this: the young King Callaway rules a new continent, Zandorya. A huge alliance, consisting of six factions, has broken apart, and now the king gets to deal with the fallout. He asks the player to help bring back peace and harmony to Zandorya. Bring the peace and harmony back to Zandorya.

It’s a bread and butter MMO narrative, but if we’re being honest it’s legitimate no worse than that of a multi-million dollar plotline. In fact, that’s the mantra underlining most of the game we’ve played “Not much worse, really”, “Close enough”. If you’re ever near Runewaker HQ go check to see if they’ve made those out on employee t-shirts yet.

It’s a sensible ambition and as Runewaker try to perfect their impression of WoW we’re given a look at Thunderhoof Hills, the mirror-image equivalent of WoW‘s tauren capital city Thunder Bluff, as well as social hub and Stormwind look-alike Dalanis. Amongst the check-list of upgrades is a raised level cap of 60, three new zones, 9 new dungeons, a new PVP component, a healthy 300+ quests. No new races this time around, however in a twist of romance-slash-tragedy Runes has now incorporated an in-game marriage system that lets players marry.

Forget that this is a clone. Runes is a legitimate sign of the times, a visual example of If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em, while still managing to subvert WoW’s death grip. Because in a market where the sheer weight of Blizzard sucks everything else into its bizarre gas giant belly Runes is a Robin Hood that recreates a subscription-based multi-million dollar game and offers it for free.

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