Runes of Magic provides no-cost ticket to fantasy realm
Mar 1, 2009, 15:32 GMT
Hamburg - At least 11.5 million people try to take over the world regularly albeit they're trying to conquer a virtual one. Their numbers reflect how many players pay monthly subscription fees for the online role playing game (RPG) World of Warcraft. Yet after more than four years in the Warcraft's realm of Azeroth, some players may be asking themselves whether online RPGs are anything other than cold, hard commercialism, designed only to lure subscribers to pay real money for months on end.
While there have been serious attempts to establish different payment models, no one has toppled the Warcraft empire. The latest attempt is on the horizon, though: Runes of Magic will be available completely free of charge. Even so, its developers hope to earn money from the game and their chances are not bad either.
The game itself, written by the Taiwanese development house Runewake Entertainment, is based on the standard online role playing game principle. The character is created at the start of the game. The player is then led through the world using the mouse, completing quests and destroying monsters with the goal of rise from the initial level 1 to the maximum level 50. The events take place against a medieval backdrop, with various clichés from the fantasy world.
Even so, there are several new wrinkles compared with the many preceding games. So far, commercial titles have managed to take advantage of a large, dedicated base of developers to set the quality benchmarks in terms of regular improvements and expansions. Any free-to-play titles tended to be poor cousins, with the lack of commercial funding reflected in the low quality. Runes of Magic is attempting to link the two extremes: the complexity of a pay title with the chance to keep your wallet intact.
As one might imagine, though, the entire endeavour is not powered by philanthropy. The game's creators do indeed hope to ring in some cash through their work. The gateway here is a virtual supermarket known as an item shop. Real life money can be used to purchase objects there - some useful, some less so. If the player gets tired of spending a few minutes walking through landscape after landscape between destinations, they can instead rent or even buy a virtual horse. The game's own internal money, measured in terms of diamonds, can also be purchased this way. Some items cost just a few cents, others several dollars.
The game's publishers are promising that no items will be available for sale that affect a level playing field between players willing to spend real money and those who are not. Yet this has also led to a heated discussion, especially in the site's German forum, as to the truth of this promise or whether purchased equipment inherently leads to advantages.
Apart from these considerations, however, Runes of Magic does provide several features long desired even by players of the commercial titles. One is housing. While many other games simply leave their players homeless, here four walls of one's own - including a maid - are standard. The same applies to a craftsman system for creating goods and objects. There are also new elements to the character design and class selection process. Instead of being 'just' a knight or mage, it is now possible to become a sort of dual-specialists such as a knight with some magical talents.
Runes of Magic is slated to go live on March 19. At present, it is being put through what developers call the 'open beta.' That means that the software is freely available at http://www.runesofmagic.com for download, installation, registration and play. Yet during this stage, the developers make no bones that some rough edges still exist. The players are non-paid testers.
Interest has been intense with some 450,000 players already registered so far. And even industry journals have been impressed. The Munich-based Gamestar reviewed the title in a recent edition, questioning whether Runes of Magic can compete with the big boys. Its preliminary verdict can be summed up with, 'Oh yes, it can!'
This only holds true, if the beta software actually installs properly. There are numerous reports in official forums of problematic installations. In part this is because Runes of Magic requires the latest graphics card drivers, as well as current updates in the depths of the OS. Even those who are handy with a sword need some computer skills as well.