Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Runes of Magic: first impressions

A week into Runes of Magic I thought I'd tell everyone how I found the game.

Runes of magic is clearly a WoW clone but reminds me more of 2005 WoW than 2009 WoW.

Much of the features and functionality is more like early WoW as is the pacing. It has a refreshing energy. People are keen to play in lowbie areas and develop their characters and learn the game. It's a better place to be now than The Barrens of Kalimdor with a feel like the Barrens in 2005.

The interface was the same as WoW except the autorun default. It's as if they moved that one button just so they could say we're not copying WoW. Honest!

UnWoWlike features
Impact pvp. The game features guild castles. I'm not sure if these can be attacked.

It allows you to gank on the pvp server after level 15 but ganking turns you outlaw. Outlaw players have their names appear as red to other players. I did feel a genuine frisson of excitement when I saw a red and went into fight/fright mode which is a reaction just about every non-red has. In other words if you gank and are not much higher than other people you will be constantly attacked by the non-red 95% of the server population on a pvp server.

Pvp also features looting although I didn't seem to drop anything when I was ganked. I believe the chance to drop loot for your gankers increases as you become more of an outlaw.

Dual classes. This is wierd. It's basically compulsory alting. Whatever you want to play you have to pick a second class and you're somewhat gimped if you don't develop it. For all this the player base simply judges you on level. They'd rather take a level 28 Knight (tank) than a 27 Knight/27 Priest. Probably because they don't understand the mechanics. One thing that took me a long time to discover is there is a second starter area that you get given the ability to Teleport to at level 10. That';s meant to be for levelling your second class.

Spell specialisation. Instead of a talent tree they've gone for the ability to pick certain of your spells or abiities to put talent points directly into to improve them. This is actually pretty hard to get right at first (and changing talents is an item shop item albeit one that is cheap and therefore within pretty reach of non-paying gameplay).

The problem I have with it is you will end up just using one button. If you put a load of points into maxxing one attack and then max your passives (boosting your main special attack and your autoattack) why would you waste points developing a secondary attack? WoW's Shadowbolt spamming Warlocks revisited.

Perhaps someone will crunch the numbers and prove me wrong but so far two things leap out at me. 1) One button talent specs are best. 2) I've spent my points wrong. Sigh, here comes another re-roll.

Player housing. The player housing is pretty generic unless you buy items for cash. You get a room with a storage chest and a house maid. My friend has invested in two crafting stations and a wall-mounted Tiger's head that allows his flat to give him rest exp. The crafting stations give slightly higher exp per combine.

Player housing seems to have been targetted by business analysts as the area of gameplay where RMT is most viable. It was the first area targetted by EQ2's item shop. I think that people who like this part of the game will get a rough ride with microtransaction games in general because they seem to be seen as an easy target. It's certainly true in RoM, you can only do minimal house decoration for free.

Guild levels. You can level up your guild by getting guild members to contribute. These systems seem rather unfair to me when they're contribution-based. You end up with 20% of the people doing 80% of the work. I much prefer Eve's system where you can simply set a guild tax that everyone automatically pays. Still I'm not contributing so I shouldn't grumble when my hard working guildies build me a castle. It will be a nice place to count my vast stores of gold made from selling resources on the auction house.

The look
It's a pretty nice-looking fantasy world. The artwork is slightly skewed towards things that cost money. The mounts can be breath-takingly gorgeous but even the rather drab basic mount has been the source of some controversy recently.

We saw an awesome looking Knight posing in town last night with level 50 epics and demonic bat wings. His armour made his seem like a balrog. /drool.

The quests/story/lore
The game is clearly written and translated by people with a poor grasp of English. In addition to rather prosaic mistakes there are the occasional hilarious ones. The names are quite wonderful in their randomness. There's a vendor called Vendor. There's no understanding of the distinction between exotic English names like Aragorn and prosaic English names so the countryside abounds with mysterious wizards called things like "Pete" and "Chris". There's a guy called Wooky (hey, that must be a good English name cos there was a guy called Wooky in Star Wars, right? Wasn't there?)

The Healer experience
There are no drinks in RoM. You restore mana by gearing for Wisdom and drinking mana pots.

This is a horrible system for 2009. It's actually quite reminiscent of 2005 when waiting for healer mana was a significant part of grouping. Throttling aggro was also part of the game with dps obediently waiting for 3 sunders. In 2009 the landscape has changed and healing like this is simply horrible.

I did a group where I was the only healer and we had 8 people. I was the last one there and they immediately pulled. I buffed the tank and kept him healed. People then started whining that they weren't buffed (while ninja pulling). Buffing someone with the 2 single target buffs I have eats up about a third of my mana. Per person. There were 8 to buff and I was busy healing the tank. Next people cheerfully ripped aggro and whined for heals.

Now this is a game where by level 20 everyone has been given about 500 free healing potions. So these guys were standing there on 10% life while I had 30% mana and was healing the tank whining about not getting heals and too cheap to just drink a pot. Sigh. And if I did heal them they just ninja pulled and got down to 10% again and started whining for heals.

Added to this is a loot system like Diablo 2 or early Alterac Valley where the first person to click the corpse gets the loot (unless its Uncommon or higher). So in addition to the usual healer stress there's an extra level of stress because you have to stand in melee range spam clicking badly wounded mobs while your tank dies from lack of attention. I got whined at for standing too far forward.

As soon as the predictable wipe to a stupid ninja pull I left. And got called various names, unlike the dpser who had bailed on us a few minutes eariler with everyone giving him a cheerful goodbye.

Such is the life of a ROM healer.

There are work-arounds.

1. Chain pot. You can neck a blue every 15 seconds. If you're happy to burn a couple of hundred pots per run on players who are too cheap to drink a red pot you can certainly cope.

2. Stack healers. I now form groups with 2-3 healers out of 6 group members. It's slower but you're not stressing someone.

3. Get boosted. Boosts are ubiquitous in this game with lots of bored high level players having very little to do except help others catch up.

The Rogue experience
Giving up on the healer I tried the Rogue. It's a pretty fun class. Nice straightforward button mash dps with a very effective stealth and a treasure drop rate bonus. Also it was rather nice to switch from the priest which people judged and found inadequate to a class where no one cares what you do. In a game without damage meters I could /follow the tank and go read a book and no one would notice.

I also appreciated the irony that in a game that is to some extent about money and money (if you're not paying) may well be about grinding the slacker dps class that grinds 3 times as fast as the healer gets a $ bonus on top.

Spinks made a post about the sexist way ROM is advertised. Perhaps it's just as well she won't be trying the game because if she thinks the poster art is bad it's best she never discovers the house maids. Nuff said.

RoM is a game you can play for free. In fact it's probably more interesting to play a free RoM character than to sub to WoW just to level another alt if you've done WoW to death already.
Having said that real money can give you a significantly enhanced playing experience.
The main thing it will do is let you level quicker. It will let you have a permanent mount. You can hire storage space but that's really expensive even for people who don't mind paying some money towards the gameplay.
Diamonds have beome an economic item in their own right. People are insisting on them as currency for certain trades, reminiscent of the Stones of Jordan currency in Diablo 2. People are hoarding them and stockpiling them. People are buying them off the auction house and relisting them higher.
There is no question in my mind that this economy will hyper-inflate. As more people reach end game and try to get shop items in exchange for raid loot drops there will be more pressure on the diamond supply relative to the amount of people buying them for real money. Even the people buying them for real money are best advised to keep them as diamonds (which are going up relative to gold) rather than sell them on the auction house. You can already buy 500 million gold for $4.99 or something ridiculous like that. The economic system threatens to become a disaster.

Hardcore raiding and microtransactions?
The big question for the future is whether RoM's raiding end game is sufficiently absorbing that people will get fanatical about it in the way they did for WoW. If they do then the game will make a lot of money from obsessive hardcore raiders buying items for advantage.
As with other raiding end-games the burden will not be spread evenly. People expect more commitment from their main tank than from some random dpser or raid healer. There's a real money item called a Phoenix feather or some such that revives you instantly on full life if killed. That's a must for a raid main tank in a serious guild. Yet most guilds will probably have room for some semi-slacker spots. It will be interesting to see how it works out - will hardcore RoM guilds require everyone to be a payer?

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