In my fantasy MMORPG malaise I have been sifting through various options looking for something that might interest me. The usual round of options all seem worn out for me for now and I have been reluctant to dive into anything new that requires some money up front as I have sought something to spark some interest.
And then the other day one of my co-workers was talking about how he and his wife had gone back to playing Runes of Magic and I started thinking about that.
Runes of Magic was kind of a big deal when it launched eight years back.
The game was an Asian MMORPG title built in the style of the then current and popular Western model. Up until then there had been a pretty solid divide between East and West when it came to MMORPG design. Asian games were were pretty but very grindy while the West favored… well… the theme park aesthetic where quests led you through the game.
The basic plan was to make an Asian WoW.
But just to throw a twist into things, it was also going to be a free to play in a sea of subscription model MMORPGs. At the time free to play wasn’t a big deal, and the selection of titles in that zone tended to be kids games like Toontown Online, Club Pengiun, or Habbo Hotel, browser games like Maple Story or RuneScape, or Asian titles that failed to crack the western market. The big story for free to play was probably Anarchy Online, which converted to that model back in 2004, something that likely saved the game.
The Runes of Magic launch pre-dates a lot of what we now sort of assume as general knowledge about the who free to play business model. The conversion and subsequent success of Dungeons & Dragons Online was still in the future. Zynga hadn’t yet finished ripping off Happy Farm to launch FarmVille, a game that opened the discussion about things like cash shops, whales, exploitative design, and dubious business practices.
Anyway, Runes of Magic hove into view a little over eight years back and I was there to witness the launch. It really felt an Asian fueled World of Warcraft knock-off back then, which I took to be a good thing. As the Alganon development team would later claim after nicking the WoW UI almost pixel for pixel, if you’re going to copy WoW, you might as well not be shy about it. That was a plus or a minus, depending on your point of view.
And then there was the cash shop, from which the ten dollar horse controversy arose. That got our corner of the web buzzing for a bit about what should be store bought and what should be earned in something of the opening shot of the cash shop rage wars to come. And then about a year later Blizzard put out the $25 greed steed and RoM didn’t look so bad. Today just about everybody is selling mounts.
As for playing Runes of Magic, I tinkered a bit with it at launch, then got the instance group to come try it for a couple weeks, after which it sort of faded. I remember seeing the publishers at at GDC in San Francisco one year, where they were talking about a web client version of the game, something that I don’t recall ever going anywhere, but otherwise my interest in the game didn’t stick and I removed it from the list of games I keep track of about five years back.
And there things stayed until my co-worker mentioned the game, which set off something of the reverie in my brain which I just disgorged above into the text editor. So I asked him how the game was going these days and he said that not a lot had changed. The developers, Frogstar, adds new content now and then, but for the most part have left the game itself coast as it was back in 2009.
This piqued my interest. Ever the nostalgia buff… I still hold out hope against hope that some day Blizzard will see its way to rolling up a retro vanilla WoW experience… I decided to go give it a try.
Thanks to the fact that I still use pretty much the same set of email addresses I did back then, I was even able to recover my account. I did that, reset the password, then reset the cash shop password, and set about getting things downloaded. The main packages wants 15GB, which would have seemed like a lot back in the day, but which barely merits consideration now that I have multiple terabytes of hard drive space and a 75Mbit internet connection. (Remember back when having a T1 connection was a big deal? Now I have the effective equivalent of 48 T1s piped into our home. We live in the future.)
The system requirements still list Windows XP. After the install ran, the game had to patch. My co-worker was starting to seem spot on about nothing changing, as the patcher for the game is still the remorseless always on top of every damn thing window it was back at launch.
Fortunately, the current install package seemed to be reasonably up to date, so there was just a couple minutes of patcher intrusion before it wrapped up.
Once downloaded and installed I… had to figure out how to launch the game. It didn’t bother installing a short cut on the start menu, preferring to put something on the desktop in the old school fashion. It was a short cut to a launcher, which in turn let you launch another launcher, which finally let you launch the game. After launching and logging in I hit the server select menu and was surprised to see the game still listed two characters for me.
However, that number was just the ghost of same ancient data in a database table, because when I got to the character selection menu there were no characters there. I would have to start from scratch… which was probably a good thing after at least seven years away from the game. So on to new character creation and all of its sliders.
Character creation lets you select from three races and a series of classes, some of which are race specific. Only humans can be knights or priests, only elves can be druids or wardens, and only dwarves can be so damn ugly… erm… only dwarves can be warlocks and champions… oh, and they can be priests too, so forget what I said about humans only being priests. Anyway, there is a matrix of race class combinations.
Customization is available through the many sliders which mostly control how thick a given body part looks. Of note is the “breasts” slider, which does nothing for males but which controls cup size for females. Probably the most distinctive thing you is choose a hair style and color. That is about all that stands out so far as I can tell. I considered going with a warrior modeled somewhat on that guy from the Diet Dr. Pepper commercial.
I decided that maybe pink wasn’t the right hair color. But there is a whole CMYK color wheel there of choices if you want a specific shade. I decided to go back to blonde, though I left him otherwise the same.
And then it was in to the game. But that is the topic of the next post.