I was rummaging round Runes of Magic, Frogster's free-to-play MMORPG, when my flatmate Dave walked into my room. "Why are you playing World of Warcraft again?" he said."I thought you quit." "I have," I replied, eyes fixed on thwacking my fiftieth beetle of the evening. "This isn't World of Warcraft." "Oh yeah."
Dave, as well as inadvertently giving me some colour to start this review with, nailed Runes of Magic on the head. It's for all intent and purpose a World of Warcraft clone, with a remarkably similar art style, nigh-on identical classes, a carbon-copy combat system, a deja-vu inducing UI and exactly the same gathering and production skills as Blizzard's behemoth. Loot-giving corpses even sparkle.
But there's something off. Runes of Magic might look and play like WoW, but it's just not as good. The graphics aren't quite as nice, the presentation isn't quite as polished, the interface not quite as intuitive and the game world not quite as atmospheric. Runes of Magic, put simply, is WoW sans the Blizzard magic dust.
However, it is free. Completely and utterly free. The client's a free download from the official site, and there are no regular fees. So, can Runes of Magic be criticised for all of the above, when it doesn't actually cost anything? Well, of course. If someone gave you a packet of crisps, just for fun, but it was way past its sell by date, would you scoff them? Of course not.
That's probably a bit harsh on Runes of Magic, which has everything you'd expect from a subscription-based Western fantasy MMO. It's got six classes, a thousand quests, starting areas, 50 levels, mounts, instances, guilds, 36-player epic raid dungeons and all the rest of it. Indeed, one of the game's main problems is that most fans of the genre will find it a case of been there and done that.
Which is especially relevant during the first 10 levels. The game begins with character creation: pick from the warrior, scout, rogue, mage, priest and knight, which work exactly as you'd expect them to. There's only one race available - human - but you can pick your sex, and breast size, thank God. Then, beginning in starting area the Howling Mountains, it's a case of kill x amount of x mob and bring x amount of x to this NPC.
After level 10, though, Runes of Magic starts to get a bit more interesting. When you reach the main city an NPC will let you pick your secondary class. Once done, you're able to level them both up independently, switching between the two as primary and secondary classes. Not only does this affect the skills you've got available, but the gear you have equipped. So, as a priest mage, for example, you'll have all cloth gear but healing and damage dealing spells to choose from. You could be a warrior rogue, or a knight scout, or any other combination, up to 30, in fact. It's not a new idea, indeed many MMOs, including Final Fantasy XI, offer a dual class system, but here it's well executed and adds much needed variety to Runes of Magic's WoW-like experience.