The world of Runers is a one of complex simplicity. Why? The premise is simple: Pick a hero, customize his core abilities and send him down a dungeon to fight a plethora of hellspawns. Sounds pretty straightforward. Except you can spend hours playing without even scratching the surface of everything Runers has to offer.
Runers is a 2d top-down, rogue-like shooter released in September 2014. It was developed by Let’s Get Kraken Games and upvoted by the Steam community through the Greenlight feature. LGK Games is an American indie developer based in Minneapolis and Runers is their opera prime. It is published it is published by Mastertronic Group, British software publisher notable for publishing games like Over 9000 Zombies, The Charnel House Trilogy, Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker and The Weaponographist (among many others).
Runers presents itself with a useful tutorial that covers the most basic elements of gameplay, running, shooting and equipping spells, and combining runes in order to create them. Starting our first campaign, we get to choose what character class we’ll be playing plus a unique buff and his starting spell. With 20 character classes, 20 unique buffs and 10 starting spells, the character customization options are practically endless. That is only a small scoop of how immense Runers is. Some character classes work better than other, as do the buffs and the starting spells and that requires heavy experimentation.
The hero is controlled using WASD to move, both mouse click buttons to cast spells and two equippable additional spells mapped by default to the “1” and “2” keyboard keys. I don’t know who thought that mapping spells to the “1” and “2” keys was a good idea: it’s dreadful. And there is no efficient way to use those keys while moving with WASD at the same time. Luckily, the conflicting keys can be remapped to other keys, somewhat bypassing the issue.
The gameplay is absolutely frenzied. The first room of a dungeon floor is always a quiet one, but as soon as we cross a door, all hell breaks loose. Enemies that use mêlée will pile up on you to try to kill you and those that attack from a distance will move around erratically and shoot at you every time they can. You have to keep moving and shooting if you’re willing to stay alive to see the next room. There are several bosses and mini bosses that spawn more enemies, that will definitely test our determination. One minor issue I encountered during gameplay is that leveling up hardly provides efficient upgrades for our character. I feel that a game with such an unforgiving difficulty should have done more in order to tip the scales only a little bit more in favor of the player.
A thing I discovered as a consequence of playing my share of modern rogue-like dungeon crawlers is that, unlike the games of old that used to punish the player for allowing his character to get killed by having them restart the game and stripping them from all progress, with perhaps the only recognition for their hard effort being to allow the players to inscribe their initials on a virtual “wall of fame” that would only last until the console or arcade was rebooted, in modern games getting killed is part of the progress. Like the extraordinary J.R.R. Tolkien put it in Gandalf’s words: “Death is just another path, one that we all must take”. I doubt that Tolkien ever had this in mind, but that quote applies particularly well to heroes hailing from modern dungeon crawler games and Runers is no exception.
In Runers, the strongest spells come from combining runes. Runes get dropped by certain slain enemies and added to the inventory, where we can access anytime and tinker with them. There are 285 possible rune combinations that create the same amount of spells. In order to combine them, we need to procure the precious “combiners”. Combiners are items that get dropped by slain enemies or can be obtained by leveling up or clearing dungeon floors. There are two kinds of combiners: Double combiners and triple combiners that combine two or three runes respectively. Both types are very hard to get your hands on, so obtaining all 285 spells is a complicated job that requires a lot of grinding. The trick is that combiners are only required for spells that haven’t been previously discovered, therefore dying over and over provides certain “progress” to the game. Are you up to the task?
Visually, the people from LGK Games opted for a minimalist retro look and that works just fine. It is a gorgeous homage to top-down dungeon crawlers from the late ’80s and early ’90s. The dungeons are neatly designed. Every hero class looks unique and the enemy sprites look brilliant. They made intelligent use of the palette swap to create dozens of different enemy types. Some sound effects are acceptable, I particularly enjoyed the spell casting sounds. The water, fire and voltage sound effects, for example, sound incredibly… err… realistic? It’s a weird word to use when referring to a fantasy game but let’s go with it anyway. The sounds made by enemies and the player are odd to say the least and the music is repetitive and uninspiring. There is a plot told in the way of readable paragraphs appearing in loading screens between dungeon floors that doesn’t do much in order to entice players to become interested in it.
In general, Runers is an honestly brilliant action rogue-like with an amazingly in-depth spell crafting system and a huge diversity. The small criticisms I have in terms of sound design and unsatisfactory level ups do not weaken my very positive judgment of Runers. I extremely recommend this title to all gamers who are into top-down, action rogue-likes like Binding of Isaac or The Weaponographist.