There are few things in life I like more than an overabundance of choices. Let’s face it, choices are great. I don’t even have to know all of them, I just get pleasure out of them being there. As someone who was forced to wear a uniform for most of grade school, I get a kick out of knowing I have the option to parade around in my leopard-print leotard and short shorts, should I choose to do so. It’s for this very reason why Runers is going to be the next big single-player indie RPG, and you can take that opinion straight to the bank (though I’m not sure what they’ll do about it).
As you load up the main menu and choose to start your adventure, you immediately realize what I mean when I say that the amount of choices in this game rival that of the loot generator in Borderlands 2. With 20 Passive abilities, 20 Class choices, and ten starter spells to pick from, you’re faced right off the bat with 4,000 different possible combinations, and you haven’t even started the first level yet! The available classes, passive abilities, and starter spells are all pretty standard for a fantasy RPG. This doesn’t hurt the game in any way, seeing as there are only so many different ways to package an Elf Pyromancer with sneak skills (here’s to you, Skyrim) into a playable character.
Once you’ve read every description and settled on a suitable character for the first time through, you have the option to complete their highly detailed and completely informative set of tutorials, which is something I highly suggest doing (note that this is not something I usually endorse). Once satisfied with your understanding, or lack thereof, of the basic gameplay and its flow, you click start and immediately find yourself in a dungeon that looks like the lovechild of The Legend of Zelda and Pokemon Red/Blue.
Now, before I get too involved in the actual gameplay, let me first circle back to the theme of choices. One of the greatest things about this little gem so far is that every set of levels on every playthough you do is completely randomized. You could start Level 1 in a lushly green forest, a cave full of crystals, or what looks like the inside of a volcano. The layout and overall position of each room (since this is a room-by-room RPG), the different types of enemies, and even the bosses are all completely different every time you play, successfully axing the idea of repetitiveness right in its stupid face. It almost blows the mind to think of every permutation of every combination available throughout this wonderfully unique game.
Your almost-blown mind will surely give way to insanity as you begin to dig deeper into the game, killing enemies left and right with a variety of spells unlocked through the game’s efficiently imaginative spell generator. By collecting different runes (earth, wind, fire, Captain Planet…wait, no) from fallen enemies, you begin to combine and amass a series of spells, each with a unique sets of stats marveled in complexity only by the likes of World of Warcraft. From direct assaults to armor buffs, these 285 different powers become available as you progress through each level, varying in strength and effectiveness. You can choose to wield only one element against the hordes of monsters waiting through the door, or you can mix and match to create combinations as perfect as peanut butter and jelly (or as horrible as toothpaste and lime Jello).
Along with an exhaustive list of spells and bonuses (awarded upon boss kills or level completions) comes an equally impressive collection of opponents. With more than a hundred different enemies and fifteen massive bosses, you rarely see the same opposition twice. Yes, there does seem to be an issue with too many rats and bats, but hell, you’re in a dungeon! Overall, with powers and abilities to rival your own and five difficulty settings, the various combinations of bad guys/girls in each room offer a unique and often challenging battle.
As much as I love RPGs, they do tend to all have the same Achilles Heel; repetitiveness. Don’t get me wrong, most games end up monotonous as time passes, it’s a matter of having seen everything at least twice. But for RPGs, which are usually designed to facilitate greater lengths of actual gameplay, this can make or break the entire experience. Though it’s easily conceivable that Runers would eventually get old and fall victim to this very issue, the developers do their best to spice up the habitual point-and-shoot with various rooms offering multiple types of puzzles. This is a much needed break from spell spamming, and there are usually at least one to two of these rooms per level. The collection of (once again) randomized challenges really freshens up the gameplay, allowing for an extended period of ‘new’ experiences.
What sets this aside from other, larger RPGs is the idea of a single-life playthrough. Whether you die in Level 1 or Level 9, the end result is always a quick trip back to the main menu to do it all over again. This may sound slightly frustrating but I promise I only pulled my hair out and cried for three minutes the first time it happened after reaching Level 6. All joking aside, Runers does allow you to save during level transitions. The only caveat to this is that you can only load this save once, and dying will once again send your Goblin Priest right back to where it came from (Character Select, or some kind of goblin chapel , I guess).
The last thing I’ll mention before heading back into the fray of battle is the music. I have to admit that I’m a sucker for a well-fit soundtrack. Hell, I listen to the Skyrim album on my way to work almost every week, it’s that good. Like with every other aspect of the game, I was pleasantly surprised not only with the wonderful and vastly varying in-game music, but also with the spell sounds and enemy noises (though the grunts from the female characters did come off as a bit…erotic?). With such a large collection of different visual variables, the game does a great job assigning unique noises that fit with the established environment.
In the end, it’s not hard to see why this game was a Steam Greenlight Community Choice. Setting itself apart from many of the almost-retro indie RPGs available, Runers offers fresh gameplay in the form of thousands upon thousands of possible outcomes. The sheer magnitude of different characters, powers, and enemies makes for a unique experience every time you boot it up. Though tough at times with the single life and limited saves, the reward system this game employs makes the screaming and frantic button-jamming almost justified. Runers provides hours of fresh entertainment while simultaneously catering to our love of choices, easily making it one of the better games to be released as Summer comes to an end.