Runes of Magic, a free-to-play medieval fantasy MMO, wears its inspiration on its sleeve: its developers are obvious fans of World of WarCraft. Then, as you cautiously tinker with its all-toofamiliar systems and settings, little improvements and tweaks start to win your approval.
Starting as a Human or an Elf (more races are promised), and picking one of eight classes such as Mage, Knight, Priest and Rogue, you'll receive a 'gift bag'. Inside it are a bunch of potions, a mount and another bag that you can't open until level two. Inside that is more of the same, as well as a third gift bag. New spells and abilities just seem to pop into your head as you meet the level requirement. Runes of Magic keeps up a lively torrent of items and cash, and quests and abilities.
When you're ready for a break, you should visit the House Fairy – she'll set you up with your own house and sell you some furniture, which you can position freely inside (no feng shui here). My room just has a bed, a stool and a functional chest, but I'm saving up for a nice rug that'll really tie the place together. And that's all fine, but for any really useful furniture, you need to get out your credit card and buy some diamonds.
The Cash Shop also stocks potions that boost your experience gain, resurrect you and increase the chances of rare items dropping. It's easy to see how those things would give you an advantage over free users. That Phoenix potion you bought might let you best a more skilled opponent in an otherwise fair fight – returning you to full health when you're about to die, finish them off or let you snag a random selection of their gear and inventory.
There's something a little too streamlined about Runes of Magic. There are innovations here, but they're meek little things that make grinding easier. The dual-class system is just an alternative to the extensive talent builds you'll find in other such games, as individual classes come pre-specialised. It's as if Runewaker are scared to make their game too unique just in case they lose that inevitable section of players who look upon it as a free World of Warcraft.
It's just not good enough. If Runewaker had focused on their unique ideas, such as the planned guild versus guild 'castle siege' mode, maybe I'd be buying some diamonds. They could have been radical, chopped off the first 30 levels and let you get into the good stuff right away. As it is, it just feels like an insulting exercise in pandering to demographics; female characters are crudely over-sexualised – spilling out of their blouses, wearing metal thongs and garter belts.
The whole enterprise is a little too eager. Play! Spend! If it brings anything new, it's hidden it under a banquet of familiar favourites, and it'll spoil your appetite.
A free MMO whose ingenuity does little more than simply streamline what we’ve seen elsewhere.