Today I’ve finally been able to give a try to Runesage, an RPG game by George Gilbert, an experienced game developer (he started coding on a ZX81! Yikes!). I found the game very interesting and I want to explain you why.
What is Runesage?
Since today I’m particularly lazy, I’ll answer this question just copying and pasting the beginning of the game press release:
After the great storm, the crystals used by the mages to protect the world shattered and were lost. The Sacred Grove now lies empty. You answer their call for help – your quest; to find and restore the crystals before the next storm arrives. It soon becomes clear however, that all is not quite as simple as it first seems.
RuneSage is an immersive open world Virtual Reality RPG Adventure game for the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift & Touch. As a sage from humble beginnings, you’ll search the land for nature’s runes of power, then use them to cast spells to solve puzzles that aid you on your quest. Explore mazes in a forest teaming with wildlife, sail across lakes to reach distant shores, delve into dark and ancient caves, and search the ruined castle and its dungeons while menacing vultures circle overhead. Can you find the scrolls of knowledge, recover the lost crystals and protect the world from the gathering storm?
Basically, it is an RPG game where you are a magician in a fantasy village and you have to find all the crystals to save your world. Of course, crystals are scattered in different parts of your world and finding them all is far from easy.
Runesage gameplay is the classic gameplay of an RPG game, with a magical touch given by the addition of virtual reality. Your main purpose is finding the crystals to save the world and to do that, you have to participate in various minor quests, during which you’ll learn spells, find maps, discover secret passages, gather crystal pieces, etc…
As every RPG, the game is mainly explorative: so you start from your house and soon you begin discovering new places, inside which you find items (maps and crystals) and learn spells. Sometimes, it is worth returning to a place that you’ve already visited since you’ve learned a new spell that can solve a particular puzzle inside that place so that you can find an item that will be useful in another part of the game. The two main mechanics of the game are:
- Exploration: find new places, look for new items in every area of the game;
- Puzzle solving: use your spells to solve some puzzles so that you can open new passages to new areas or you can retrieve items.
If you like a game of this genre, and you like fantasy environment, you’ll love Runesage for sure. The game environment is quite large and the puzzles are scattered all over the various parts of the world. No puzzle is particularly difficult… the difficulty is in exploring all the zones, in remembering all the various puzzles that you left unsolved and in understanding where there is a puzzle to solve. For instance, once I got in front of a wall of rocks: I had the idea of trying to destroy it with a spell and it worked. The solution was really simple (just casting a spell), but the difficult part was in understanding that I could destroy the wall thanks to magic. Hope I’ve conveyed well the concept. Sometimes the game hints the player showing some sparkles next to the elements that can be affected by magic. Anyway, it is not uncommon to become stuck at some point, not knowing what to do.
Something that impressed me about Runesage is that it eliminates completely violence from the game: there’s no risk of dying, there are no combats. So, you can just relax and play. This is a game for everyone, even for kids. (In this, it remembers me of BLIND by Tiny Bull Studios)
The game lets you choose your locomotion method. I stuck with teleportation, even if it is less immersive, because it eliminates motion sickness and because I was too lazy to change that. What I loved of teleportation is that the teleporting arc was made with an amazing white particle filter that looked very beautiful, very… magic 🙂
It is possible to rotate the world using the middle trigger of the Touch Controllers. This is very very useful if you’re using Oculus frontal setup: thanks to this mechanism you can go to every direction virtually while staying physically always frontal to your Constellation cameras.
Index trigger is to cast spells and interact with objects. Then the X key is to open the Main Menu of the game, through which you can look at your main quests, your game status, the world map and so on. An amazing feature of the main menu is that you can teleport automatically to every main place of this fantasy world. So, if you’re in the castle and you want to return to the village, you don’t have to move back step by step, but you can teleport directly there through some magical portals.
So… you cast spells with your wand… but how do you do it? You press the Touch index trigger and perform the gesture relative of the spell you want to make. So, for instance, to cast the Venti spell, that triggers a strong wind, you have to draw a spiral in the air with your wand. Recognition of the gestures is quite good and I had no particular problem, apart from the fact that I always forgot if the spiral was clockwise or counterclockwise… but this is because I’m stupid :D. After you’ve triggered the spell, you have to activate it towards the object that you want to affect.
You learn this gestures through some scrolls that you find throughout the game. The sages of the villages will teach you how to perform them and so, scroll after scroll, you become the best magician of the world.
Casting spells is really cool: being able to control earth, fire, wind, ice, water… is fantastic. You really feel as a wizard.
Graphics of the game are really well made to be an indie game. Especially the particle effects are awesome: all the effects of the wand for the various spells in VR give a fantastic effect.
There are various environments of different kinds (castles, dungeons, forests, …) and the variation helps a lot in not getting bored. Every environment is well crafted, I loved it. I especially loved the caves because with those dim lights and closed spaces, they created in me feelings of anxiety… and feeling emotions is exactly what I love about VR.
The game features good soundtracks that accompany you inside all the various areas. Different areas have different kinds of music and that helps in offering the best atmosphere for each location. For example, the caves have a very gloomy music and so I felt scared down there.
What surprised me is that there’s no dialogue throughout the game. When the mages appear to teach you new spells or to guide you through the quests, they only speak through scrolls. This is really weird and surely reduces the sense of immersion inside this world. I think that the reason may be that the dev didn’t have the means to obtain people dubbing the various characters.
The player is guided throughout the game. During the journey, continuously mages appear talking with scrolls and providing hints about what has to be done. Sometimes I had the impression that the hints were even too many, breaking the natural flow of the game. Anyway, thanks to this I never felt lost inside this game. The wizards taught me how to perform spells, how to look for items, what I had to do in every part of the map, etc…
The only moment when I got in trouble was the beginning. I found myself inside the initial place and didn’t know how to move. I had to trigger the main menu and read about the controls to understand that I had to use locomotion to move.
It is one of the most buggy VR games that I’ve tried. The locomotion mechanic is flawed and it is not uncommon that you find yourself stuck inside a rock or a bush and you can’t move anymore. If this happens, don’t close the game. Keep calm, open the main menu and go to the map section. Using the map, teleport yourself to whatever location and you’ll find yourself in a new place, safe, ready to continue playing.
I played the first 2 hours of the game without even taking a break. After the first half hour, I started feeling the strain of my legs and hands, apart from the discomfort of having a VR headset on my face. Playing roomscale games is always tiresome and if you don’t have adrenaline making you ignore this feeling (like in Robo Recall), you’ll feel the temptation of taking a break. This is not very positive… the game is not comfortable in my opinion, and being a very long game this is bad.
In the end, I find that Runesage is really a valuable experience. I admit that RPGs are not my genre, but I played it for a good amount of time, enjoying the environments and the coolness of casting spells. Multimedia elements of the game are well crafted and make you really feel immersed in the fantasy world, giving you the right emotions. The fact that it is one of the longest experiences in the VR market is another plus side of this indie game: there are at least 8 hours of gameplay, while usual VR indie games last 3-4 hours. I think that some little bugs and issues can’t be a reason to downvote this experience.
If you love RPGs, my advice is to play with it. The price on Steam is 9.99€, that in my opinion is even too low for what the game offers. If you’re interested, you can download it here. Hope you’ll like the game the same way I liked it!
(Header image by George Gilbert)