Runic Rampage is an isometric hack 'n' slash dungeon crawler, in the same vein as Diablo and Gauntlet. Created by Electrocosmos, the game is simple looking and simply fun. Its simplicity allows for high accessibility, both player-wise and hardware-wise. Anyone can pick up the game and play, and nearly any PC set-up could run this dwarven carnage simulator. Runic Rampage doesn't try to be more than what it is, and by doing so it focuses on a fun, straightforward, experience.
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The game opens with an old man tell you that your village is suffering from a terrible disease (which I dubbed 'beard-rot'), one that has no known cure. You are entrusted with the task of searching the Library of Stones for information on a possible cure. The way is dangerous and wrought with monsters, but also loot, so like any good dwarven berserker, you leap at the chance at blood and glory. Along the way, you learn of the four dwarven princes who were to become kings, but vanished mysteriously, leading to monsters running rampant over civilized society.
One problem the writing has is not with its content, but its presentation. Electrocosmos is not a studio that has English as its first language. Occasional grammatical hiccups are fine, even enjoyable and meme-creating at times. However, the script of Runic Rampage should have been run through the spell check again. As amusing as the word flubs can be, they still count against the score of the game, though not by much.
How to Control Your Wild Dwarf
Runic Rampage does not ask a lot of its players. It knows why you're there: to smash open chests and monster skulls, and it gives you all the tools you need, and no more than that. Speaking of the KB+M controls, you move with the WASD keys, and attack with the left mouse button. The right mouse button dashes you forward, and combinations of left and right clicks execute combos. The combos don't offer much in the way of strategy. The jump attack and spin attack are the only ones that you'll likely be using, as the former allows the dwarf to catch up to escaping enemies and pound them into the dirt, and the former pushes back the swarms of monsters who are eager to hug you.
The only fault that can be found with the controls is that the right mouse button is both your dash and an ingredient in combos. Dashing is the dwarf's main form of defense, as wielding a shield is tantamount to screaming in terror rather than bloodlust, in dwarven culture. Dashing out of danger can be tricky to master, especially when it feels so good to bathe in the viscera of your enemies. This becomes even harder when you try to dash too soon after an attack. If you were to swing your weapon once, and then try to dash immediately after to avoid an incoming attack, you would instead execute an uppercut, and remain in danger. This leads to many unwelcomed and easily avoidable hits, if only the dash button got turned into an attack button in the middle of a combo. The game could have greatly benefited from having a dedicated dash button, and saving right and left clicks for light and heavy attacks.
Ah yes, the battlefield. The dwarf berserker feels more at home on the red-stained dirt of a conquered kingdom than he does in his own bed. In Runic Rampage you'll be traveling to four different kingdoms, separated as acts in the overall story. Each act has three stages, including the boss stage, with the first two stages having three tiers each, all of which must be completed to unlock the next stage. Each stage, even within the same acts, has its own design, monstrous inhabitants, and hazards. Though some enemies may make a second appearance between acts, for the most part the enemies you see in one stage will stay put in that stage, refusing to intermingle with the others.
At the end of each stage you are graded on your performance, based on the criteria of longest attack chain, enemies killed, completion time, and whether or not you found the hidden shrine. These conditions, though constant between levels, have their progress hidden from the player until the end of the level. So there is no way to know whether or not you have killed enough monsters or chained enough attacks until it's too late. However, I could not find the purpose of the overall score you receive on these levels, so there is likely no reason to be concerned over your performance score.
Capping off each act is a boss fight, and bosses are sadly where Runic Rampage stumbles. Up until the boss, any enemy could be stunlocked and slain without much worry. You are always the strongest mofo in the room, and the only tool the monsters have against you are numbers and projectiles (the weapon of the coward, in dwarven culture). Upon stepping into the boss arena and taking your first swing, it becomes painfully (fatally so) evident that there are some beings that are somehow stronger than you. A bizarre concept for the berserker, but one you will have to accept if you wish to prevail. Trading blows with these goliaths will only end with your downfall and their mocking laughter, so the dwarven berserker must do the unthinkable: think.
Each boss has patterns and stage interactables that help you in defeating them. One boss will summon skeletons, which you can dispatch easily to gain back health lost when he swings his axe at you. Another one has healing fonts that must be freed from strangling vines before they can top you off between your charges at the boss. Having bosses that must be defeated by brains as well as brawn, when all the enemies before simply needed a good wallop to shut up, is definitely a plus. However, the bosses are still rather dull, even with their extra fight conditions.
So what about combat? Well, as stated earlier, the controls are simple, and so attacking becomes more natural than something you have to think about. Whether or not this is a plus or not comes down to personal preference. The combat is mindless, but still fun, much in the way the Dynasty Warriors series are games you can pick up and just hack away to your heart's content, only changing up your tactics when bigger challenges present themselves. In addition to your melee, enemies can drop spell tokens that can be triggered manually, acting as temporary power-ups that give your dwarf the ability to freeze, slow, or burn enemies.
The simplicity of combat is not a negative. Games that can be played with half attention scratch a specific itch that others don't. Runic Rampage, thanks to the combat controls, can be played while you watch a livestream, listen to a podcast, or binge watch Parks and Recreation on Netflix (I'm up to six times, personally). This is not a tactics-minded game, this is a half-attention game. Darting your eyes between screens is easily accomplished when a game like Runic Rampage.
Scattered throughout the levels are all manner of clay pottery for you to smash open and suck out the juicy gold within. Fun fact, the dwarven hatred of pottery began when the dwarven king, Skorsgurd Drycheeks, watched the movie Ghost and, during the clay wheel scene, shed the first recorded dwarven tear. It took their society 100 years to recover.
The goal of every level is to kill the chest guardian and, of course, loot the chest. There's no map to guide you, instead you have a compass that always points toward the level-ending treasure. I like to think it's not so much a compass, as it is the dwarf's natural sense for gold, his beard twitching and acting as a diving rod toward riches.
Enemies come in a large variety, but often have similar functions. There are small, rushing, melee creatures, ranged cowards, and big burly bruisers. There are differences between stage inhabitants, however. The satyr casts a slow-moving, but dwarf-seeking water spell. The troll mage does not attack, but rather uses its voodoo magic to resurrect fallen allies. Your strategy will have to adapt to these new enemies as you are introduced to them, but at the end of the day the tried-and-true method of "smash until victory" will be your go-to approach.
Out of Battle
Runic fragments are required to unlock the boss stages. Since their appearance is based purely on chance, you could find yourself having to go back to previously defeated levels in hopes of getting a fragment at the end. RNG can be fine in games. Loot drops, enemy placement, even the randomly generated map design of Runic Rampage itself. However, when RNG can hinder your ability to progress, it's a problem.
Upgrades come in two forms: upgrading yourself and upgrading your arsenal. You will be able to increase your dwarf's strength, defense, agility, and greed. The weapon you choose will also increase and decrease your stats. Weapons and spells can be upgraded, as well. Weapons grow in power, whereas spells grow in range, duration, and function. You still cannot decide which spells will show up in your adventure, but you can power up your understanding of them, so that when one does come your way, you can get more use out of it.
In truth, upgrading your skills and weapon strength don't seem to make much of a difference. Enemies that took three hits to kill with 10 strength will often still require three hits to kill with 20. Since skill points and gold are their own separate currencies, you'll at least never feel like you wasted an upgrade to your strength when you could have upgraded your weapon.
Graphically, Runic Rampage looks almost exactly like Warcraft III. That's not to say that the game rips off assets (though there are some familiar commonalities between the two), just that the graphical quality is nearly identical. This works in the game's favor, however. By having simplified graphics, the game can run smoothly on nearly any PC set-up. Runic Rampage won't take up a lot of processing power, so it's easy to have it running alongside a stream or video.
Speaking of the design-side of things, Runic Rampage does take its simplicity a bit too far. Levels feel barren and lifeless, with minuscule amounts of setting-defining elements. Any given stage has its environmental type, some architecture strewn about, clay pottery, and the corpses and subsequent gore you leave behind. Corpses don't despawn, which is actually a welcome feature. With no map, seeing an area with corpses is a quick indicator that you've been there before and should try another path. It also adds to the ambiance of a dwarf on a bloody mission. Still, even though each stage has unique enemies and hazards, they still feel stripped of character.
While simple graphics work in Runic Rampage's favor in some ways, the audio's simplicity feels underwhelming. The sounds and music are serviceable at best, and, in the case of the music, ill-fitting at worst. Your chainmail rattles as you run, enemies go splat when they explode into a red mist, and coins jingle as they leap from shattered pots and land in your pockets. No highs, no lows, the sounds just…are.
Musically the game stumbles the most in its presentation. While the tracks themselves are fine, they don't fit what I feel is the tone of the game. Despite its colors and simple graphics, Runic Rampage is a bloody game about a dwarf berserking his way through monster town after monster town. The music that plays alongside his carnage is often upbeat, or at the very least not dark and heavy enough for what's happening on screen. Personally, I turned the music off after awhile, and turned on some Korpikilaani. Your mileage will vary based on how metal you are.
Despite its flaws, Electrocosmos set out with a simple but clear goal in mind with Runic Rampage, and achieved it beautifully. The game is the perfect example of polished core gameplay. There's not a lot of extra features, but the content that is there is polished to a fine sheen. It can seem repetitive, but when a game has such finely crafted core gameplay, you don't mind playing it over and over, at least as not as you would with another game that had more hiccups in its gameplay.
Runic Rampage is fun. That's really all that needs to be said, at the end of the day. It's a game you can pick up and play and set it down just as quickly, and never out of boredom. It scratches an itch that many games fail to reach by virtue of having too much going on. Runic Rampage doesn't ask much of its players, just that they enjoy the ride and have fun.
|+ Simple but engaging combat||– Music is ill-fitting, though not terrible|
|+ Easily played while you multitask||– Bosses are the weakest part of the adventure|
|+ Charming, almost nostalgic, graphical quality||– RNG blocking progression is a big no-no|