It has only been a short while since the first adventurers from the continent of Candora set foot on a long-forgotten one, Zandorya. They entered the verdant region called Thunderhoof Hills. Surrounded by towering mountains, it revealed many picturesque natural landscapes. In addition, they found the Valley of Glory, where huge statues of ancient heroes stand as timeless reminders of a great war against encroaching demons.
Such an enemy was not easily defeated. However, the legendary King Kalume forged an alliance that included various races. Elves, dwarves, the rhinoceros-like Kalo and others fought valiantly beside the humans. Once they achieved their hard-won victory, he honored their contributions by dividing the land among them all.
The region remains diversely populated to this day, but the spirit of selfless cooperation has waned. The central Kingdom of Dalanis is now ruled by the young King Callaway. He seeks to return to the ways of the past, but his realm is threatened by intrigue and revolt fomented by multiple aspirants to the throne. Despite the support of the loyal Lionheart Knights, his position is uneasy since his enemies are both strong and ruthless.
After a strong build-up and beta, Runes of Magic launched last March, and quickly established itself as one of the preeminent MMORPGs in North America and Europe. Developed by Taiwan-based Runewaker and published in these regions by Frogster, it's a fully featured offering that has been widely hailed as one of the first titles in a new generation of free to play releases. It does have some detractors who label it a clone. The degree to which this is accurate is a matter of individual opinion, but it's difficult to dispute that the game is a success.
A key factor in this regard is the amount of content. The world of Taborea contains over 2,400 quests plus wide varieties of locations to explore, enemies to fight, etc. What's more, a considerable amount has been added in the past 14 months. Right now, we're in the midst of the game's third expansion, Chapter III: The Elder Kingdoms, which is being rolled out in phases. The first, The King's Call, went live late last month. It introduced the Thunderhoof Hills zone, a system wherein monsters drop collectible cards that can be used to improve characters' basic stats, and other features such as selectable difficulty levels for two popular instances, and a level cap increase from 55 to 57. Guilds received three drill grounds, six quests, some mini-games, and stone fortifications for expanding and strengthening their castles, which were previously just wood.
The main portion of the expansion arrived last Tuesday, bringing lots more for players to see and do. Among the key additions, they can now explore the Southern Janost Forest. Situated to the northwest of Thunderhoof Hills, it's a swampy woodland that's home to the bow and arrow-wielding nation of Shador. Its citizens are embroiled in a desperate struggle against the area's primary source of evil, Warnoken Castle, from which the formidable forces of the cruel Baron Reuen von Jura sally forth to spread a reign of brutality and terror. King Callaway is sending help, and seeking more adventurers intrepid and tough enough to face the challenge.
Another new location, the Dungeon of Dalanis is a six-player instance. A gloomy prison that has lain hidden beneath the capital city for centuries, it was built by the corrupt Prince Maxim Erekat III, who used it for a series of horrifying experiments such as the creation of terrifying monsters. Somehow, the macabre goings-on within have not ceased. What's more, the villain still lives. It will take skill, strength, courage and cunning for those who dare enter to confront the denizens and their master, to prevent them from emerging to wreak havoc on the surface, and to return alive.
My own character wouldn't be up to this task; I don't play Runes of Magic (or any other game) enough to have reached the level cap. Fortunately, on launch day, I had the chance to take a high-speed guided tour with one of Frogster America's GMs. We didn't actually play, but what I saw was both interesting and visually appealing. In particular, I thought some of the new creatures looked imaginative and cool; you can judge for yourself from the accompanying screenshots and others that have been released to date. So, it's no surprise that the feedback I've seen and heard over the past week has been positive overall - not universally so, but well within the "normal" range of expectations.
This rings even truer in that there's at least one new location I've yet to see. The Tyrefen Mountain Range is a Capture the Flag-type battleground where two teams of eight per side can match wits and strength to take and hold up to five crystals. There's a scoring system under which first side to accumulate 5,000 points gets 100 honor points, plus bragging rights, of course.
Lest you think that's all, this phase also incorporates a number of other notable features and benefits. One is a supplementary skill system that gives characters level 50 and above to acquire new ones by collecting special item sets. Another is the expanded system for housekeepers, which are NPCs for your private residence. It's now possible to hire more than one, which is helpful since they can provide buffs and perform services like making potions and food.
The level cap has been raised too, although just from 57 to 58. It will increase to 60 by the time all of Chapter III is in place, which will involve one or two more phases. Also still to come are mounts that will hold two characters, further role-playing elements including marriage, and additional zones and dungeons. No dates have been announced, but by the end of July seems like a reasonable guess.
What's coming longer-term is a matter of speculation. Perhaps we'll learn more around E3 this summer. One thing we know is that a Runes of Magic Facebook game is in the works. Assuming it's at least partially intended to offer an introduction and easier point of entry to users who aren't ready to make the leap into a serious MMORPG on their own, I would guess we'll see some degree of concentration on elements and content for them, with more weight on activities that are social, crafting and building-oriented.
That said, I don't expect any massive shifts of emphasis. It's clear from Chapter III that Frogster and Runewaker are in touch with the things that have worked to make Runes of Magic a success, and that their main focus is building on and expanding its core strengths. So, the game's current players can expect to be well taken care of over the coming months and years.