We really enjoyed Rune back in the day. We have dear memories of a bunch of loud LAN nights with our friends where we, using our connected Macintosh desktops and switching between Quake III Arena and Rune for days at a time. We remember the sounds that played as we picked our weapons in the catacombs underneath the gladiator arena where the Vikings of Rune battled for honour, and we remember the music that played during the single-player campaign. We still remember the glorious visuals. That was 19 years ago.
Since then, developer Human Head Studios managed to create a fantastic first-person shooter with Prey as well as work on its sequel (before that was ultimately cancelled and rebooted in a completely new direction by Arkane). After 19 years it's once again time for Thor, Freya, Odin and Loki and all the Norse mythological entities to wreak some more havoc in the sequel to Rune (which was originally meant to be titled Rune: Ragnarok), and we've spent the past week playing this catastrophe.
Rune was a passion project for Human Head's Michael Larson and Chris Rhinehart. It was built using Unreal Engine (1), was absolutely gorgeous, had a fantastic multiplayer mode, and offered enough mythology and mystique to reel players in for the long haul. Rune was a great game and it pains us to have to review its sequel because it may well be the most underwhelming game of the year (so far, there's a couple of weeks left).
The world of Rune is in shambles when the adventure begins. Ragnarok is here in full force and brutes like Thor and Odin have yet to deal with the mess that Loki has created. You take on the role of a stern Viking called Heimdal who has about two hours to collect experience points, weapons and gear before being pulled into a parallel dimension where Loki awaits. Here, Heimdal is prompted to pick a companion in the form of one of three gods - Thor, Hel and Odin - and these three characters represent the game's class system, which works just as badly as everything else that Human Head has managed to cram into this game. The story is bleak, the narrative is constantly broken up, and there are no red threads for it to follow, nothing to tie it all together. The premise of Ragnarok feels hollow and empty, especially considering Human Head Studios has had 19 years to perfect it.
Rune 2 has you search for old relics that are imbued with the power to help Heimdal on his way and, in the end, stop the impending doomsday, but you lose interest on the way to that end since bugs and technical issues, as well as gameplay flaws, are present throughout. Human Head Studios recently went bankrupt and later that same afternoon, Bethesda announced that it had founded a new Chicago studio by the name of Roundhouse Studios, which was made up of all of Human Head's staff. This came as a shock to Rune 2 publisher Ragnorok Game LLC, who hadn't heard anything about this, and who has since vowed to continue to support the game, and it's clear that support is needed because the end product feels like it was rushed.
It's clear that Human Head also had an issue with its plans for the sequel, plans which had to be rewritten following Sony Santa Monica's God of War reboot for PlayStation 4, a game which took the setting and ran with it exceptionally well. Consequentially, A number of the mythological aspects in Rune 2 feels as though they've been pulled from the back of a cereal box and thematically, the framing felt out of place to us. What's more, the controls felt clunky and frustrating, the camera is too busy, and the hit detection is horrific.
Then there are the bugs, and there's the glaring fact that many parts of Rune 2 simply aren't finished. Enemies appear centimetres in front of your character without warning and disappear out of frame just as quickly, special attacks don't render (even though some specific sound effects are played), textures disappear, and the game crashes a lot. It's also horribly optimised even though the graphics look like they could be from a five-year-old PC game.
Rune 2 tries to be God of War. It really tries. It has the same hack 'n' slash setup, the same camera placement, the same conceptual framing, the same characters, the same mythological inspiration, the same weapons, and the same overall design. You essentially explore semi-open environments, slash down various minions, traverse to various locations by boat, and take the lives of some frustrating bosses along the way to your ultimate goal.
Sure, there's a PvE mode that lets you hop into Loki's dimension to try and take the rascal down with up to three friends, and sure, there's a multiplayer aspect just like there was with its predecessor, but it doesn't matter in the end. Rune 2 is a horrible sequel to a great game and one of this year's worst releases.
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