About a year after the launch of Rune II on the Epic Store, the game is launching on Steam as the ‘Decapitation Edition’ – and there’s more to that title than you might think. Does it drastically change the game?
Reading up on Rune II’s Steam release, it’s hard to escape that the new developers, Studio 369, are keen to point out this is a very different game from what was released on the Epic storefront last year. They describe the previous version as abandoned and sabotaged by the original developers (Human Head Studios, who were also behind the first Rune as well as the first Prey game), and are keen to point out that “the human head has been severed” – hence the title. They go on to talk about their own take on Rune II as a glorious Viking adventure full of betrayal, rebirth and revenge, so at least they’re not afraid to push off against the past and set the bar high for their own work.
Though I’m quite familiar with the first Rune (which is 20 years old already!), I had only briefly played last year’s sequel as I quickly lost interest due to bugs and a lack of post-release updates to fix them. The core plot is still your typical “prevent Loki’s ambitions to unleash Ragnarok upon Midgard” though, and it’s up to you and your (user generated) character to make sure it doesn’t happen.
As I always do, I went with whatever visual appearance the game threw at me, but did spend time looking into my stats. When you level up in Rune II, you do so along four axes – strength being an obvious one that’s joined by dexterity, constitution and wisdom. It’s an easy to manage upgrade system that’s more similar to action RPGs than Diablo than it is to the intricate progression system in some of this year’s best RPG titles, but with an emphasis on loot and action that’s hardly a surprise. You can (fairly early on in the game) also align yourself with one of the Norse gods, which grants access to unique abilities and the opportunity to adopt different playstyles.
One area that’s a vast improvement over last year’s version is that the story campaign and its (side)quests. Missing at worst and broken at best last year, there’s now a full story to play through, and even though it’s a fairly generic tale it helps a lot in providing the player with an incentive to push forward. The loot dynamic in the game also helps with this, and it’s as bountiful here as it was in the days of Diablo II. Your weapons change and upgrade frequently because of this, and you can alternate between different loadouts on the fly if you want to.
The combat itself still needs work though, because as much as I enjoyed the button mashing approach of Diablo II back in the day we now (in the 3D era) have far superior combat mechanics in RPG titles, and if you’re coming from something like The Witcher 3 then Rune II’s combat feels too mindless and ultimately unrewarding. With all these options in terms of weapons, you’d expect it to make a difference in how you approach and win fights, but it rarely does. The controls also don’t feel as tight and responsible as they do in games like The Witcher, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla or Dark Souls, to name a few titles that share elements with Rune II. If Studio 369 is to make this version of the game “glorious”, a revamp or serious update to the combat mechanics is needed. After all, the combat was one of the highlights of the original Rune so I imagine fans have high expectations here.
A few tweaks to the audiovisual presentation of the game would also be welcome, especially when it comes to the quality of the voiceovers. Some of them just aren’t that well done and detract from the story, which is otherwise brought to life by visuals that are easily far superior (and far less glitchy!) than those in Human Head’s version last year. In many respects, including this one, the Decapitation Edition of Rune II is much improved. That may also apply to the multiplayer, but we only tested with one copy of the game so we didn’t engage in the option to play through the campaign cooperative except for a short test that showcased that combat gets a lot more frantic and busy with a bunch of people on screen.
My hope is that Studio 369 will stick with Rune II and offer post-release improvements to the game. It’s a massive upgrade for the game rather than a simple re-release on Steam, but it’s also not quite there yet in terms of unleashing the full potential of a new Rune game.