I distinctly recall the first indie game I ever played; you might have seen a remake of it going around on PS4 lately. It was called Crimsonland, a fairly straightforward arena shooter that stood out from the crowd by offering a wide variety of customization options for your character. While each player started off on even ground, it was possible and even encouraged that you would build a character to suit your playstyle over the course of the game. On the surface Crimsonland was a simple game, but there were hidden depths to the content that would only be revealed after hours of play. Flash forward to 2014 and the release of Let’s Get Kraken’s Runers, another arena shooter that focuses on giving the player options. In doing so, the game distinguishes itself as one of the best indie titles I’ve played in years.
In Runers, you control a mage with the ability to combine magical runes into a vast variety of spells. You’ll use your magic to progress toward the bottom of a vast dungeon, battling numerous foes along the way. There are nine runes available (Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Shock, Speed, Light, Dark, Entropy) and several ways of combining them: a single rune results in a basic spell, two runes can be combined into a more advanced spell and three runes together produce the more esoteric, unusual and powerful spells. Your mage is further customized at the start of the game by selecting a passive and active ability and as you play by choosing perks as you gain experience levels.
The highlight of Runers is combining runes and discovering what spells they produce. Unlike Magicka, a title with a similar concept, each unique combination of runes results in a distinct spell instead of “coloring” a magical blast with different properties. This even extends to the triple-rune combinations, so Fire-Fire-Water is distinct from Fire-Water-Water. The first time you combine a particular set of runes you’ll require a Combiner, which come in Double and Triple varieties with the Triple version being one of the game’s more rare and precious items. After you’ve used a Combiner, though, that combination is saved in the Runedex and can be made for “free” so long as you’ve got the requisite runes.
The variety of spells is nothing to sneeze at. Even the initial set of nine starting spells, produced from one rune each, offers an impressive selection of properties for the player to choose from. Fire by itself produces Kindle, for instance, a basic shot that leaves a damaging burn effect; Water produces Droplet, a sort of rocket launcher that explodes on contact and damages nearby enemies. As it’s possible to equip spells on both the left and right mouse buttons along with several ancillary spell slots, there’s ample opportunity to play with new combinations.
The double rune spells trend toward more powerful offensive uses (Fire-Water is a helical blast of both elements simultaneously) while triple spell combinations are often a little more situational (Fire-Water-Water is a cloud of steam that does damage over time and increases enemy density, keeping them in the cloud). Since you’re able to recreate any combination you’ve already made without using a combiner, your options grow as you continue playing the game and expanding your Runedex.
As for actually using your magical repertoire, well, there’s no shortage of nasties that will try to stand in your way. Early on you’ll come across common types like rats and bats that make for easy target practice. Later floors offer more challenging fare, like beast hunters that create wind vortexes to draw you in for a beating. You’ll also come across plenty of other wizards to battle as well, though these tend to focus on a single Rune type rather than your smorgasbord of powers. Every few floors you’ll fight a randomly selected boss that represents the strengths of one of the runes; Speed offers a time-controlling giant bat while Fire’s artistic djinni creates mazes of flames to avoid.
There’s even more to say about Runers, such as the selection of Challenge modes it offers for players who tire of the standard Adventure, but it should suffice to say that this is easily one of the top indie titles of 2014. The sheer mass of content available for the price makes it a fantastic choice for anyone who even remotely enjoys RPGs or arena shooters. Give it a try…or three…or five. You won’t be disappointed.