Runestone Keeper (PC) – Review

developed by Blackfire Games

Runestone Keeper is a turn-based dungeon crawler roguelike with lite rpg components.  There have been a plethora of Roguelike and Rogue-lite games released over the past few years.  The question is, does Runestone Keeper offer enough to warrant a purchase?  After playing dozens of commercially released and freeware indie roguelikes during this recent resurgence, I think I can safely say that Runestone Keeper is worth your time and money, depending on what you’re looking for though.  If you enjoy dungeon crawling with a somewhat plain appearance and straightforward combat, and the term “casual gameplay” doesn’t turn you off, then you’ll find a lot to like about Runestone Keeper.  There isn’t much of a story, but what Runestone Keeper lacks in story, it more than makes up for in gameplay.

The gameplay reminds me a little bit of Desktop Dungeons without the puzzle elements and with a hint of tabletop board game.  In fact, it almost feels like a cross between a Rogelike meets Minesweeper.  That doesn’t mean that there’s no depth to the gameplay though.  It’s a more straight forward affair than something like Nethack or Mines of Moria, but Runestone Keeper does offer some great replay value with it’s randomly generated dungeons, diversity in monsters, an interesting combat system, simple but addictive qualities including an interesting mixture of exploration and loot discovery.  It’s all very easy to get into with an uncomplicated user interface that requires nothing more than simple pointing and clicking (no need for memorizing hotkeys or quick reference guides).

As simple as this all sounds, the challenge and difficulty level fall right into the roguelike catagory.  You’re still going to die a lot, and just when you think you’ve started to get the hang of things, the game will throw a series of new traps or monsters at you that can’t be dealt with at your current level.  Thankfully, in some cases, there’s the option to avoid combat.  The first thing you’ll need to do though is explore.  You’ll need to search each dungeon floor if you plan on making it deeper into the dungeon because most levels are blocked by a locked door that requires a key to open, and most keys are guarded by monsters.  The only way to aquire these keys is by defeating certain monsters.  Unfortunately, you never know which monster is actually carrying the key.

By clicking away at the grid based / tile based levels, you’ll uncover areas of the dungeon the were previously unrevealed.  Every time you click you’re taking a risk because you never know when you’re going to stumble upon a monster or a trap.  Along the way though, you’ll find scrolls that provide useful tips for dungeon exploration and monster extermination.  You’ll also encounter friendly denizens that are more than willing to help you out by providing useful items, if you have the coin to pay for their products.  Randomly discovered weapons and items are also quite useful as they can contribute to your strengh, mana, spellpower, or perhaps give passive abilities that allow the player to discover areas of the dungeon without fear of setting off traps.

As mentioned earlier, you’re going to die a lot.  This isn’t such a bad thing since you’ll sometimes be able to relocate the remains of your previous adventurer which will increase your health and enhance certain attributes.  Completing goals and exploring deeper and deeper into the dungeon will also grant you extra coin when you die.  This becomes useful because it allows the player to do things such as unlocking an upgrade or item shop back at the world hub / dungeon entrance.  With repeated gameplay, you can greatly increase the strength of your adventurer.  As a bonus, you’ll also unlock new characters that offer unique skillsets or bonuses which will enhance and alter the way the game can be played.

The graphics and sound, both music and effects, are simple.  They aren’t exactly impressive, but they certainly do get the job done.  It’s hard trying to avoid the word simple when describing Runestone Keeper, but I also find it difficult to express just how much depth and high replay value is contained within.  You could easily mistake the casual style for a game that was easy, but don’t let its looks fool you.  It is challenging but fun, and anyone who enjoys roguelikes or rpg’s will find something enjoyable and entertaining.  Runestone Keeper also allows gamers to compete with other gamers by attempting to reach the top of the leaderboards.  I found this a little difficult however considering how insanely high some of the scores are.  Still, it gives the more tenacious gamers something to strive for, while the more casual gamers will be happy to loot dead monsters and unlock some of the interesting achievements.  Speaking of which, there are over 60 achievements and some of them will require extensive play to obtain.

The game has it’s own charm, and I found the play mechanics addictive enough to keep me coming back for more.  I’ve tried emphasizing how the game looks and feels like a casual experience, but there is a certain amount of depth and breadth to it that gives it a board game feel.  This is the type of roguelike that can be played in short bursts or brief periods of time, but you could also find yourself playing for hours and being consumed by the addictive nature of its gameplay.  It doesn’t really do anything new or exciting and that we haven’t seen before, but It’s also not like your typical roguelike or RPG that you’ll find on PC.  As long as you keep that in mind and approach it with reasonable expectations, Runestone Keeper is the type of game that can keep you coming back to it’s dungeons quite often.

Runestone Keeper is available for both PC and Mac and can be bought on Steam or purchased through the Humble Store for the low price of $9.99 US.

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