Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Ring Runner Flight of the Sages: Game Design Review

Ring Runner Flight of the Sages is an indie top down 360 space shooter mixing action, RPG and even strategy into a single game. It was fairly recently released. Here's what I thought of the game from a design perspective. Let me just say, I was very impressed with this game and thoroughly recommend it to anyone who loves action games or top down shooters .

The only thing that might put players off is the fact that this is a momentum based shooter like asteroids so you need to apply force in the opposite direction before slowing down. Some people just hate this sort of gameplay.

What I liked:

 Gameplay- The gameplay is spot-on for a game like this. The fast ships feel manuverable, the large ships feel slow, the fighting is intense and abilities very fun.

Lots of modes- You get plenty of game modes. Aside from the main campaign, you get deathmatch, zombie survival, base defense and even a Defense of the Ancients (DOTA)/League of Legends mode.

Lots of customisation- The game has 5 classes and a special co-op ship class called Duo for two players to control! Each of these classes represent a type gameplay style. For example, the Arsenal is a heavy weapons and support class, the Rogue is a stealth class which can cloak and turn in invisible while the Grappler class is a melee class. As you play the game, you will unlock new ships for each class at a higher level. At the highest level you get access to special hybrids. For example, there's a Rogue ship which is a Rogue/Arsenal hybrid so it has access to both Rogue and Arsenal weapons and equipment.

Each ship  hull class can be further customised so you can kit out your craft just the way you like. There are lots of weapons and items to unlocksuch as drones, healing, creating barriers to stop projectiles.

For example, you can unlock various types of rockets which behave differently. You have your standard rocket which does good damage, you have your swarm rockets which fire several missiles at once but has a longer reload time and shorter range, you have a stealth rocket that is invisible etc. etc. You also have equipment that will for example, decrease rocket reload times or increase the damage.

If this gets too overwhelming can also choose the prebuilt ships that are unlocked as you amass Plex (the game's currency).

Pilot abilities- On top of all this, you also have pilot abilities that also do a variety of crazy things like slow down time or allow you to gain invincibility for a short amount of time.

You get everything and the kitchen sink in this game, there's lots of missions, awesome gameplay and a huge amount of depth allowing you to customise your ship and pilot the way you want it. I'm not sure how balanced it actually is but I found that each class has its own pro's and cons and just because a current ship is working well now doesn't mean it will always be the best ship for the job. For the price of $10, this game is fully feature packed and extremely fun putting more expensive games I've played to shame.

What I didn't like:
Ship customisation interface/Hanger- This is the one major gripe I have with the game. Every other issue is minor. The game has a terrible shopping and ship customisation interface. It can be a bit overwhelming for a newbie to figure out what everything means. For example, to view the effect of an item, you have to press the Y button on the controller to see what it means. And you have to do this for every single item you want to check out. This makes trying to compare items difficult.

Also what isn't very obvious at first is the fact that different ships have different unique slots that can be confusing at first. For example, the Caster class ship has a caster drive which acts as an engine and also as a slot to put Caster weapons. But like every other ship it also has weapon bays where you can slot in weapons and weapon upgrades.

Eventually, players will get the hang of this but it still feels very unwielding for what should have been fun process. There really needs to be a more intuitive way of doing this. There's also no real way of checking how your ship handles except to start a mission. I think an instant empty test arena would have been great rathr than loading a full map with enemies.

Minor issues

Background graphics- The background graphics are okay. They aren't great but they get the job done. I do find space a bit too minimalist and a bit spartan even in the cities. On the other hand, this also means it's pretty clear what's happening on screen which is very important when you're fighting.

Music- It's okay but I feel it could be more majestic and richer.

Storyline- Wile the main story is fairly serious, it's more Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy than Star Trek. I like the light-hearteded nature of it and it's memorable for it's weird plot but I wonder if most gamers would really enjoy the humour? There are also several plotholes in the game. I'm not sure if they are really plotholes are just things I haven't picked up because I wasn't paying attention and reading every single line.

The other major issue probably the fact that some of the races in the game are apparently descended from humans but others are aliens. I think portraits would have been helpful. I'm still not sure who the humans are.

Some mechanics aren't well explained- Because of the depth and complexity of the variety of game modes and the customisation, a number of mechanics just aren't well explained. For example, I didn't realise the Duo ship class isn't actually a new ship class but a special co-op ship class meant for two players.

Campaign map- You can go back and play any  mission you've played before, unfortunately all you see on the map is green dots representing the systems you've been to with no order to them because your journeys have taken you all over the universe. As a result, it's hard to know which missions belong to which green dot except to check them. They should have just created a standard world map instead. There is actually a way to see a list of all the missions by visiting the "Stats and Achievements" but of course, players probably won't be looking there first.

Ring Runner is an awesome game. It successfully merges action, RPG and shooters into one amazingly cheap package. For me, this is now the gold standard for top down shooters and is fantastic value for money. Yes, it has some minor flaws but its really solid otherwise.

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