Runestone Keeper Review

By Marc Hollinshead,
Dungeon crawling is an ages-old gameplay mechanic that has been utilised to different effect in many games throughout the decades. From tabletop games to AAA console titles, adventuring through never-ending caves of beasts still retains its charm to this day. Runestone Keeper is the latest title to provide a dungeon crawling experience, and it does this while also adhering to the roguelite tropes. Depending on your own stance on the genre, the game can be an enjoyable romp if you come in with the right expectations.

Logo

Don't be surprised if images of Minesweeper are conjured up as you begin Runestone Keeper. The game launches you straight into a tutorial to explain the basics, and from then on, you will be staring at a square grid whenever you jump in. There is no concrete story of which to speak, and the initial character you "play" as is a nameless adventurer called Guy, so the focus is solely on the dungeoneering.

The aim of the game is to explore and battle through the many floors of the randomly generated dungeon without succumbing to death. To do this, you control a cursor and click on any of the available tiles to uncover what lies on it. Each tile then reveals more tiles around it until you reveal the entire grid or discover the exit to the next floor. Of course, it's not quite as simple as clicking squares, as every floor harbours many dangers, with each subsequent level increasing in difficulty.

If you want to find the exit and escape, keep clicking on more tiles!If you want to find the exit and escape, keep clicking on more tiles!

As you begin on each floor, you must continue to reveal more of the grid until you reach specific scenarios. A tile may either possess an environmental trap, which is obviously detrimental to your health, a special item for you to save and use later, or an enemy to be defeated or potentially avoided. All of these stand between you and the exit, and it is entirely up to you whether you escape straight to the next floor upon discovering the exit or continue your exploration for extra rewards and encounters.

This mechanic is incredibly simple as it amounts to essentially just clicking on squares to progress. For those who are unacquainted with the genre or are expecting something a little more riveting, it may prove difficult to enjoy at first, but as you progress further into a dungeon, more gameplay options start to open up.

Aside from exploring the grid, your own character has health, mana and soul points to manage, with health obviously being the most important. Permadeath is a core aspect of Runestone Keeper, so one must always be on the lookout for the hearts of life scattered throughout each floor. Mana sits in tandem with your abilities, one of which is always unlocked at the beginning of all playthroughs, so it's also important keep tabs on how much mana you currently have and grab any opportunity to unlock more abilities to hinder the power of enemies. Soul points are acquired as you naturally uncover more of the grid and these are consumed whenever an item is used. Up to three items can be equipped at a time and they have varying effects. You will find many of these at regular intervals so it is worth deducing which item is better being left behind in place of a more useful item for your current situation. These three aspects of character management help to add another layer of depth to what is a simple and accessible game.

The more of the grid you uncover, the more dangers you will find.The more of the grid you uncover, the more dangers you will find.

Like any RPG, Runestone Keeper allows you to level up and gain better equipment. Strength, dexterity, intelligence, and stamina are your core stats, but only one can be levelled up by one point whenever you gain a new level. Therefore it is advised that you try and stick to a specific playstyle so you have the best possible chance of progressing up floors without the risk of death.

You have a little more choice in equipment due to the fact you are given two equipment loads to work with. Enemies have the chance of dropping valuable equipment or vendors may crop up on one of the tiles, offering tantalising goodies in exchange for the gold you have been accruing on your travels. In a similar vein to your stats, try and make sure you are well equipped early on in order to gain the upper hand as quickly as possible. A bow or staff is also essential so that ranged enemies can be killed without any unwanted hassle. However, due to the very nature of the game and its randomisation, one playthrough may lavish rewards upon you floor by floor, whereas another may leave you desperately hacking away with the starting ax eight floors later.

This is where Runestone Keeper's mechanics let it down. Roguelites regularly pride themselves on incorporating permanent death and randomisation to both add challenge and entice players into staying longer in the game than they usually would. However, when those mechanics are relied upon so heavily to the point in which you miss out on all the game can offer, it can be frustrating. Special enemies and bosses, different playable characters and extra modes appear to be locked behind the blockade of successfully tackling every single floor, but making it that far is easier said than done. Even when luck seems to be on your side and you are decked in the best gear, enemy placements on one particular floor could turn the tables in an instant and almost guarantee your demise, thus causing you to lose all your progress as you're thrown back to the start. The game can then become too repetitive because of this for all but the most appreciative genre fans.

If your health is ever as low as this, I'd advise a hasty retreat.If your health is ever as low as this, I'd advise a hasty retreat.

Although you are guaranteed to go back to square one (quite literally in this case) upon death, Runestone Keeper has a few upgrades to help you along the way. Gold is the only resource that stays with you and outside of the dungeon it can be spent in a number of ways. Passive upgrades like bonus XP and extra health when healing is available, but you can also activate specific runes and gods that were previously discovered in past playthroughs. Runestones and gods, which are both found randomly like everything else, grant you special buffs if you make use of what they offer. Unless you're challenging yourself, make the most of every opportunity and let these deities bestow their blessings upon you. You will need every available resource you have at your disposal if you want to see the coveted final floor.

There are twenty achievements in total for the full 1,000G in Runestone Keeper. Much like the game itself, there is probably going to be a bit of luck involved in grabbing the whole bunch. You will need to both level up a great deal and get to the higher floors of a dungeon in order to get them all, as well as complete a number of different challenges which will, in turn, make the game even tougher. It is extremely easy to play the game for a lengthy amount of time without seeing a single achievement pop, so you may need patience while enduring a heap of death before getting 100% on this one.

Summary

Runestone Keeper is a game that may give back as much as you put into it. Mechanically it's extremely simple and anyone will be able to get to grips with it. However, if the core gameplay features frustrate you, it can be tempting to give up after a short while due to the fact that luck is regularly against you. If you do persist, though, it is an enjoyable title that offers a rewarding experience. Just don't expect these rewards to come quickly. If you go in with these expectations, the game will entertain you, whether that's for one hour or six.
3 / 5
Runestone Keeper
Positives
  • Very simple to pick up and play
  • Equally enjoyable in short bursts and longer periods of play,
Negatives
  • Luck factors in too much in some playthroughs
  • Permadeath causes a lot of repetition and lack of overall progress
Ethics
The reviewer spent 6 hours crawling through many floors of many dungeons and dying many times. Only two of the game's achievements were earned in the process. A code for the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Marc Hollinshead
Written by Marc Hollinshead
To summarize Marc in two words, it would be "Christian Gamer." You will usually find him getting stuck into story heavy action-adventure games, RPG's and the odd quirky title when he isn't raving about Dark Souls and Mass Effect. Outside the world of gaming, Marc attends and helps out in his church on a regular basis and has a not-so thrilling job in a supermarket.