If you’re old enough to remember Rune, then you likely have fond memories of smashing mead filled cups on the floor after a hearty chug, or ripping off enemies’ arms and beating them to death with it. The 2000s-era Viking-themed PC action-adventure from Human Head Studios stood apart from the dominant shooter market of the time, being one of the few PC games focused exclusively on melee combat. Alongside unflinching violence and an endearing use of Norse mythology, Rune manages to persevere in most people’s memories as a notable gem from the turn of the century.
A lot has changed in gaming since the first Rune, though. The scope of action-adventure games has dramatically expanded. Melee combat mechanics have evolved in countless ways. And Norse mythology-themed adventures are more prevalent now than ever before. It makes you wonder how the upcoming Rune II could even begin to make a dent against today’s action franchise heavyweights. But the truth is it’s not attempting to beat them at their own game. Retooled as an action-RPG with survival elements, Rune II’s developers opted to iterate upon the original’s rudimentary action and exploration in ways that are faithful yet still ambitious and distinct for its relatively modest scope.
Set decades after the events of the first game, Rune II puts you in control of a new Viking warrior on a mission to defeat the trickster god Loki, who is manipulating the flow of time from afar to reset Ragnarok and create an infinite cycle of chaos. Naturally, it’s your job to stop him, but you can only do so by working up the power to enter the Realm Gate that he’s sealed himself behind.
The primary goal in Rune II seems straightforward, but accomplishing it is more complicated and less linear than you might imagine. You start the game on an island with no weapons and armor. You’re barely strong enough to hold your own in a fight, and everything wants to kill you. The game has you working from nothing, slowly scavenging the environment for resources to craft essential equipment, food, and lodging. All the while, you must actively explore the world in search of artifacts that can transport you to where Loki is hiding. You only need a handful to earn a chance to duel with the trickster god, but whether you’re strong enough is another matter entirely. The developers weren’t able to show me a Loki duel during our demo, but they told me that it’s a challenging fight and that you need to be incredibly skilled if you’re looking to conquer him on the first go.
Speaking of fighting, Rune II retains the quick mouse and keyboard-driven combat of the original; though, it will have controller support at launch. While its adherence to this tradition makes encounters a little clumsy, there’s still a degree of precision and strategy involved. Fights tend to be quick with overly aggressive enemies who push you to frequently bobbing and weaving trying to find openings. You possess an arsenal of attacks you can perform depending on the direction you’re moving and swinging, which demanded skill to execute with proper intention in the heat of battle.
The rhythm of combat and survival is more tense and hectic thanks to a countdown clock that ticks away as you play. The game can be broken down into periods called Ages, which each last about four hours. Every time Loki resets Ragnarok, a new age begins. Each affects the world in different ways to make your time spent fighting and exploring more inconvenient. For example, the Age of Frost increases the number of dangerous Frost Giants in the world, while the Age of Chaos causes enemy factions to fight against one another. Regardless, when an Age ends, you’re instantly thrown into a fight against Loki whether you’re ready or not.
There’s an inherent dynamism to Rune II’s world, story, and systems that makes it stand apart from the original and other survival games like it.
You do have support from the Norse Gods, such as Odin, Thor, or Hel. You’re lead down a path to aligning yourself with one, which grants you special powers. The choice you make ultimately affects the story’s outcome; however, the specifics towards how remains a mystery.
There’s an inherent dynamism to Rune II’s world, story, and systems that makes it stand apart from the original and other survival games like it. An overarching foe you’re continually building up your strength to defeat Loki only to fail repeatedly creates a loop that’s fascinating to see. The cyclical structure also seems fertile ground for personal anecdotes of difficulty and hardship to share with others. Fortunately, the game will include online cooperative play, so even if you do spend hours bashing your head against the wall trying to survive and defeat Loki, you’re welcome to with up to four friends.
Rune II is an intriguing albeit unexpected sequel to the original that offers a compelling twist to the action-RPG formula. Despite the new structure, the game’s fast-paced combat and wealth of Norse mythology seem likely to appease longtime fans. Make no mistake; this still feels like Rune. Though with nearly 20 years separating it from the first game, your recollection of that experience may be hazy. Still, Rune II seems enticing all the same and with a release set for sometime this Summer exclusively on the Epic Store, you won’t have to wait long.