Runers is a top-down, may-as-well-be-twin-stick shooter with roguelike qualities, including permadeath. Contrary to what you might have expected after glancing at the screenshots, the game does not
feature traditional loot, consumables, equipment or an inventory system, other than what’s required to craft spells. With this in mind, I didn’t expect it to have much depth but was pleasantly surprised to be proven at least partly wrong.
The main attraction here is the magic system that lets you combine a catalyst with one to three runes from eight elements to create 285 different spells. Most results are unique in both animation and effect and generally fall under buff, debuff, direct single-target damage, area of effect, or some combination thereof. Spells can be further upgraded in power by dragging duplicate runes of the same element onto them, which augments their damage, knockback, cooldown, bullet size and speed. Runes, and the catalysts needed to combine them, drop from enemies and destructibles and are presented as a reward option when descending floors.
Spell quick slots are limited, maxing out at six after you’ve beaten a few minibosses, and excess spells must be in one of two storage slots or discarded. Two primary spells can be set to autofire so that they blast toward your cursor each time the cooldowns are up, which really makes casting feel like a twin-stick shooter without actual twin-stick support. Spell quality varies wildly with a few feeling overpowered, many feeling useless, and most falling somewhere in between. Casting does not consume resources and is only limited by cooldowns, so it’s fun to experiment with different builds.
Adventuring begins with choosing a difficulty, a racial passive ability, a class that determines your activatable special ability, and a starter spell (or, in roguelike fashion, just hit “random” and let the game decide these things for you). After this, you’ll be placed in a ten-floor dungeon with a toggleable map overlay that shows which rooms you’ve visited and any items you’ve left behind.
Enemies often feel just as, if not more, powerful than you because they cast the same spells available to you and can quickly fill your debuff bar. Combat involves a lot of running in circles as a result, dodging projectiles like you’re in bullet hell while slinging your own spells toward the pack of enemies that’s chasing you. Emerging as the victor will unlock the exits in that room and let you progress to the next. Rinse and repeat. The bulk of Runers’ depth and imagination went into its magic system and there isn’t much in the way of surprises outside of that. There are really only three room variants in the game: rooms containing a throng of enemies, a boss or miniboss, or a challenge (which is often just another throng of enemies whose conditional defeat rewards you with a perk).
Upon leveling up or completing a challenge room, you get to choose between four perks that are drawn randomly from a huge pool. With a few exceptions, these bonuses are more about augmenting your spells to be as deadly as possible and less about traditional character stat building. Even though death is permanent, a runedex keeps track of all the spell combinations you’ve unlocked thus far and a bestiary does the same for all the enemies you’ve encountered. There are also leaderboards for each difficulty and 30 optional, standalone challenges.
As long as you delve into Runers with an open mind and no expectations of it cleanly fitting into a particular genre—and you’re prepared to deal with the difficulty of projectile hell—you should enjoy the ride.