- Oct 27, 2017
Platform(s): Windows PC
Release Date: November 12, 2019 on EGS. It will be coming to other PC storefronts, including Steam, in 2020
Genre: 3rd Person Open World Hack and Slash ‘Em Up
Developer: Human Head Studios
Publisher: ESDF Management
Game modes: single player (offline) and co-op in the campaign, and a separate deathmatch mode.
Engine: Unreal Engine 4 (The studio’s worked on all 4 versions of the Unreal Engine)
Composer: Dean Valentine (created the trailer music for Captain America: Civil War and Dunkirk)
Supported languages: English V.O. with subtitles for EFIGS and Russian
Team size: 15 to 20 (with most of the original Rune team members returning)
Campaign Length: Around 15 hours.
Download size: roughly 30GB
PC features: 60-110 FOV, animation interpolation can be switched off if you’re after that old-school feeling in the settings, and full gamepad support
Format: Digital only across three different tiers
What is Rune?
19 years ago, Human Head Studios released their debut title Rune. It was a slash game set in a world inspired by Norse mythology where you played as Ragnar, a young Viking warrior as he battled his way through Hel's domain, across mountain fortresses, and ancient dwarven structures as he tries to prevent Loki from unleashing Ragnarok on the world. Published by G.O.D. Games, a subsidiary of Take Two Interactive, whose notable releases include Max Payne, Mafia and my personal favorite Hidden & Dangerous 2, and was their last major release for 2000 coming directly after KISS: The Psycho Circus and Ritual's Heavy Metal FAKK 2. The game received rave reviews from Gamespy, Ars Technica, and The Firing Squad, but some mixed notices from Gamespot and Old Man Murray. The game developed a strong following, launching multiple fan sites (including Rune World and Planet Ragnarok), a strong modding community that created lots of maps, skins and even features like bot support and co-op functionality for the campaign, and a dedicated multiplayer fanbase that has stayed with Rune for nearly 20 years.
Human Head made major modifications to the Unreal engine, including adding a skeletal animation system, a full shadowing system, a new particle effects system, creating melee-focused AI, and a 3rd person camera system to show off their models which sported around 1500 polygons each (making it more complex than the average UT character). There was a multiplayer pack in 2001 called Halls of Valhalla that functioned as a standalone version of the game, which was later paired with the base game under a collection called Rune Gold. A PS2 port and a pen and paper RPG built by Atlus games followed by the end of 2001, essentially marking a substantial break for the series, though the studio's producer mentioned in response to a question about the possibility of a sequel, "We own all the franchise rights to Rune. It would be silly for us to abandon it... We love Rune, but we are eager to move on to other things for a while." By September 2002, Rune had sold over 270,000 copies worldwide, and it's reputation secured Human Head the contract to reboot Prey in collaboration with 3D Realms. You can find out more about Rune in LGR's excellent video review:
Bonus (edgy 2000's ad):
The story picks up years after the original ends, except Loki, who was - spoiler - trapped at the end of the original, has broken free from his bindings to start Ragnarok. Unlike the mythology, where Ragnarok begins and a great war between humans, giants, beasts and the Gods culminates in a fight where many of them die before the world is consumed by fire and reborn anew, in Rune II the battle has raged on for seven years and most people have perished.
As one of the last remaining humans, your hero is resurrected by Heimdall and given the chance to earn a place in Valhalla by killing Loki, who hopes to escape his prophesied death by preventing the great battle from actually ending. He’s injured Heimdall, poisoned Thor, released the great wolf Fenrir, and driven Odin into hiding while Hel remains trapped in the underworld. Most of the game takes place in Midgard, and there will be many callbacks to the original.
When Ragnarok began, the world was flooded causing chaos and unrest. Across the 4.5km by 4.5 km map, there’s lots of different islands to sail to with strange and unpredictable climates, where players can recover magical artifacts, hunt unique bosses, find recipes, or discover rare crating materials.
Wait, crafting? Is this a survival game like Conan Exiles?
There are some minor survival mechanics, such as hypothermia (Ragnarok’s bitterly cold) but there’s no hunger system. The game has a resource gathering, collecting, and crafting loop that’s constantly rewarding you with better loot. The crafting system is intentionally fast and purposefully simple, with players learning recipes by acquiring ingredients like deer meat or breaking down weapons and equipment for their component parts. Exploring the world, uncovering lore stones, and completing quests will secure new recipes. You’ll progress from venturing into dangerous waters on a rickety raft to undertaking raids in a Viking longship.
Throughout the world, players will encounter ruins where they construct longhouses to find refuge. This rebuildable system will allow players to make use of fire pits to cook food to restore your health, vaults to store your extra gear, forges to make powerful items, whetstones to repair your weapons (there’s no outright weapon breaking, though), and runeshrines to apply extra boosts and buffs to your equipment.
Ragnarok Timer: Loki’s hidden himself in a dimension known as the Vigrid Plain, where he’s rewinding time via an agefall rune, resetting the world and prevents Ragnarok from ending. As the timer runs out, meteors will rain down, ending the world and the player will be transported to Vigrid Plain, essentially a battle arena, to face Loki. If he defeats you or you escape via a Bifrost gate, you’ll be teleported back to Midgard, except the world will have entered a new age. You can’t kill Loki straight away (need to track down God killing weapons to accomplish that), and his attacks and support evolve over time.
As he’s fated to perish at the end of Ragnarok, Loki’s method of circumventing his death has extended Ragnarok. By using the world serpent rewind time, he’s created an unending world, where the ages cycle over and over. While the physical layout of the world remains the same, and your explored map progress, level and inventory will persist between ages (it’s not a Rogue-like experience), each of the six ages will introduce new gameplay elements. In addition to encountering trials like perpetual night and the age of treachery, different enemy variants, unique challenges, hazards, and resources, you’ll also learn the stories of Loki’s betrayal of the other Gods. Some gear will be limited to a specific age, and contain different elemental resistances, so securing effective these items will help you in another.
Tracking down mystical relics imbued with magic that keeps the veil between the Vigrid Plain and Midgard in place will empower when facing Loki. Each of these relics from Norse mythology, including Sygin's Bowl, the mistletoe dart that killed Baldur, and the World Serpent’s Scale, are protected by either his minions, a mini-boss or a mini clan. After you collect them, you won’t be able to fast travel, and they can impose different effects on the player, so you’ll want to find the nearest Bifrost gate (a respawn shrine unlocked by exploring) to deposit them ASAP. Securing these artifacts grants you more lives when fighting Loki, and once you run out of resurrections, you’re bounced back to a new age.
There’s a system whereby you discover new paths, such as crafting, entering a new age, or a by aligning to a specific God that start off easy but increase substantially in challenge as the game progresses as a form of secondary quest chains. These reward you with experience, equipment, gear, and crafting recipes, though none of them are necessary for completing the game.
Like it’s predecessor, Rune II is a melee-combat game. You'll be facing off against undead skeleton warriors, draugrs, cannibal Viking clans, wolves, boars, flame-touch warriors, dwarves, and giants. Weapon types see swords, axes, and hammers return from the original alongside new additions spears, bows and grenades. Regarding weapon separation and variety, some are better at quick jabs and some are better at broad strokes. The dwarven work hammer, for instance, favours slower vertical attacks for Mario-esque smashing that can knock enemies back, while great swords do diagonal slashes, short swords are quick, dealing lots of damage in close range. Axes are great at chopping off limbs or decapitating enemies.
The position and the movement of the player determines the kind of attack you will perform. Backing up will let to land a vertical strike, there’s a forward stab, overhead swipes, and as in the original you can attack during double-tap directional dodges, slash and rotate to do a sweep, and make use of jump-spin attacks. Learning those different moves with each different weapon can create unique combos and combat styles. The egg shaped movement style of the original returns, too, though there’s now a stamina system, so if you’re hit when your stamina is low you get knocked down; also your attack speed decreases as you close in on empty, so spamming attacks and sprinting everywhere isn’t the most sound strategy.
There are pain delays, limb loss, and visible weapon feedback with blood and gore similar to the original. Every weapon can be thrown from swords, spears, axes, hammers to bows, severed legs, arms and heads, and some of these will stick into enemies. Finally, there are traps, God powers, and power-up runes, including berserk, health, teleportation, and time skip, and magical variants of weapons, including frost, fire, and poison. Remember to block, though if you do so without a shield you could lose your arm.
The game offers a single player campaign, which can be played offline solo or online with up to four players in co-op, and a separate deathmatch mode with up to 24 players, though if your system is powerful enough, these numbers can be increased. There’s robust server settings and players have the option to host their own if they so choose. You can enable friendly fire as a server setting, steal your co-op partners loot, and there’s a lot of customization available, including dialing down enemy difficulty and increasing XP growth if they want to make the game easier, manipulating the weather and time of day, or select the types of runes that spawn. Enemy level scaling is tied to the highest level player on the server, and while the main quest is shared, the path system progress is specific to each character. In deathmatch, there is no ranking or progression system. Just the satisfaction of improving your personal skills.
In addition to being able to choose their gender and appearance, players can decide which God they’ll serve: Odin, Hel, or Thor. Each of these gods come with their own side quests, rewards, and mechanical benefits such as poison resistance for Hel or improved skill with a hammer for Thor. Each god also bestows their heroes with a unique ultimate attack like throwing Thor’s hammer to blast everyone around you with lightning or calling out ice spikes from the underworld that knock back nearby enemies. If that’s not to their fancy, you can be a heathen and choose not to align, aka Hard mode. As each God has a different motivation for wanting you to end Ragnarok, the story is a bit different, too.
Why is it an Epic Store Exclusive?
After beta testing the game throughout 2018, it became clear to the team they needed more runway, which is why additional funding partners were sought out, and ultimately a deal with Epic was made. In the words of the project director Chris Rhinehart, “The money that we got went into developing the game and making the game better,” a move that allowed the team to move features that were originally planned as post-launch add-ons, such as the deathmatch mode, to be ready at release. Human Head has a long relationship with Epic. In addition to contributing to Protostar and Paragon, Epic was originally the first publisher for Rune back when it was called Ragnar. After Human Head’s first project, a sequel to Ion Storm’s then unreleased Daikatana using the Unreal engine, was cancelled, Epic let them continue using their tech while prototyping a new project for potential publishers and after seeing their concept for a Viking hack and slash game signed on as the publisher of project. The first official batch of screenshots were sent to press in January, 1999 on floppies!
Rune II’s History:
Entering development around June 2017 and officially unveiled as Rune Ragnarok in August 2017 during the studio's 20th anniversary celebrations (subsequently renamed to Rune and then Rune II), there had been earlier efforts to get the a follow-up off the ground. In 2004, Tim Gerritsen started a thread on the official Rune game discussion boards asking what people would want from a sequel. 2005 saw a pre-rendered video and some concepts surface as part of a publisher pitch, indicating rival mythologies facing off against one another. This project reached contract terms before they were acquired by another publisher who weren't interested in the genre, killing the deal. The studio's frustration was clear.
In 2012, six months after development on Prey 2 stopped after Zenimax tried to purchase the studio through milestone abuse, Human Head once again publicly floated the idea of pursuing a sequel to Rune in April, setting up a Facebook page, releasing some concept art, and creating a UE3 demo for 2K Games, though this iteration was impacted by the very public dispute with Bethesda.
Easter eggs in previous H.H. Titles (couldn't find a good screengrab of Boxy Kingdom, which features Ragnar as a playable hero):
The people responsible for The Quiet Man?
The disastrous Quiet Man was a contract project for Square Enix, and the vision for the game came from S.E. producer Fujinaga Kensei. As an independent studio that’s been around for twenty-two years, Human Head has frequently had to take on external projects to secure more resources for other internal projects: Making Blair Witch 2 in 6 months to get more time to polish Rune; working on Dead Man’s Hand for Atari while keeping Prey in the works after former publisher Rockstar and the studio reached an impasse; and assisting on Splash Damage’s Brink with Arkane while developing Prey 2 concurrently.
Miscellaneous emergent gameplay features:
You can cut down trees to kill people; there’s enemy in-fighting between factions and creatures ala Doom; force runes can separate enemies, and can move players around; lightning strikes can hit enemies and also cause random fires you can cook food off. Players can suffer limb loss and take damage over time until they bleed out. Return to a Bifrost gate, rebuildable or use bandages to magically grow it back. You can still eat lizards, drink mead, and kill opponents with their severed limbs.
Will there will be substantial post-launch support?
Yes, H.H. is planning on adding new quests and enemies to the game based on community feedback.
Check out the Rune II Official community on Discord - hang out with 2,929 other members and enjoy free voice and text chat.
Founded in 1997, Human Head Studios is a privately-owned independent studio in Madison, Wisconsin.
Set in a dangerous Norse universe during the end of days, RUNE II is an epic action RPG where gods, beasts, and the last remaining humans struggle to survive. You have been chosen by the gods to be Midgard’s savior - receive their blessings and powerful abilities as you endeavor to end...
The latest Tweets from Rune II (@play_rune). RUNE II is an open-world action-adventure RPG set in a dangerous Norse universe made by @humanheadgames. Coming Nov 12, 2019. https://t.co/LItDX3Kgvf
The coolest detail of this mid-1990s Raven photo is that most of the guys in this photo have continued working together in the same town for a quarter of a century, which is a very rare feat in the games industry.