It seems that you can’t go a week covering indie games without stumbling over a new Roguelike/Roguelite/your preferred term for dungeon crawling adventures with procedural content and permadeath. This week’s highlight is Runers by Let’s Get Kraken Games. Runers is a top-down shooter that features the genre’s signature procedural content, permadeath, and daunting difficulty, with the game’s highlight and namesake being the ability to combine runes to create some 285 different spells that range from projectiles to buffs. As with many of these titles, once you get past the unforgiving learning curve you’ll find a rather rewarding experience and a crafting system that encourages experimentation.

You start a run by selecting a passive bonus, a class with an active special attack, and a starting spell. This is all overwhelming at first, because all but one of the 20 races and classes are unlocked from the start. They are all unique and interesting in their own ways, and not all of the passives are 100% positive. The human gains a flat 5% increase to all stats, while the dwarf gains bonuses the closer they are to enemies and penalties the further away they are.

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You have a lot of potential combinations, with a few obvious synergies and some that don’t work out that well. This is your first introduction to one of the real strengths of Runers: experimentation. This is exemplified with the spell crafting system, where you combine runes to make new spells. All but the 8 most basic spells are a mystery at first, so many of your early runs will involve lots of experimentation and discovery.

There are 8 different elements, and you’ll gradually learn the various attributes associated with each that will give you an idea of what the resulting spell might be. For example, Fire tends to have some sort of damage over time while Speed tends to be associated with lowering cooldowns or buffing your character’s movement. Once you combine your runes into a previously unknown spell, the correct elemental combination for creating the spell will be added to your Runedex, which can be pulled up at any time. The most basic spells only require a single rune, while the most complex are three runes.

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It’s actually quite impressive how a game with so many classes, races, and spells manages to keep them all relatively unique with minimal overlap. Class special abilities can do anything from summoning zombies that explode into poison clouds upon death to giving you a chance to cast two copies of a spell. Even the 8 starting spells, while all being projectiles of some sort, have unique attributes. Chaos Bolt fires bursts of energy in random directions with each casting, Mind Spike pierces through multiple enemies, Droplet is a small AOE attack, and so on. Things only get more varied as you start combining runes and discover defensive buff spells or attack spells that summon weapons like swords and spears that strike nearby enemies instead of shooting a projectile.

The controls take a bit of getting used to, and I suggest rebinding some of your spell keys. By default you move with WASD, aim with the mouse, have a spell each for right and left mouse buttons, your class ability on Q, and up to four hotkeys on 1, 2, 3, and 4. The problem is that this is a really fast shooter with bullet hell-like elements. You must constantly dodge and weave around a room to avoid a hailstorm of enemy projectiles, and all this moving around can make reaching up to hit one of the four hotkeys rather difficult in a particularly hectic battle. I think that this would actually be a pretty good game to play with on a controller, but the game currently doesn’t support it.

I’m generally hesitant to criticize the difficulty in these types of games because I’m awful at them, but I also feel that the difficulty is a bit steep in Runers. The game gets pretty difficult fairly quickly, whereas other games in this genre might give you a few levels to get used to everything before really ramping things up. That could be either a good or bad thing, depending on how much you like a challenge. I also must admit that I’m not particularly enthused by the game’s aesthetic and sound effects. The game’s presentation gets the job done, but feels really basic and uninspired.

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Runers has interesting and deep spell crafting mechanics in a fairly fun and fast-paced top-down shooter. I really appreciate the way that the game encourages you to experiment and discover things on your own, but wish that the difficulty was a bit more forgiving. Overall, I’d say that it is definitely worth checking out if you enjoy Roguelites, and the sheer amount of content available in the race, class, and spell system is a bargain at only $10. There is a demo available too so you can try before you buy, an unfortunately rare occurrence these days. Runers is currently out on Steam.

Frank Streva is an aspiring game designer that currently just rambles about indie games.