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Runestone Keeper - A Permadeath Roguelike Game Review and Beginner Guide for iOS and Android

Why does playing game that has no limit is so addictive to some people? For me personally, it's because the endless challenges, offered by the game. It seems that when I'm playing an endless game, I'm challenging something that literally impossible, but always interesting to play with.

Endless games however, is a category that's a bit sensitive to most hardcore gamers. I don't know about you obviously, but all hardcore gamers that I've known, would prefer games that has clear ending, not just aiming high score and just doing something aimlessly and repetitively.

Roguelike game, despite in many way, can also be categorized into this endless game category, but with different weight in terms of its gameplay. The genre that's also a sub-genre of Role-Playing Games, isn't just you simply running aimlessly bragging about score, it's about how you plan your next game session. It's entirely in a different weight.

Speaking of the history of Roguelike games, most hardcore gamers would be familiar with the most famous tabletop role-playing game called Dungeon and Dragons. This fantasy game had more than 3 million players around the world just back in 1981, and by 2004, this game has reached more than 20 million people. In fact, games like D&D have influenced most Roguelike games that based on a high fantasy narrative.

There are some characteristics that separate roguelike games from other genre. Permanent Death of the player character, that is. Permadeath (the cool vocab for permanent death), according to Wikipedia, is a situation in which player characters that die are permanently dead and removed from the game and may no longer be used to play. It means when you're dead, you will have to restart the game all over again from scratch.

Back in 2013, a roguelike game entered iOS games platform, and successfully made this genre the new darling in the midst of various genre. Since then, a lot of high quality roguelike game have entered the platform, from friendly roguelike game like Sproggiwood to a more play-and-go game like 100 Rogues. All of them have different play styles and taste, but all with the same characteristics, the permadeath.

In 2015, another fantastic roguelike game with permadeath game mechanic is entering the mobile platform again. Originally designed for iOS platform, Blackfire Games from China, decided to release it first on PC to test the public interest for this game since roguelike genre wasn't that popular in China. The PC's release however, turns out great as they have successfully snatched 2014 UNITY AWARDS for Best Gameplay in China. Moreover, now there are more Chinese players that signed up for Steam because of this game.

This is Blackfire Games own roguelike version that has shaken China's gaming industry, Runestone Keeper.

Runestone Keeper: The Premise

I was asking Blackfire Games CEO, Ting Sun the other day, about the idea behind Runestone Keeper. According to Ting, this game was developed way back, when Dungelot is still happening and really famous. So for you that quite familiar with Dungelot, I think Runestone Keeper can be safely said as the advanced and improved version of Dungelot.

But for those of you who don't even know what Dungelot is, relax, I'm here for that purpose as well. Like Dungelot, Runestone Keeper is a permadeath roguelike game with tile-based dungeon exploration. In short, you will never be able to have an easy dungeon, nuff said.

You will be exploring from one floor to another. The deeper the floor is, the harder the enemy gets, but of course gives more rewards. In each floor, you will have to clear the floor from all the enemies, or at least find the down stair to the next floor.

It'll also somewhat remind you to classic Minesweeper game, where all the tiles couldn't be seen, misty if I may say, but full of trap that you have to avoid. You will be opening the tile, one by one, while hoping you won't face enemy or some trap that will hurt your character.

There will be various things happen in just one floor. Beside traps and enemies, you can also gain some health and coin for yourself, also some shops to equip yourself with weapons, skills, and items. All of that, plus some god to worship and events that would slowly reveal the story of this game, randomly generated for you.

Before we continue, if you're asking me, do this game is an endless game? Yes, once you've beaten the game, you will get an 'Endless Runestone' and when you activate it, you will, have an endless game with you. But if you haven't beaten it yet, nope, it has the limit of how far you can go. Only it is that hard, I haven't even reached the half of it (perhaps I should lower the difficulty).

Revealing one yellow tile means you will be hit +2 more damages, while green tiles mean you will be dealt 2 damage for two turns. So imagine how messy it could be, one floor in Runestone Keeper

Revealing one yellow tile means you will be hit +2 more damages, while green tiles mean you will be dealt 2 damage for two turns. So imagine how messy it could be, one floor in Runestone Keeper

Runestone Keeper: The Gameplay

Like most roguelike game played, you can't cheat death in Runestone Keeper. You will always die and your character will be reset. You will always start all over again from the first floor, completely strip out. Then, you will be crawling again from the top floor, down and down, until the deepest bottom of the dungeon.

But of course, what makes roguelike game a roguelike, is that the game will always lets you become stronger everytime you die. For this case, Runestone Keeper also lets you bring something when you die. There are several things that you can bring, but the most obvious is that you get to keep coins everytime you die. Your equipment will perish, your character will die, but you will 'always' have more coins whenever you die.

These coins will then be used to purchase items to be brought along or some upgrades like 'increase percentage to get runestone' or 'extra gold coin from pick-ups'. These kind of advantage will give you extra hands when you go inside the dungeon again.

The other thing that you will get beside the coins is the runestones. Runestone acts like 'precious stones' that can really change the flow of your exploration if you have the right stones combination. There are 9 runestones available, separated into three categories, three copper, three silver, and three gold runestones.

The last thing is the god. Whenever you meet and worship a new god, that god will be unlocked, and you will get the effect given by that god right away. Then, before you start your exploration, you can choose to worship that god and you will be given some power at the cost of your coins and 'something'.

God of War, one of the most favorite in-game god, gives pretty much Attack but will not tolerate any betrayals

God of War, one of the most favorite in-game god, gives pretty much Attack but will not tolerate any betrayals

Before you start your exploration, you can choose the character you want to bring along. There are eight characters available to be played, with six are available via normal play and two with IAP. However, only one character is available right from the start. You have to meet certain requirement like 'reach xx level with nightmare difficulty' or such, to unlock the other characters.

Every character comes with one unique skill and stats that they only possess. Along the way, your character will be improved. Every time a character levels up, you will have to choose one out of four stats to increase. STRENGTH to increase melee damage, DEXTERITY to increase ranged damage, hit and dodge percentage, INTELLIGENCE to increase magic damage resistance as well as magic weapon damage, and STAMINA to increase the heart effect.

There are various type of enemies available in the game, all of it are coming obviously with different attack and defense. However, the cool thing is that each enemies also have their unique ability. The most basic explanation to distinguish this ability is that the ranged monster. Ranged monster won't be able to be hit unless you've reached the tiles adjacent to that monster, or if you have ranged weapon like bow or crossbow for this matter. They will also damage you in every move, unlike the melee monster that will hit you only if you attack them.

Of course, that's not the only thing the enemies are able to do. Other enemy can also silence your character, meaning you can't use any skills to them, other enemy will buff up its attack for every tile you've explored, or this enemy where they will heal other enemies whenever you decide to continue your exploration and ignore this enemy.

Luckily, you also will have advantage with the skills, items, and the equipments. There are five slots for your basic equipment, head, armor, hand, belt, and boots. Then you will have two slots for weapon, one for two-handed weapon, and another for dual-wielding weapon. All these equipments beside will give you some boost to your stats, they will also give some extra effects. For example, a rare weapon could do some splash damage to multiple enemies at the same time, a rare boot could explore 2 tiles at the same time, and such.

Items work like any items would do, you use it once and the item is gone. It's a one-time use. Items however, are far easier to find rather than weapons, you can also find it on the item shop with cheaper price. There are tons of items that you can use and its effect can be really powerful sometimes. For example, it can kill ranged creature directly wherever your current position are, another example, you can detect all the hidden enemies so you can avoid them.

And of course, to balance the power between enemies and your character, skills speak their way through. Heal yourself, buff your attack, restore your armor, send fireball to enemies, are that kind of skills you will get.

Just because one wrong tap, enemy can call his friends and voila, you got yourself more accompanies

Just because one wrong tap, enemy can call his friends and voila, you got yourself more accompanies

Runestone Keeper: Things I Like

During my MTG days, my friend told me that I'm a COMBO type of guy. Meaning that I would prefer ignoring everything my opponent does too me as long as I could construct my most lethal system and release it to them.

That's why it's also the thing I like the most from Runestone Keeper. Everything in Runestone Keeper, is there for a reason, for a combo, both for player and the enemies. One wrong tap, and without you even realize, you have somehow filled your screen with enemies. Worship the right god, combined with the right equipment, and you will survive much longer inside the dungeon.

The character design for each enemy, serves as if they were made for each other. In the upper floor, this combo won't be appearing too much, but later on, the deeper you get, the more you will be made busy by some enemies boosting one another.

I also love the different play style brought by each character. By using different character, the god that you will have to worship also becoming part of your decision, the equipment that you choose also different. I have some tips for you in choosing the right god for the right character, although I only able to unlock three characters, but I hope that my tips can still help you in any way.

The random events also make Runestone Keeper a joy in every repeatable game I've played. It doesn't only act just as some story to be told, but I can also decide which conversation should I take. Moreover, my current stats and decision will decide if I will get some runestone or equipments, or even worse lost some stats or even all my skills. Sometimes, this event will give you an event item, something that might be useful on your next event.

Runestone Keeper: Tips and Tricks

By all means, I'm still no expert in Runestone Keeper. I'm still not able to get pass more than 20 floors in Nightmare mode, not to mention the Chaos mode. However, for those of you that haven't even passed the 10th floor, or have difficulty in playing this game, I'd be more than happy to help you through. Runestone Keeper is a great roguelike game and I want you to experience the same joy as I do. So these are my beginner guide, tips, and tricks for playing Runestone Keeper.

Character's Interface

This screenshot is showing the character sheet and all the informations about it. I'm trying to left the obvious parts, so I'm skipping health, attack, soul points, mana, bag for inventory, skills, and items explanation.

Number 1 is telling you floor number, where you are now and how far you are from the destination.

Number 2 is telling you the character's level, so that you can measure the strength of yours and the enemies around you.

Number 3 is switch weapon button. This will come in handy to have dual-wielding weapon and two-hand weapon like big sword or cross bow. You can also use this to maximize the effect of your weapon. Like for instance, you can use your cross bow to penetrate enemy's armor, then use the dual-wielding weapon to finish it because one of your weapon can +health whenever you're killing an enemy.

Number 4 is god takes over (I name it myself) button. If you press this button, you can escape that particular floor right away. Of course there's a toll that you have to pay, usually -attack, but it depends on what god you're currently worshipping.

General Tips and Tricks

Before I start explaining more advanced strategy, let me do some list of general tips and tricks. Perhaps some of you may have known this, but who knows that it might open up some other people eyes.

  • Before you start exploring the dungeon, always make sure you have worship one of the gods there. It is the statues just before the staircase to enter the dungeon.
  • If you worship god, you can then install a tattoo in your body. Whenever you change your heart, the tattoo shop will also a different sets of tattoos depends on what god you're currently worshipping.
  • You can't bring any of your equipments, so if you think you're gonna die in this current floor, try to find equipment/item shop, then sell all your belongings. Yes, including the one that you're wearing.
  • Don't forget to purchase the upgrade. It will leverage your exploration and will give you better exploration outcome.
  • Crossbow and Bow are used to fight against ranged enemies. With these weapons, you don't have to be standing beside the enemy, but you can shoot it wherever you are. It also ignore enemies armor.
  • Wand and that magic staff are able to deal some elemental damage as well as chance to bounce the attack, they do ignore armor but tend to deal less damage compared to other weapon type.
  • Two-handed sword might not be worthy since they have less percentage hit, but if they have 'chain attack' ability, don't be hesitate to use them.
  • To get the best out of 'chain attack' weapons, you have to explore other tiles first instead of killing one enemy right away. Once you've encountered enough enemies, try to hit the one with lowest attack first, then next, aim for the lowest HP.
  • Enemy with HP less or the same with your attack, no matter how high the attack is, will die in one hit. The basic is that you hit first, then the enemy. So if your attack is higher than the enemy's, you won't get any hit from them.
  • Every time you're full of HP and finding a heart in the floor, instead of healing, you will get your max HP increased. So make sure early before you're beating anything, find this hearts as many as you can. To increase your max HP. This however, doesn't work with weapon's ability. So equipments that +1 life upon killing only heal, not adding max HP.
  • To unlock new statue, you have to worship the god. Otherwise, you won't unlock them in the home screen.
  • If you already have worshipped a god, betray it. But before you betray it, make sure you have enough heart of life scattered around the floor. Some god can be very angry because you've betrayed them.
  • The best way to kill a golden ranged enemy is not by coming close to them (unless it's only one tile away), but to use the knife item. Make sure you kill or stun them right away when they appear. Ranged enemy will always attack on every turn.
  • Make sure you know your current item, because sometimes with the right use of the item, you can survive longer before you know. Swap heroes ATK and DEF always works like a charm. Absorb armor turn it into HP also works well.
  • If you just want to unlock character, you can pray to the god your character currently worship, then skip to the next level. Make sure you have enough HP or anything the god requires before they grant your prayer.
  • My last tips, ALWAYS and always try to defeat all the enemies in one floor. The game will reward you with extra health/mana/coins, sometimes also shop so that you can upgrade yourself.
Plan wisely, using the best runestone for tatoo sometimes would give a very upper hand to your exploration journey

Plan wisely, using the best runestone for tatoo sometimes would give a very upper hand to your exploration journey

Characters Strategy

Guy is the first and the most basic character we will get in this game. He is a warrior type character so you don't expect something magical for this guy. Trust me, don't even try, unless you want to hit the bottom quick. Since Guy is a warrior, everytime he levels up, try to increase his strength, with stamina several times, just to make sure he can live longer with the heart effect.

Most of his skills doesn't require high intelligence, so at least reach 4 point of int. I usually combine this guy with god of war. So he will obtain great attack damage and last longer. His 'Adventure's Roar' skill will require you to explore the surrounding first in order to 'reduce attack' more effective.

Svafa is the wizard, the second character you will be able to play in this game. She has high intelligence point so you need to learn more skills for this girl. For me, god of destruction works best with this character. You get more experience which means faster to level up and increased the stats. Also you can recover some mana point by using items. IMO, it is harder to play with this character, but surely way more challenging compared to play using Guy.

Since she has high INT, she needs to play with many skills, her basic skills is like HEX in world of warcraft game, which means it will shut enemy's ability, and turn it from frightening into a cute and weak character. Just make sure you're not running out of mana though.

Hogg is the vampire in this game. He's fast, swift, able to deal high critical damage, and can heal very quickly. His basic skill is probably one of the best skill in this game. Guaranteed hit and every hit will heal you. But of course this kind of skill requires a lot of mana, so be wise when you want to use it.

My suggestion of god is to worship god of war. But be careful before you're ditching this god because once you ditch him, you will be drained of all your soul points and your HP will be 1.

Events

For randomized events, I'm suggesting you to see this fantastic article from Steam community. It has a very complete guide in case you lost all your memory from the last playing session. You don't know which decision you should make. If so, you can take a look at that article and you will have at least a lot better guide for several events compared to mine.

Conclusion

Although I'm a huge fan of roguelike games, I will left the buying decision to you as a gamer. If you think that dying too much isn't good, then probably you're not suitable enough for this game. However, if you think otherwise, I couldn't recommend you enough of Runestone Keeper. It has all the balance in game design as well as the quality of a perfect time waster.