Rune II is a slog of a hack'n'slash-RPG with repetitive combat and mechanics, dated graphics, and an overall lack of polish. No Valhalla for this one.
Games and gods of Norse mythology have a commonality: both are often resurrected. While Loki may die to a swing from Mjolnir, he can be born again a teenager, for someone with that level of power never truly perishes. And though a game (or in this case, franchise) may seem to be long gone, gestated and left to obscurity, it can always be brought back. Rune II proves that some games - and their gods - are better left dead.
A long-awaited sequel to the 2000 PC game, Rune, the RPG-lite hack'n'slash is set in the fascinating and rich world of Norse mythology. Like the recent God of War, its setting is the Ragnarok, an apocalyptic event in the world of Midgar. Rune II is filled with the same undead draugr that populate the world of the PS4 award-winner, its world also traversed by boat and conquered with an axe (or hammer or sword). It's difficult not to compare the two games, and because of that, Rune II suffers.
Rune II is a game that doesn't feel comfortable in any genre. One player may focus on its action, noting that the simplistic one button to attack, one to block is rudimentary and unsatisfying. A stamina gauge limits spamming either (and prevents constant retreat via sprinting) but players will still quickly find that each fight plays out more or less the same. Even with the addition of a strong attack and a later Rune power, there's little variety to battle. Hordes of enemies will move towards the player, and they have to kite around them, separating or flanking, until only they remain; it's satisfying, but only briefly.
Players more interested in Rune II's RPG elements will also be disappointed by the lackluster amount of polish. The player character levels up by killing enemies, completing missions, and reading the lore of the world from glowing glyphs around the map. But leveling up only does so much, granting players with increased stats to health, stamina, etc. Additional powers and abilities are few and far between, most only either single-use or with massive cooldowns. What is present in the game are some of the more tedious aspects of the genre, like the need for crafting and degrading weapons and armor. The player will find themselves constantly in need of a campfire to cook boar or deer meat, and must make careful use of Longhouses, cabins that can be constructed in set locations by chopping down trees.
Weapons get weak quickly, even ones that appear powerful, so the game grinds to a halt like a smither's tools. Most of one's playthrough of either the single-player or co-op campaign will be spent foraging, searching for weapons strong enough to take on the final battle and resources aplenty to guarantee survival. Like Breath of the Wild, the boss can be fought right away, but where that game gave you the freedom and ability to actually beat him, Rune II teases you with an unbeatable fight that must be returned to again and again.
The villain of course is Loki, the god of mischief, who plans to throw Midgar in to darkness by unleashing Ragnarok. You are the only one who can stand in his way, a Norseman (or woman) who is granted the power of the god of your choosing: Thor, Odin, or Hel. Each one offers their own strengths and ability and provides their own commentary as you traverse through the world, searching for artifacts that will open a portal to battle Loki. This action, like the core fighting-mechanic, is repetitive and, for the most part, dull.
Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok showed a side of the conflict brimming with life and color. Though darker and more "grounded" the PS4 God of War's end times had plenty of delightful characters and side missions. Rune II's version of the Norse apocalypse is like a history book come to life with three swings of a hammer thrown in for good measure. The lore is only told through didactic moments, the voice-acting bland and uninspired. The channels and islands of Midgar are gray and lifeless and its occupants unintelligent.
What Rune II offers that sets it apart is its co-op and PVP additions. Players that are dying to enter the world of Norse mythology with a friend may overlook the game's bland visual style and monotonous combat. With friends or randoms, players can enter a lobby for 2-4 others and battle Loki as a team. They'll do more or less the same activities, roaming around, collecting artifacts, battling grunts and mini-bosses. The addition of a friend or pair of friends adds very little, but it may be enough to attract some fans. As for the Deathmatch (the versus component of multiplayer), your time is better spent in fully-polished AAA games like For Honor.
19 years in the making, Rune II comes as a massive disappointment to fans of the original. Perhaps it is largely because the competition has improved so much, where this game remained at the same level. Graphics improved, combat became more nuanced and complex, even RPG elements grew more streamlined. Rune II is a game stuck in the past, but even the Norse folk of thousands of years ago deserve something just a little bit better, and a whole lot more thoughtful.
Rune II is available now for PC via Steam or the Epic Games Store for $29.99. Screen Rant was provided a digital copy for the purpose of this review.