Piloting and Tinkering in Ring Runner

5min read

Nowadays, I lower my expectations as low as they can possibly go before playing a new video game. Maybe I’ve been disappointed one too many times or maybe I’m a pessimist. Either way, because I set the bar so low, when an amazing game falls into my lap, it gives me energy.

In the short time I’ve spent with it, I’ve fallen in love with Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages. It’s a real tragedy that you probably haven’t heard about it.

So, what is Ring Runner?

Ring Runner is exactly what it wants to be. It feels like a game that belongs to another time. A bygone era, when games were made by a small number of passionate people who had an unfulfilled desire to make great games and share them with the world.

Ring Runner is a top down action RPG space shooter game. When you fire your ship’s thrusters, it starts moving in a direction and keeps moving in that direction because… You’re in space. It’s easy to get into but mastering your ship’s movement, abilities and weapons requires skill and experience.

When I say “your ship”, I mean it. What makes Ring Runner interesting is the depth of its ship customization system. You pick a ship, which determines the specialist equipment you have access to as well as the size and number of common equipment slots, think shields, engines, stealth, etc. and then you choose which parts to slap onto your ship out of the hundreds available to you. Using this system, you can build ships that handle completely differently from one and another and excel at different tasks.

I LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE for this. I love building decks in card games. I love theory crafting about builds in action RPGs. I love challenging strategy games that force me to evaluate all my options carefully.

Video games are interesting because they’re interactive. My favorite games tend to be ones where the choices I make matter and influence the experience I’m having in a meaningful way. That can mean different things for different games.

Ring Runner is great because it encourages you to express yourself by coming up with creative solutions through its deep ship customization system to tackle the many open-ended challenges it thrusts you into.

For one mission, you can build a quick and agile ship with heat generating weapons used for disabling, and then destroying enemy ships. For another, you can make a big but slow missile boat relying on a small fleet of support drones to stay alive and dish out a ton of damage. Or, you can design a cloaking ship that waits for just the right moment to pull enemies into its trap and blow them all up with area of effect weapons.

Ring Runner makes you feel like a mad scientist straight from a science fiction comic book. Your lab is the hangar where your vast array of ships sit; waiting for you to tinker with them and bring them to life. The missions you go on are your Petri dishes where you pilot your ships and see how they fare in “real” space combat. After each mission, whether you’ve succeeded or failed miserably, you feel compelled to go back to your lab to tinker with your ships some more to try to make them more effective for your next mission.

All of Ring Runner’s underlying game mechanics are tractor beaming you straight onto the path of having fun building ships and mastering the art of piloting them.

The game has a thirty hour long single-player campaign featuring a variety of different missions (It’s got multiplayer too but I haven’t been able to try it yet).

Ring Runner rewards you for engaging with its ship building system deeply by giving you extra resources when you tackle a mission’s optional objectives and the game’s higher difficulty levels. This allows you to purchase more ships and equipment which then feeds back into the core gameplay loop of piloting ships, tinkering with ships, piloting ships some more and so on and so forth.

Ring Runner makes you feel powerful and makes you feel as though that power was earned through hours spent toiling in the lab. But, even the smallest and most inconsequential choices in the game feel empowering.

I like being given the choice to assign a particular weapon or ability to a specific button in a video game. Assigning my quick-firing laser weapons to the Square button on my PS4 controller feels right for most of the ships I build, but I like being able to make that choice.

This is a small example of the vision that permeates all of Ring Runner’s design. The game lets you decide how you want to play it, to an extent, but keeps you on your toes by putting various obstacles in your way, and forcing you to overcome them with your ever-growing library of ship designs and constantly improving piloting skills.

Ring Runner is something else and I hope I’ve been able to convince you to check it out for yourself. As I write this, I’ve still got a few extra copies of the game. Send me a message at me@strategineer.com if you want to join in on the fun.

If you’re interested in trying out the multiplayer side of Ring Runner, even better. Building sets of ships with friends to tackle the tough multiplayer cooperative challenges sounds like a lot of fun. Or seeing who can build the “best” ships in the arena mode or the DOTA-esque mode sounds like a blast too.

Until next time, I’ll be here. Eternally toiling away in my lab in my quest to achieve ring running perfection.

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