Review | 1/6/2014 at 3:21 PM

Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages Co-Op Review

Strap yourselves in, it’s going to be a long flight

Combining top-down space shooter gameplay with RPG storytelling and customization options, Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages is a far richer and deeper game than I initially thought. With a campaign mode that is, for the most part, co-op friendly and five other game modes that are entirely co-op friendly, there’s a lot of game for your buck. That depth, though, may just go a little too far sometimes.

I could likely spend this entire review simply talking about the different mechanics, ships, strategies, and gameplay modes present in Ring Runner, and never really touch upon “is it good.” There’s no exaggeration to my saying that I have put 8 hours into the game, and have only begun to scratch the surface of what’s here.

Ring Runner is a twin-stick space shooter with Newtonian physics at work to affect your acceleration and deceleration, trajectory, and all that fun stuff. Much of the campaign is set within what amount to arenas that vary in size and objectives. Some of the areas will be giant four by four grids that have you dodging around asteroids or space colonies in order to single-handedly take down an enemy space cruiser, while other areas are more akin to narrow corridors that require some degree of stealth to cross. In addition to the usual flying and shooting, you can build your own ship from one of five archetypes: Fighter (shooter), Arsenal (heavy shooter), Caster (AoE shooter), Rogue (stealthy shooter), and Grappler (melee). For each of these archetypes, there are about 10 different “hulls” (ship layouts) from which to choose. For each hull, there’s an average of nine different “equipment” slots that let you change everything from the engine (which affects top speed and rotation) and shields, to the weapons and miscellaneous utility features (like offensive/defensive boosts, or special abilities).

If you’re looking for a game that allows you to build a ship that absolutely suits your particular playing style, Ring Runner has you covered.

Ring Runner's backgrounds are some of the most gorgeous space shots I've seen in a game

On the multiplayer side of things, there are six different game modes that can be played against other people. Of those, five can be played strictly cooperatively against computer foes: Space Defense League, Zombie Survival, Wave Survival, Gladiator, and Spire Battle. Here's the quick run down of each:

Space Defense League (SDL): think League of Legends/DOTA, minus the character leveling. Supports up to eight players Zombie Survival: fight off waves of basic “ship zombies” with a few special “zombie” types tossed in the mix. Supports up to four players Wave Survival: fight off waves of enemies that vary in hull, archetype, and attack strategy. Supports up to four players Gladiator: battle through as many of the game’s bosses as you can. Supports up to four players Spire Battle: destroy the other team’s base before they destroy yours. Supports up to eight players

If you’re looking for a game that has a lot of multiplayer modes, Ring Runner has you covered.

The different archetypes and weapons at your disposal allow for a lot of variety to keep things interesting, and the core mechanics of flying and shooting are both easy to pick up and tough to master. My first few hours with the game were spent unlearning much of the behaviors modern twin-stick shooters have taught us, e.g., you can start/stop on a dime, ammo is unlimited, enemy patterns are predictable. Just when I thought I got things figured out, I was given a different ship and everything changed. Instead of being a slow moving, missile slinging juggernaut, I was a small speedy vessel that relied upon getting in close to enemies to grab them and fling them into nearby asteroids. Every hull and archetype plays differently and finding the one that best suits you will take time and a lot of playing. Once you start messing around with the customization options, the game can start to feel a tad overwhelming.

Ring Runner's ship customization allows you to change just about everything you can, but it isn't easy

There are so many different combinations of equipment and hulls that you can assemble, that you could spend almost as much time within this one area of the game as you do playing through the campaign. That would be fine if there was some easy way to compare/contrast the different pieces of equipment so you knew exactly what it was that you were getting by opting for this shield versus that shield, but much of that comparison comes from visually watching a set of bars increase/decrease as you swap the different parts out. It isn’t exactly a user-friendly interface as you can’t even see what different parts are available to you if you’ve completely filled up an equipment slot to its limit.

For example, let’s say you got a new engine from the shop and you want to test it out in your ship. You go into the customization screen and the engine for this particular ship has a limit of four spaces. The current engine takes up three of those spaces and a mod takes up another one, so the “Equippable Items” window shows up blank. When you remove the existing engine, you can then see the other equipment you have that can be equipped, but then you no longer see what the previous engine did for your acceleration, top speed, and rotation. So you’ll have to equip that engine again, take a mental snapshot, unequip it, and then equip the new engine and compare. Like I said, not the most user- friendly of systems. Fortunately, you can save and load templates of the different ships, so you’re never stuck having to recreate a working combination from scratch.

The other good news is that all of that customization is entirely optional. After you complete the two hour tutorial (it sounds like a lot, but trust me, you’ll want to do it), you’ll be given a few different ships to use that don’t require any tweaking at all. Each comes loaded out in such a way that they’ll get you through the rest of the campaign just fine. If you do decide to make some changes, be prepared. Outside of what the game gives you, all other pieces of equipments and hulls have to be unlocked through research (basically select what you want to research from the game’s Shop and allow the specified amount of time to pass) and then purchased with plex (i.e., money). Plex is earned by completing missions in the campaign or by participating in multiplayer matches, but it’s not acquired at a very quick pace. Regrettably, this research and earning of plex is the only way to unlock all of the different ships that will allow for local co-op play all the way through the campaign.

Battle with friends against computer controlled enemies in one of the five different online co-op modes

Ring Runner’s co-op is largely an online affair through the five different game modes mentioned before (i.e., Space Defense League, Wave Survival, Zombie Survival, Gladiator, and Spire Battle). However, local co-op is supported with a gamepad device for one specific ship class: the Duo. These ships allow for one player to steer/fly the ship and maybe activate a special ability or two using the keyboard and mouse or gamepad device, while the second player mans the turret and shoots down foes using the other one. Determining who does what is determined by the "Bind Abilities" option within the ship customization screen, where each of the ship's weapons and abilities can be mapped to either a keyboard/mouse control, or a gamepad button.

While you may be thinking, "great, just get through the tutorial and I'm home free to play with a buddy," I've got some bad news. There is, regrettably, a barrier to local co-op play throughout the entire campaign. There is one Duo ship for each of the five archetypes and some of the missions you encounter will require the use of an archetype that you're not given by the game. Specifically, you’ll need the Duo hulls that follow the Grappler and Rogue archetypes and they're not cheap. Each one costs 125,000 plex, plus research time.

It was very disheartening when I was able to finally tell my co-op partner, “ok, we can play together now,” get through two missions, and then the very next mission be one where a Grappler archetype was required. Unfortunately for us both, I didn’t have the plex required to buy it, so she had to sit around for one mission watching me play.

From the menu screen, joining a co-op game is as easy as 1-2-3 mouse clicks

Despite this setback, the local co-op in Ring Runner is very rewarding. Playing the game single player, it often felt like there was so much going on in any given mission that trying to focus on accelerating/braking and steering to avoid asteroids, random space objects, and enemy fire while also returning fire, prioritizing targets, and remembering which ability was mapped where was a bit much. Most of the time I’d choose a ship that could withstand a heavy assault and then dig in in one spot, shooting down anything that came close until it was safe to move again. With a second player by my side, I could more easily focus on moving around and dodging out of the way while they took care of anything that was attacking us. Both of us could call out targets or dangers to the other, and both were fully engaged in the action. This method of play isn’t limited to the campaign, either; you’re free to hop into an SDL match with a group of friends and your Duo ship so you can engage in some online and local co-op play.

Speaking of online co-op play, Ring Runner’s got a game mode for everybody. Want to engage in some MOBA-style action with friends? Get a Space Defense League match going. How about some straightforward horde survival? Then go for Zombie Survival or Wave Survival. For a website focused on co-op gaming, it’s very encouraging to see a developer take the time to incorporate as many different co-op gameplay modes as possible within their game, and also make each challenging and fun in its own way.

While I’m not the biggest fan of MOBA games, Ring Runner’s Space Defense League had a certain appeal to me. It had that certain epic space battle feel that wasn’t quite there in the other modes. Zombie Survival, too, is sure to be a co-op favorite. The “zombies” are some basic ships that try to get close to use melee attacks and drop mines. As time goes on, special zombie types, like “Poppers” and “Hunter”, appear to change things up and force you and your buddies to come up with new tactics for putting down the horde.

Welcome to the Space Defense League, with all the lanes, mobs, bosses, and towers you're used to in other MOBAs

Each of these modes also fully support drop-in/drop-out co-op, so friends can join and leave whenever, and host migration of the game server is supported as well (just in case the person who originally created the match has to leave). Co-op matches are also made clear in the multiplayer selection menu and stand out as a separate category from the versus matches. While local co-op play through the game’s campaign may have its limitations, online co-op is setup to allow you to jump and get flying as quickly as possible.

Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages covers just about all the bases you possibly could for a space shooter, but more importantly, it covers those bases well. If you’re the type of gamer that enjoys a lot of depth and nuance to your games, the ship customization feature should more than satisfy your need, even if it isn’t the easiest system to use. There’s even Steam Workshop integration to allow for the sharing of different ship templates. If you want a game that you can just hop into with a friend and play through a few levels, you’re covered there as well after a little bit of time/effort. Most missions last less than a few minutes so it’s easy to knock out three or four if you don’t have a lot of time to play. If you’re looking for something different to play with a group of friends online, then you’re well and truly covered.

You’ll have to pardon my “late-night infomercial” pitch here, but you can get all that in one game for the low, low cost of just $10. Ring Runner is anything but “just another twin-stick shooter.” It’s the kind of game that twin-stick shooters should aspire to be.

Editor's Note: The Co-Optimus review of Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages is based on the PC version of the game. A code for the game was provided by the developer for evaluation purposes.