Fantasy is so cliche. At least, that's what the developer of Dungeon Runners would have us believe. In this online role-playing game, genre standards are alternately mocked and embraced, and you'll experience a few snort-out-loud moments thanks to the game's snappy dialogue and humorous approach to item naming. Not only are those Jarring Unclear Crystal Gauntlets of the Unrivaled Beetle useful for absorbing damage, but they're a not-so-subtle parody of RPG mainstays (and by extension, RPG players themselves). And the merchant that sells you some of those wares? She'll send you off to squeeze mutant puker juice out of the local monsters, which is fortified with electrolytes and, like any good energy drink, is extreme.
So Dungeon Runners has an antiestablishment attitude, but ironically (and knowingly), it cribs liberally from multiple online games, most notably publisher NCSoft's own Guild Wars. As in that title, dungeons are purely instanced, accessible only to you and members of your party; and like in Guild Wars, small towns function as hubs where you can grab quests and hook up with other players before jumping into combat zones. Yet while that game condensed traditional online RPG gameplay into a tight, action-packed thrill ride, Dungeon Runners takes this simplicity even further, and to its own detriment. There is no real story, so the comical dialogue has no real context and ends up getting old and tired. The minimap doesn't identify skill trainers and most merchants; there are no social emotes; and other features you may be used to (auction houses, complex multilayered quests, guilds, and so on) are either missing or stripped to the barest essentials. You play Dungeon Runners for one reason: to kill mean beasts.
Granted, there are some features that make getting into the game nice and easy. The group interface makes joining up with other players a snap, and you can immediately teleport to a group member's location, which cuts out any travel time. Probably the most helpful feature of Dungeon Runners, however, is the bling gnome. This little fellow, named Pope Sweet Geebus, is exclusive to the retail release (there is a free-to-download, free-to-play option as well), but he's ever so handy. When a defeated monster drops gold, your gnome will scoop it up and the total will be automatically added to your coffers. Even better, you can use him to convert item drops into gold while adventuring. Considering your limited space for items and clunky, old-fashioned inventory interface, it's a convenience you'll grow to appreciate.
Combat works a bit differently than in your standard online RPG. You don't target your enemy, at least not in the way you might be familiar with. Rather, you simply click and hold (or repeatedly click, if you like that sort of thing) the left mouse button to swing or fire your main weapon at whatever enemy you hover your pointer over. It's more Diablo than EverQuest, and it can be fairly entertaining for a short time. To deepen the system, you can assign a second attack to your right mouse button, and you also have various abilities and skills you can purchase (or find) and use in battle. This makes for a total of 10 skills, both passive and active, that you can equip at a time. To make things even more interesting, there are no real classes in Dungeon Runners, though the game confusingly makes you choose to be a ranger, mage, or fighter when first creating your character. You essentially create your own class as you go, equipping skills and equipment as you see fit. In turn, the game will assign you an appropriate title based on these choices. So you might be a muscular novice arcane vanquisher one day, and a creative charismatic ice sorcerer the next.
Unfortunately, the entertainment value wears off far too quickly. The dungeons have the usual visual themes you'd expect (fire, ice, forest, and the like), and because there's no real lore or story, you just scour the levels looking for better loot. It's not uncommon for experienced players to invite neophytes to higher-level dungeons in an effort to help them quickly level. In these instances, you can reset the dungeon over and over, which lets you attack the same group of monsters ad nauseam. Of course, you don't need to exploit these possibilities if you don't want to, but even if you level in a more legitimate manner, the end result is the same: slog through endlessly boring caverns while quaffing health potions and clicking. This might entertain most folks for 10 hours or so, but even with a good group, you'll be ready to move on sooner rather than later. The price of the inexpensive retail box includes a six-month premium membership, but the title simply doesn't have enough staying power to keep you involved for half a year. Considering you can download and play a less robust version of Dungeon Runners for free, you're not getting much value with the retail product, even at its low cost.
If you took a quick glance at Dungeon Runners, you might mistake it for World of Warcraft, since it shares many of the same visual attributes: a broad color palette, heavily stylized textures, and an off-kilter steampunk world design. It's certainly not as technically proficient, though its vibrant look masks its shortcomings rather well, at least in player gathering areas. Battle zones, on the other hand, are usually bland and utilitarian, and spell effects are a bit underwhelming. The sound design is quirky. Non-player characters are voiced with jokey enthusiasm, and some of the music flourishes are amusing.
There's a player-versus-player server where you can duel other groups and take part in team deathmatches, but this option isn't all that fun, and it doesn't add much value to the package. If you're in the market for a new online RPG, the free-to-play download is at least worth checking out, since you can eke out a dozen hours of enjoyment and get in a few laughs without paying a cent. With the retail box, you get a six-month subscription for the price of four, and the bling gnome. If you're looking for a full-featured retail game to keep you busy, however, better games are available on store shelves. It's just too bad those other options don't let you don the Feverish Tarnished Pop Top Ring of the Extraverted Butterfly.