'Rune: Ragnarok': Sailing, Hunts, Raids and an Open World in Which to Do It

An interview with Rune: Ragnarok's project director

Craft powerful weapons and armor sets to brutally attack giants, beasts, and undead Vikings in PvP and PvE play. Credit: Human Head Studios

There will be lizards and, yes, you can eat them.

It’s been 17 years since Human Head Studios, perhaps better known for its work on the original Prey and canceled Prey 2, released the original Rune. The third-person action adventure game had players take on Ragnar, a Viking warrior tasked by Odin to avert Ragnarok, the Viking end times. While the game sometimes struggled with the finer points of enemy tactics, it developed a following of fans who loved the feel of the chunky Viking melee combat.

Earlier this year, Human Head surprised everyone with news that it was working on a sequel to the game. It is one of three the studio is currently developing.

Rune: Ragnarok takes place during the end times, but something has gone wrong. In Viking mythology, Ragnarok is meant to be both an end and a new beginning. In the game, though, the world is stuck in mid-Ragnarok. You’ll play as a new character, one you get to create and customize down to which god they align with and which tattoos they sport.

“In mythology, Ragnarok begins, the gods fight the giants who have reappeared, the worlds are smashed together, a lot of people die and the gods die,” project director Chris Rhinehart tells Glixel. “But in Rune: Ragnarok, seven years have passed and the gods still haven’t died, the world hasn’t been consumed, it’s frozen literally and metaphorically. As one of the last surviving humans, you are trying to figure out what happened.”

While the game takes place seven years after the dual ending of the original Rune, it’s been 17 years since the game was released. That’s because, Rhinehart says, the studio struggled to find the right partner to back and publish the game.

“We’ve always wanted to do a sequel to Rune,” he says. “But after we finished the first one, we wanted to do something a little different for a little while.”

After Rune, it’s multiplayer add-on and the console port, the team worked on Xbox western Dead Man’s Hand and then went to work on the original Prey and Prey 2, which was never released. In the past few years, the studio has worked on a few smartphone games, and done some work for hire on BioShock Infinite, World of Tanks and Batman: Arkham Origins. It wasn’t until earlier this year, about six months ago, that the team found a way to begin work on Rune: Ragnarok.

“Over the years, we’ve pitched it to various people,” Rhinehart says.

Ultimately, they landed some funding from capital firm ESDF Management. This is the first game the relatively new group has funded. Rhinehart says that the deal leaves Human Head with “tons of creative control.”

There’s a lot going into this new Rune beyond making the world and its characters look much better. But, Rhinehart says, the team is striving to make sure that the game will still feel familiar to fans.

“The original was a completely linear experience,” he says. “It had one storyline with two endings. With Rune: Ragnarok, we wanted to open it up a lot more. So there’s a lot more choices you can make with where you go. There is a narrative to it, and end goal and signposts that lead you there, but it’s a lot more open.”

The game will bring back little things gamers may remember fondly from the original, like the ability to drink mead and eat lizards for health, but also some of the bigger tent poles from the original game’s design.

“The combat will feel familiar,” Rhinehart says. “You can still lop off an arm and beat people to death with it. It will be gory, but tactical.”

They will be modernizing that combat a bit though.

“We took a look at a lot of modern games like Demon’s Souls and took a look at what they’re doing that is good to make combat more modern,” he says. “A lot of people want us to make Rune: Ragnarok exactly as it was; just update the graphics and put it up. But there are a lot of mechanics we want to modernize.”

The goal is to maintain the tactical feel of the original game’s combat, which required you to be mindful of what weapon you used and which your enemies were using, but improve upon it.

Another major area the team wants to make better for Rune’s sequel is online play. The original game’s multiplayer was designed around LAN play, Rhinehart says. “We’re taking a look at how we can optimize the game for internet play.”

The original game had single-player and deathmatch and post-launch the team added some more modes. What it didn’t officially have, but the sequel will, is cooperative play.

Rhinehart says that the single-player portion of the game will let you go out in the world, explore and go on adventures. Ragnarok will also support both Player-Versus-Environment and Player-Versus-Player modes.

In PVE, you can team up with friends on the fly or even form a clan and go on raids or hunts with them. In PVP, you will be able to fight other players. The idea is that there will be areas open to player versus player gaming and encounters.

While the team is still working out the details of things like server settings, they do know they want players to be able to run their own servers alongside official servers. In theory, player-run servers could tinker with everything from the creatures spawning to rune power, how quickly you level up and even the gravity.

All of the game modes will take place in the game’s massive open world, Rhinehart added.

The team is about six months into development. Rhinehart says that means they have a good handle on the overall world, a lot of the core weapons and armor are done, and they’re working on the player-growth skill tree.

“Basically, we’re nearing a point where the core functionally is really solid,” he says.

So he can tell me, for instance, that the world is packed with explorable areas, some of which you’ll need to sail to, to discover.

“You can craft and build ships and then jump on a ship along with friends, sail to an island, raid it and take the stuff back to your base,” he says. “The world has been flooded and parts of it are frozen. It’s really wrecked in a lot of places.”

The size of the world also allows the game to support a lot more players on one server. Rhinehart says at least 50 players will be able to sign in to a single server, but that the team is hoping to make it 64 if possible.

Another thing the team is currently working on are raids and hunts.

“You can raid an enemy Viking base that is held by players or AI controlled enemies,” he says. “You can sail to a fort, raid it, try to kill everyone in the base and take all of their loot. Or maybe there will be a larger objective, where you can destroy a Runestone to Loki to weaken him. We tried to come up with high-level ideas that are fun to do solo or with friends and also fits into the theme and location.

“Similar to a raid, a hunt has you taking on a giant creature. It would be a special elite that might drop unique resources.”

The plan is for all of that, the PVP, PVE, the sailing, the hunts and raids, will occasionally intertwine with the game’s campaign or serve as side quests, Rhinehart says.

As the team toils away on their vision of the game, they’re also looking at aspects of a beta. Human Head will have a beta for the game, but they’re not sure yet when it will be or what aspects they’ll include in it. They’re also looking at what early access might mean to the development of the game, Rhinehart says.

The plan, he adds, is to release the game next year to PC and the consoles down the line.