Remember that old browser game that all your friends used to play? Remember that time you tried to attack a level 50 Jogre and got killed? Remember that time you accidentally closed your browser window and panicked for the next day over whether or not your account was being hacked by strange internet forces of darkness?
Ok, maybe it wasn’t as bleak as that. For me, Runescape was always ‘that game’ that people played if they couldn’t afford a World of Warcraft subscription or a good enough computer to play it on. It was ‘that game’ where you would spend hours on a quest instead of a few repetitive minutes of boar-slaughtering. Now, after over ten years since its official release, I think Runescape is ready for a review.
Server and Sorcery
Runescape is, in a nutshell, a fantasy MMORPG, one that at the end of the day boils down to no overly special or unique formula: You take on the role of a fledgling hero in a world of castles, magic and level-2 goblins, and through martial prowess pull him (or her) through to become a master of arms and combat. Or perhaps not, as I will come to explain why later. For the time being, I will say that Runescape follows a very defined and high medieval fantasy motif, and whilst the setting of the world of Gielenor itself is relatively small it comes jam-packed with a lush array of environments.
Of course, like in any MMO about, the world is populated with a horde of fellow adventuring players, and whilst the number of dedicated co-operative features and activities in Runescape is limited, you’ll often find yourself in need of a trading partner or some skill-based assistance. Whilst player interaction isn’t always entirely savoury (especially true on some of the more notorious Free-to-Play servers), the game at least tries to make a priority out of player interaction.
A Quest Afoot
At first glance, Runescape may appear to be the epitome of fantasy cliches; the world is full of goblins, knights in shining armour, castles, and corny dialogue. However this isn’t to say that Runescape adheres to the same formulaic approach that has plagued MMO’s in recent years, on the contrary, one of the best achievements of the game can be epitomised in its heavily invested series of quests.
Indeed, the quests of Runescape are probably what provide the most disparity with other MMO’s today. Instead of an endless myriad of ‘Kill 10 boards for some copper’, Runescape instead has a relatively small, but detailed series of quests, which in this instance genuinely feel like quests and not mundane tasks. Quests may be combat oriented, a lot of the time they might revolve around a certain skill or several, however the one thing they all have in common is a strong sense of adventure. Completing any quest’s intricate chain of objectives yields a sense of satisfaction that eclipses anything that the flashily-presented simplicity of World of Warcraft can muster. Indeed, quests in Runescape, whilst somewhat difficult, are practical, introduce new game concepts and skills, and are generally a blast to work through and complete. If you’re fortunate enough to have a paid membership, you get a whole bucketload of them too.
Free to Pay
It’s not just quests you get a lot of either, as Runescape happens to sport an awesome variety of skills which, like quests, are numerous and have had an equal amount of tender care invested into each one. In fact, Runescape’s skill system in my view represents another triumph over staple MMO monotonies in that it places equal emphasis and attention on non-combat skills, of which there are a great deal! From cooking to firemaking to dungeoneering to agility, every skill in Runescape serves a very real and practical purpose in the game world, with many skills cross-influencing one another and coming together with a countless amount of content to create a very diverse experience.
Of course, not all this content can be free, and you’ll find that a rather large amount of Runescape‘s features are restricted to those paying a monthly ‘members fee’, which whilst cheap (and accompanying a rather generous free-to-play game) provides a wealth of content, including access to the entirety of the game world, skills, items and quests. The best part of all this is that whilst the content provided by a subscription is rich, it comes in the form of opportunity, and not a micro transaction-style ‘pay for power’ system.
A Rough Diamond
So, we have a game that’s bursting with content, unique ways in which that content is handled, and is stylish and charming to boot. However like any other title, Runescape isn’t a perfect game, and besides the technical limitations caused by being a Java-based game, there are a few outstanding issues. Most obviously is the visual inconsistency between areas; some towns and cities are proud hosts of a superbly fleshed-out visual style, whilst others are victim to a monotony of flat, featureless walls and roofs. This in part would boil down to the relatively small size of Cambridge-based developer Jagex Game Studio, but also represents part of an underlying lack of polish with the game, extending to a rather mediocre set of sound effects (although backed by a memorable soundtrack) and an overall sense of rough-edgedness.
However, if you are willing to look over these problems, then you will have what is undoubtedly a truly unique MMORPG; one that offers a fantastic array of content, charm and style, managing to break several monotonous MMO cliches in the process. If you can pop in the £4.50 a month premium membership fee too, then that’s all the better.