RuneScape Review – A (browser) Window To The World
Neil Kewn (Murxidon), OnRPG journalist
RuneScape is a 3D browser-based MMORPG from British company Jagex. Released initially in January 2001, the game has received numerous accolades and currently holds a coveted Guinness World Record. April saw the release of RuneScape’s Dungeoneering skill, giving players the ability to team up and take on high-level beasts for even greater rewards. Almost ten years since its inception, what does the world’s most popular free MMORPG have to offer gamers in a market dominated by vast, client based virtual worlds?
Starting out in RuneScape
Starting your travels in RuneScape is your standard MMO affair. Registration is simple and pain free. Pick an in game username (letters, numbers and spaces allowed) along with a password and you’re set. You may provide an e-mail address for password recovery purposes if you are so inclined.
RuneScape is programmed in Java, meaning it is multi-platform and cross browser. Simply install the Java Runtime Engine and click “Play” on the game’s homepage, no client or patches to download, although the game will copy several files to your computer, speeding up loading times drastically next time you play the game. Once logged in, you are greeted with a character creation screen. Select your gender, head, hairstyle, clothing, beard, skin tone and hair colour. No choice of race here, everyone in RuneScape is a humble human.
No client to download, no patches to apply
Character customisation options are fairly expansive, but most options only decide what your portrait will look like when speaking to non-player characters. It is pretty trivial when you take into account that every player is an indistinguishable polygon construct. Your gear is what defines you from other players.
Starting out in RuneScape
Once you are finished deciding what colour your goatee will be, you are greeted with the game’s tutorial. It’s a pleasant enough introduction to mechanics and abilities. Moving is achieved via point and click, which can seem very nostalgic at first (or awkward, depending on your age). Soon enough, you are plunged into the starting town of Lumbridge, and are free to do as you see fit. Fancy killing that hunchback goblin over there? Go for it. Feeling an urge to milk a cow and bake a cake? Be my guest, I won’t ask why.
Perhaps surprisingly for a browser base game, there is quite a lot of depth in RuneScape, and you are never short of something to do. An in game Advisor is available at any time to provide helpful hints, guides and ideas if you are stuck, along with a “random objective generator” that can give you something to aim towards if you’re lacking motivation.
Dissimilar to a lot of other MMORPGs, there is no set “class” to play in RuneScape. You have a choice of 22 different skills to master. From cooking to mining, blacksmithing to herblore, summoning to thieving, there is literally something for everyone. It’s this versatility and freedom that keeps adventuring in RuneScape a fresh experience, at least once you have completed the game’s strangely small number of quests.
So much to do!
Your Combat Level is what other players are interested in though. Levelling skills such as woodcutting, fire starting and fletching will not increase the level presented underneath your player name. Instead, this is based on your overall level of strength, defence, attack, constitution (HP), ranged ability, prayer, summoning and magic.
Your Combat Level is how powerful you are, and reminds you to not go around attacking level 52 bears (or indeed, players) when you’re a lowly level 9. Death transports you back to Lumbridge initially, and you lose all but your three most valuable items. Return to the place you perished to reclaim all of your belongings.
Progression in RuneScape boils down to most MMORPGs favourite way of levelling. Indeed, grinding is the name of the game here. Shifting from one skill to another provides a respite every now and again, but you will basically be repeating the same tasks (albeit in a different area) to level up your character. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and there are some fun and quirky mini-games to divulge in, but I would advise not levelling the same skill endlessly. It really sucks a lot of the fun out of the game.
Getting your combat level up is what you will be spending a lot of your time doing, though. The “click enemy, wait a few seconds, loot corpse” rule (which I just made up) is in force here. You can alternate between combat styles, each boosting a particular combat skill, but the premise is basically the same. Range combat swaps the sword and shield for a bow and arrow, with magic opting for the use of Runes. These magical stones can be crafted using a dedicated Rune Crafting skill, and a combination is used in order to cast powerful spells.
You get what you don’t pay for
Being the most popular F2P MMORPG in the world, it seems Jagex are doing something right when it comes to giving players something for nothing. The free portion of the game is large and varied, with plenty of things to get done without punching in your credit card details.
Still, the real “meat” of the game comes from membership. A monthly subscription fee of around $5 unlocks everything that RuneScapehas to offer. The game world opens up substantially, with a huge amount of terrain to venture through. All of RuneScape’s twenty-two skills become available, and plenty more adventures light up your quest log. The price is great value for money, and fans of the game should be very satisfied with what they receive after parting with their cash.
Dungeoneering – Interesting name, interesting skill
The new Dungeoneering skill is certainly a welcome addition to the plethora of abilities already available. Both free and paying players can take a boat from Al-Kharid to the island of Demonheim, group up with others and take on challenging monsters in instanced rooms. Entering a dungeon is a simple process. Dungeoneers are provided with a ring that enables them to teleport to the dungeon and organise parties. Party management is simple, with options to set the difficulty of dungeons and whether or not you wish share experience.
Players are barred from taking anything into Demonheim. Instead, armour, weapons and items are provided already. Anything looted inside a dungeon vanishes once the encounter ends, unless the player chooses to “bind” the item for use on the next encounter.
Fighting a Gluttonous behemoth in Demonheim – Losing
Bosses don’t just have more health points, though. Some deploy certain tactics that players must take into account if they wish to clear the floor. For example, the Gluttonous Behemoth above can feast on a nearby corpse and regain full health. Other bosses force players to move around the room, or require a certain Combat Style to take down. Teams must coordinate strategies, and effective communication is the key to survival in these dungeons.
There are 35 floors in Demonheim, each with an increasingly difficult creature to defeat. Rooms leading to the boss are littered with other enemies that the group can kill, but the door leading to the next area is locked. Players must locate a key in each room in order to progress.
Browser based games have system requirements too, you know
As there is a 3D world being crammed down your internet pipeline and rendered in your web browser, the graphical quality of RuneScape can sometimes be an eyesore. The world itself lacks vibrancy, with some areas being completely devoid of any colour except green and brown. Player and NPC animations are stiff, with some actions seemingly consisting of just 3 frames.
Today’s outlook for generic town number seventeen – Gloomy
There are three different graphical settings, ranging from Safe Mode (all settings set to minimum) to High Detail (shadows, dynamic lighting, the works). The latter does look extremely impressive for a browser game, with clear textures and detailed objects, but can cause the game to dip in terms of performance, especially when there are a large number of players in a single area.
Walking and running looks particularly awkward, with your character jolting from one spot to another. Whilst small, but frequent, loading screens spoil the flow of the game when travelling. It’s not particularly distracting after playing the game for several hours, but the blocky graphics and limited character animation may put some players off.
PvP in RuneScape is available in numerous forms. Special Player V Player worlds are available for the more confident adventurers, where combat can occur almost anywhere. Bounty Hunter worlds are also available, where players fight in the wilderness, and are given targets to ruthlessly strike down. Minigames can also satisfy an urge to contest your might, including Castle Wars (a capture the flag style game), fight pits and duelling.
A worthy investment?
RuneScape certainly offers a lot for such a small price of admission. The world is huge, and the plethora of skills is sure to keep you entertained for a substantial number of hours. Despite the expected graphical shortcomings and a community that leaves a lot to be desired, RuneScape is a familiar MMO experience inside your browser, offering leniency and guidance for new MMO players, but extensive depth and replay value for hardened veterans of the genre. It’s definitely not what many would consider a “casual” MMORPG, but it’s perfect for hopping in and out of. Even so, it’s not hard to get lost adventuring in the curious world of Gielinor.
– A huge number of different skills to master
– Low monthly subscription
– Large world to explore
– Character animations are pitiful
– Music is irritating
– Life’s a grind, then you die (and teleport to Lumbridge)