RuneScape has gone through numerous revisions and sliding scales of popularity since its release in 2001, yet still remains standing. It came out during the height of the MMO craze.
At the time, it was unique in that you didn’t have to download any external software. The game could be played entirely online. That, along with the fact that it was originally supposed to be a text-based game like the Zork series, excused its blocky graphics. The graphics weren’t the point. Exploring this world was.
The graphics improved slightly for the second edition of the game, called RuneScape 2, three years later. The release of RuneScape 3 in 2013 saw another improvement, but it wasn’t much of one. The graphics still look like they were developed in 2001.
The navigation mechanics are also fairly clunky. Rather than using the arrow keys to move your character, each movement requires a point-and-click. The arrow keys adjust the angle of the camera, which you need to do constantly so you can point-and-click your way through various tasks.
Most MMOs give you the freedom to make the game your own, but there is a linear story happening in the background. The story affects in-game events, and updates may completely change or renovate areas of your game. World of Warcraft, for example, is nearly unrecognizable from its first iteration in many areas because of such story expansions.
RuneScape has no real story, as such. The setting is a fantasy world where you can fish, cook, mine, and otherwise craft many useful items. You can cut down trees, fight animals for drops, and bury the bones of your kills to increase the effectiveness of Prayers, a kind of magical skill that offers a multitude of buffs.
You can pick up the occasional quest, but you can also pass them up just as easily. They aren’t necessary to advance your character or the story, since there really isn’t one.
The fighting system is also relatively crude. You can choose between magic, melee, or ranged, and are encouraged to practice all three. Ranged attacks work best against magic users, melee works best against ranged attackers, and magic works best on melee mobs.
It’s simple, but in a way that’s a bonus. Unlike a lot of games, there aren’t a lot of complicated tree structures to follow. Just point, click, and kill.
Though, that’s also where Runescape risks losing its player base. If you’re not into the grinding aspect of the MMO experience, it doesn’t have a lot to offer. While frequently patched and updated, RuneScape is mostly kept upright by a dedicated fanbase that form guilds and creates their own stories.
Roleplaying groups are common, turning the game into a hybrid experience that combines the Sims with a fantasy MMO. You can live a simple life where you roleplay in a village with your friends, go out farming or adventuring, and then come home at the end of the day. Many players set goals for themselves that involve accumulating every skill available and maxing out their leveling on it as a benchmark for achievement.
Playing through the quests can teach you a little more about the factions that exist in the world of RuneScape, along with some of the local lore. It’s almost like playing in an RPG that’s made up of nothing but side quests.
You meet characters that may pop up again in other storylines, and some of the choices you make can generate or eliminate future available quests. They also give you dialogue options that let you choose how you’re going to play the game, like the option to execute enemies or let them escape and live.
RuneScape is free to play and is available on just about every non-console platform you could imagine, including Linux and a soon-to-be released mobile option on both iOS and Android.
Right now you can access their Old School game, frequently referred to as OSRS, on both mobile platforms. This is a smart move — it allows you to continue playing right where you left off on your PC or allows you to play entirely on your mobile device.
Given the structure and graphics of the game the mobile audience seems more likely to garner them additional users than the PC version currently is. Subscriptions are at a near all time low, currently estimated at 80,000 users. By way of comparison, World of Warcraft boasts over 7 million.
As it is now, RuneScape is the MMO equivalent of an audible shrug. It’s not particularly bad, but it certainly isn’t an engaging experience. It doesn’t have graphics or story to save it. Really it’s only redeeming grace is the large number of fans currently holding it up.
If you can get in with a good group of role players, it could certainly be worth the experience. But unless you’re really into grinding, RuneScape doesn’t have much to make it worth playing.