Oh, what a time to be playing Runescape! Balance is shattered, a God-filled battle rages on, and a new skill to delve in to (thanks for leaving the wisps alone long enough to read this, by the way)? We are certainly in a bustling time in RS and the developers have plenty to be proud of. Their finest achievement during all of this, however, is drawing in even the most ho-hum of players into discussions and speculation as to what will happen next. In my tenure of playing this game, never have I seen the playing community so focused on the in-game storyline.
And yet, in the midst of all of this great content, came a notion that I didn’t see coming out of the normally negative crowd of players: that developers are focusing too much on the Sixth Age and not enough on drawing new players into the game. Mind you, this same crowd no more than two months ago were complaining about the lack of imaginative updates, how there hasn’t been but a handful of quest and story based content, and the usual complaints of Squeal and Solomon promos. Jagex finally delivers possibly the greatest storyline they’ve ever told, and now the player base is suddenly worried that the game is dying. It seems that from a developmental standpoint, Jagex just can’t win. I don’t know much about creating game content, but there seems to be a constant balance that is needed between building up the content for current players, and growing out to try to attract new players.
Earlier this month fellow Informer writer Alex 43 defended his belief that RS is alive and well, and I want to expand on this and point out how Jagex is simultaneously building a better game to maintain the current population of players while they are fostering growth. Runescape 3 saw a whole host of impressive updates, and more yet to come when HTML5 rolls out completely. In order to appreciate everything, let’s break it down and see how they benefit current players and will hopefully draw new players in.
The most substantial update to RS3 is the interface changes that were long overdue. There were some teething pains from the current player base, but overall the reception was good due to the nice stint of BETA testing that allowed us to get a taste before it went live. The HUD of the game has a modern feel that many games of this nature share, and that benefits new players that may have played other games that have more functionality in a more minimalistic way. Hot keys bring everything within reach without needing popups ever few seconds and cycling through tabs. Overall, it gives RS a huge boost in functionality without being overbearing or terribly difficult to learn. The ability to customize it is an added bonus that new players that aren’t used to things how they were will probably benefit more than current players. It’s hard to pinpoint who the interface changes helps most, but it’s safe to say both camps of new and current players both have things to be happy about.
RS3 gave us possibly my favorite part of the total package, and that’s real instrumental, orchestrated music. With a few CDs worth of new tracks, trekking around the game world got a lot more pleasant, and I’m still not tired of the music at around a month in now. Like the interface improvements, this was a move long overdue and raises the bar of RS to be on par with other similar games in their field. Before, most of us played with the music off and we were pretty content to hear a new song like in a quest once, and never hear it again. Runescape features a huge score of songs which is awesome…that is, would be if they were good quality. The unfortunate thing is that the vast majority are still midi sounding and unpleasant to sit through. If Jagex could illuminate about 50% of the music library and keep the best or remaster the older classics, we’d get a much better and higher standard of music overall. At least Free to Play areas, where new members would be, have consistent quality music, so the new music definitely will draw new players rather than repel them with the old midi trumpets.
With the highly touted HTML5 we’ll see the graphics of Runescape blossom to create a more immersive experience, with most of the credit for this going to the increase in draw distance. People say “Ooh, it’s so cool to see so far,” but it’s more than that. Old players remember walking from Varrock to Falador and having to stop and wait for the game to load to proceed to continue their walk through the white fog that clouds the next area of their journey. The draw distance makes Gielinor a world rather than a series of tiles linked to make up each location. Towns feel larger, mountains actually look like obstacles, and while there is some room for improvement in these areas, it allows the game to give the illusion of life that isn’t portrayed in the Java version. Think of a game like Skyrim, which is heralded for it’s impressive sense of immersion and huge sprawling landscapes. Imagine how detrimental it would have been if Bethesda put a white fog 10 feet in front of the Dragonborn for the entire game. HTML5 brings the game up to snuff to make it look as a modern game should, making for a better experience and drawing players in for longer length of time.
Lastly, the Sixth Age are shaping up to make for the greatest story Runescape has to offer. If the events portrayed in The Death of Chivalry quest are anything to go off of, the depth and potential for what lies ahead is unrivaled in the game. The weekly updates and happenings give the feeling more of a dramatic sitcom than a static game – we’re on the edge of our seats and don’t know what’s going to happen next. Never has the community of players been more engaged and full of ideas and speculations. We’ve never seen anything like it in RS and with the notion that we will shape how things ultimately end up has even the most lore complacent players wanting to know how it all will go down. As a player for ten years, this has me absolutely invested in the story, whereas two months ago I was just floating along waiting for the next quest or piece of content so I can have something to do for an hour. Kudos to Jagex for playing this how they did, as they seemingly made our character the star of their very own version of LOST. You can bet that I’m sticking around and any new players surely will to.
So to those who feel the game is dying when clearly we are in the most exciting period of Runescape, take notice that while all these improvements are benefiting the old veterans, it’s making the game more interesting and on par with other gaming options for new players. They will continue to do this as HTML5 rolls out and the talk of mobile versions or aspects of the game being on tablets and phones. All of these changes are necessary to grow and attract new players. Some may feel Jagex needs to be more aggressive in trying to get new players into the game, but Mod MMG and Mod Mark have both said this year, contrary to some people’s feelings, that current players being happy will foster growth to attract new players. They don’t seem to be worried, and for good reason, as they are pumping out the best Runescape experience yet. Let’s not dig the grave when the “dying” is still in their prime.