When Dragon Slayer came out in 2001, it was the hardest quest that had come out. A boss with combat level 110 was unheard of. It also rewarded the then best armour in the game: a Rune Platebody. Now, eighteen years layer, there are three bosses in the game with a whopping combat level of 10,000 (Vorago, Yakamaru, and Seiryu), and Rune is a decent mid-level piece of kit. What happened?
There are several factors that caused the power levels to grow exponentially in RuneScape. The first is the fact that people got higher and higher leveled on average. This was mostly a factor into the first few years, but being max level was very uncommon in the older RuneScape days. As players’ combat levels rose, so did their ability to do damage.
Along with the increase in actual damage, players becoming higher level meant that Jagex started developing content – including combat equipment – suited for those levels. Dragon armour, Barrows armour, God Wars armour, each raising the damage players could take, and increasing their damage output. In turn, bosses became stronger and required better equipment to be successful in killing them.
When the Evolution of Combat update arrived in 2012, everything changed. While level and equipment still were still an important aspect of combat, the introduction of combat abilities added a new factor to PvM: skill. From the start, there was a stark difference between Momentum (the predecessor to Revolution) and Full Manual combat styles. Full Manual allowed a player to do much more damage output if they chose the right order and timing of abilities. Even as Momentum evolved into Revolution and Revolution Plus, Full Manual was the way to go to maximize damage.
Before the Evolution of Combat, there was some level of skill involved in combat, but your success at PvM mostly came down to the equipment you wore. This caused a skill gap between the richer and poorer players, but as a player grew stronger, they generally grew richer. This meant that there weren’t massive differences in PvM potential within one level band. Evolution of Combat changed this. Suddenly there was the group of players who invested in Full Manual, whereas many people also decided to stick with Momentum, and lagged behind. The skill gap grew.
Over the past few years, this skill gap escalated further, as techniques such as 4TAA and others started making their way to PvMers. An elite group of PvMers came into existence, who quickly outgrew the combat challenges that were actually in the game. In the past few years, we have seen many updates catered towards this group of players, including the constant growth of boss difficulties (both inside and outside of quests). This group of PvMers specifically is also interested in more complex additions to the combat system, keeping the combat system fresh and interesting for them. Meanwhile, the combat updates for casual players have only trickled in slowly ever since the release of Revolution in 2014, now five years ago.
Recently, the problems with this separation through the middle of the RuneScape community has become clear. The detaching of the Completionist Cape from the Reaper achievement was a stop-gap solution to prevent the “general populace” from getting caught up in the power escalation. The Elite Dungeons had to be equipped with story modes to make them doable for people less versed in the tick system.
The bigger the gap between the best and the worst PvMer in terms of skill, the harder it is for Jagex to create updates that work for everybody. With this I don’t mean making updates that everybody likes, but I mean updates that don’t make the game worse for a group of player. The removal of the sigil slot is a good recent example of this. Turning the sigil slot into a set of abilities causes problems with the global cooldown system. Especially for high end PvM, adding another combat cycle to use the sigil makes them practically useless. Jagex backtracked, and updated the sigils to be completely separate from the global cooldown.
The sigil update is interesting, because it would in fact nerf the top level players somewhat. However, the sigil update may have been great for somebody who isn’t too tight on their ability timings anyway. Putting the sigils on global cooldown would have reduced the DPS gap between high-end PvMers and casual players. In recent years, it has seemed that Jagex almost exclusively opts for changes that do not make things worse for high-end PvM, causing the damage cap to only ever increase, and the gap with players to only grow.
It is completely reasonable to expect that the players who have put the effort into learning the combat system are more successful at combat. That being said, the situation currently is unhealthy for PvMers and other players alike. Where casual players find themselves unable to play the newly released PvM content, even PvMers run into the limitations of the system. Several bosses have been equipped with systems that prevent players from killing them too quickly, leading to frustrating experiences. Meanwhile, some of the older bosses are completely broken, with the fastest Graardor kill being no longer than a couple of seconds.
With a large change such as the Weapon Diversity update on the horizon, this problem is more topical than ever. If anything, it seems that the Weapon Diversity changes will only make it easier to increase ones damage output, but only if you are willing to use the best tool for the job. Once again, it appears that Jagex is introducing a combat mechanic that mostly the already skillful PvMers will be able to take advantage of. It is for this reason that I believe Jagex needs to seriously look at how casual players experience combat. I have spoken to many people who have been unable to complete the Elite Dungeons and the accompanying quest, despite the story mode. Problems like these will only become more common if Jagex does not stop only catering to the minority that is high-end PvMers. By no means do I want to withhold them from any updates, but how it impacts the wider RuneScape population should always be a consideration for every combat update. Maybe that way we can prevent recent quest bosses feel like Elvarg nowadays eighteen years from now.