Making Agility Great Again

posted by on 16th June 2020, at 2:52am

It’s been almost one and a half year since we got the greatest content rework in RuneScape history: the Mining and Smithing rework. A pair of skills that had fallen by the wayside got rejuvenated to be fun to train, and useful to other skills. Naturally, people started thinking about reworking other skills as well. One skill seems to be the greatest challenge of all: Agility. It’s generally seen as a pretty useless skill, so today I am going to take a stab at how Agility could be made relevant again.

Step 1: defining the skill
Each RuneScape skill should feel unique. Not only in its gameplay, but also in its theme. Dungeoneering for example is centred around the concept of exploration and survival. This is why you dig deeper and deeper, uncovering the secrets of Daemonheim while using the resources at hand to proceed. Invention is about discovery and experimentation, which is why we don’t just “unlock” new recipes, we discover them. We want to prevent that one skill is basically a reskin of another skill. If we make sure that the gameplay of a skill ties into its character, it will feel more natural and interesting to the player.

Agility to me is all about movement. There is a level of acrobatics involved, though also some athletics (which can be seen in how it ties into run energy for example). Movement isn’t something that has a lot of mechanics in RuneScape yet, even though positioning can be useful in PvM, so there is definitely room to grow there. Having Agility focused around movement means that we stay close to the roots of training the skill on Agility courses, and using shortcuts to get around the world faster.

Step 2: giving the skill a place in the ecosystem
Gathering skills are used to gather raw resources from the world. There’s generally no input, as you gather the resources directly from the world. Artisan skills are then used to take those resources, and turn them into other useful items. Combat skills help you be more effective in fighting, allowing you to gather resources, wealth, or unique items that support the rest of your gameplay. Support skills… support.

Agility, together with most other support skills, sit in this little corner of skills where it’s hard to define how exactly they interact with other skills. Besides retaining run energy for longer and being able to use shortcuts – both fairly minimal advantages given the abundance of teleports and resting locations these days – Agility isn’t a useful thing to have. If we are to make Agility interesting again, that needs to change.

In step 1 we talked about how Agility’s theme is movement. I already eluded to it earlier: the main parts of the game that can benefit from positioning and movement are in PvM. We already have several abilities in the game (Bladed Dive and Escape, just to name a few) that are in themselves movement related. Agility could expand on that, with some abilities moved to be Agility abilities, and a few more added that all support moving around in combat more effectively.

That in itself already gives some nice milestones and rewards to the skills, but it still feels pretty shallow. When I looked at the combat ecosystem, I found that two of the three combat styles in RuneScape do something unique. The Magic skill is probably the most expansive skill in the entire game. There’s three spellbooks, each filled with utility spells that are useful beyond combat. The use of runes for these spells in an interesting aspect as well, making magic feel very different from Melee and Ranged. Melee itself also feels pretty fleshed out. It has by far the largest number of ability, with two skills (Attack and Strength) dedicated to it. Despite the fact that Melee forces you to get up an close with the enemy, scythes and halberds give you back some of that flexibility of movement. That leaves one last combat style: Ranged. Ranged has always felt underdeveloped and boring to me.

Many role-playing games (both videogames and tabletop games) have the concept of a Dexterity skill. It often ties into fighting with bow-like weapons, and sits close to the concept of Agility when it comes to how it makes it possible to move around more easily. It is therefore not hard to see how Agility could become to Ranged what Strength is to Attack. We don’t want Agility to be Strength with a different fluff though, and so it should have some unique effects. For example, here are some effects that could make Agility interesting to combat:

  • Having high Agility increases your dodge chance when not wearing heavy armour. While Defense reduces your damage taken, Agility helps you not get damaged in the first place.
  • Having high Agility increases your critical chance. While Strength increases your damage per hit, Agility allows you to have critical hits more often.

The idea above is heavily focussed on integrating Agility with Ranged. However, we needn’t limit ourselves by that. Thematically, being stronger (i.e. having a high Strength level) does mean you should be able to smash somebody harder with a hammer, or pull back a heavy longbow better, but why does a high Strength level also make you deal more damage with a dagger? Daggers are used to maintain high maneuvrability and get past the opponent’s defenses through speed rather than brute force.

D&D for example has to concept of Finesse weapons. These are your daggers and shortswords, where being speedy can be just as important as being strong. Above, we came up with some effects (such as better dodging or being more likely to score critical hits) that don’t have to be limited to Ranged. Of course, you would only be able to benefit from the advantages of Agility if you aren’t weighed down by a full set of armour. This makes it a natural fit for the Ranged skill, but at the same time, it opens up a whole new playstyle for Melee fighting as well. Agility could even be expanded to include some Rogue tropes, such as turning invisible temporarily, and giving backstabbing bonuses, to really support the glass cannon playstyle. It would also play right into making different roles for group PvM bottles more prevalent again.

Step 3: the training methods
Alright, so Agility becoming focused on movement, and enabling a lot of stabby stabby and pokey pokey sounds great. Earlier I mentioned that Agility – in a sense – would be to Ranged what Strength is to Attack. Strength is trained through combat, so should Agility be the same?

This is a question I have been struggling with myself. Running laps on the Agility courses is such a core piece of the skill, that it feels wrong taking that out together. Even if it remained available as a possible training method, people would find training it as part of combat much easier, and the Agility courses would most likely not be used much.

Part of this could be relieved by giving Agility courses secondary rewards. For example, Agility courses may provide some form of currency that represent how good you are at all the acrobatics involved to unlock Agility abilities and/or Agility shortcuts. This means that training Agility as part of combat will give you the basic benefits, but to make the most use out of the skill, you still need to run your laps.

Of course, Magic can also be trained outside of using combat, and so it is an open question how big of an impact adding Agility experience to combat would be. However Agility laps end up being integrated with the skills, they will help setting the skill apart from the other combat skills.

We’ve only scratched the surface of how an Agility rework could look. It started with looking at what Agility is about, and then trying to see how that could be applied to the existing game in interesting ways. Throughout, we came up with some cool ideas that could unlock entirely new ways of doing combat, without devaluing any of the existing skills.

At this point, we are only in the concept phase. I am not an expert on combat, so I have no idea how my ideas would actually affect the game. To get our concept even remotely close to being released into the game, it would have to go through many design iterations, playtesting sessions, and number crunching exercises. Even then, it’s unlikely that such a fundamental change to the combat system and an existing skill would make it into the game. It would be the biggest change to combat since Evolution of Combat. At the same time, perhaps an Agility rework is the perfect opportunity to create a fresh new experience for all PvMers out there, opening up a hole new dimension of new strategies.

Whether realistic or not, thinking through a big design challenge like this is always fun. It is also a great way to reveal where the gaps and opportunities are in a complex game like RuneScape. Even if we won’t get a fully executed Agility rework anytime soon, perhaps they can at least inspire some smaller changes in the nearer future.

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