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Runescape: A Year in Review

A great deal has changed in Gielinor, the realm of Runescape between Summer?2013 and now. Which game renovations went over well, and which should be left to ?the trolls?

A little over a year ago and after much anticipation, Jagex’s centerpiece MMO-RPG Runescape made its jump into Runescape 3– an improved version of the [now] 16 year-old game. Jagex aimed to create a more user-centered gaming community, better designed to evolve over time and suit players’ needs. Improved functionality, superior aesthetic and graphics, a ‘power to the players campaign’ and consistent, exciting story evolution have brought the once elementary game to a new level. Jagex is working hard to push aside its reputation as childish and second to WOW, and to establish Runescape as a sophisticated, complex MMO.

The changes Gielinor (the realm of Runescape) has seen over the past year are so numerous that one could go on for days listing each one individually. However, here are a few major renovations players have experienced in the last 365 days:

Superior Graphics

At the center and focus of last Summer’s changes (and subsequently the first to be made) was the shift to an HTML5 game client. With the new client, Runescape’s performance and aesthetic are massively improved and appear pristine.

  • Environment textures are now more complex and object-specific.
  • Lighting and shadows are now dynamic, meaning that they play off-of the environment and move, relative to the player’s position, in a more realistic manner than before.
  • Weather effects (in relevant regions such as Draynor Village) have been intensified and made more complex and realistic.

So, how did it go?

As was expected, the HTML5 contained some bugs at the start, but ran smoothly soon after. Players were ultimately stunned by the pristine new graphics and continue to look forward to further improvement.

User-Centered Functionality

Aiming to put more power in the hands of players and to create a more user-centered gaming environment, (presumably to get away from Runescape’s point-and-click nature), Jagex implemented game features that give the user options to customize gameplay and the aesthetic of his or her screen:

  • New resizable, movable windows allow players to modify their game screen’s composition at any given time. Ultimately a user can now choose to open and resize windows to facilitate whatever task he or she is completing in the game. This includes chat boxes, combat interfaces, the mini-map and sidebars.
  • Added zoom ability lets players use their computer’s scroll button to zoom closer to and further away from his or her character. This feature was, oddly enough, not available before the update.
  • Customizable keybinds are now available for associating inventory items, combat choices, etc to keyboard letters and numbers, once again pulling gameplay further away from its point-and click nature.

So, how did it go?

The new customization features were received without much discussion, good or bad; however, what review there has been seems to suggest that users find the game more navigable and intuitive with the new systems. The only complaints have arisen when players are confronted with technical bugs, freezing their otherwise resizable, movable windows in place.

Reimagined Audio

Excitingly, visual improvement wasn’t the only thing on Jagex’s mind. Steven Lord, Head of Audio at Jagex headed up two major projects that have revolutionized gamers’ listening experience:

  • A total overhaul to the game’s sound-drive, widening the sound of all in-game music, ambient sounds and sound-effects. The resulting drive brings better synced and more resonant frequencies to the ears of viewers, ultimately improving the quality of game-sessions.
  • Recordings of old and new in-game melodies by the Slovak Symphony Orchestra to replace old MIDI-file (synthetic-sounding) music. Old favorites like “Autumn Voyage”  and “Harmony” reimagined and fully orchestrated and brand-new pieces like “Fragments of Guthix,” (written to complement new story developments), bring a new element of beauty to Runescape.

So, how did it go?

Overall For the first month or so of gameplay with the new audio (August 2013), some complaints arose, with users pointing out bugs in the sound engine; however, after these issues were repaired, the changes received only praise, the new music especially.

‘Power to the Players’ and Storyline Shifts

With the shift to Runescape 3, the story and technical departments united to bring about the game’s sixth age (Runescape’s story moves forward in periods called ‘ages’). Jagex has set  framework to facilitate consistent and ongoing updates to both the total game story and to gameplay. Major changes were (and are) as follows:

  • July 2013: Implemented voting systems allow Jagex to ask specific questions to the whole of the Runescape community. On an ongoing basis. The polls inquire about specific gameplay features, such as quests, new regions and reward systems.
  • July 2013-October 2013: Runescape’s biggest-ever world event, ‘The Battle of Lumbridge’ took over the in-game city of Lumbridge and pulled both free-to-play and paying players into a three month experience-boosting battle-extravaganza as in-game gods Saradomin and Zamorak faced off. The results of this event (determined by players) would determine the next major moves in Runescape’s storyline. (Saradomin was victorious.)
  • August 2013: Divination skill was released, the first skill addition since Dungeoneering came about in 2010. The skill is a simple point-and-click one where players gather ‘energy’ from hot-spots in order to synthesize resources and rewards. Jagex promised users that the skill will be used in future quests and world events (like ‘The Bird and The Beast’ mentioned below).
  • December 2013-January 2014: Another world event ‘The Bird and The Beast‘ once again tore apart the game map as two more gods, Bandos and Armadyl faced off, pulling players into the fray and promoting ‘power to the players’ (as the results of players’ actions would decide how the storyline progressed). (Armadyl was victorious.)

So, how did it go?

Users are ultimately excited to see the game evolve; however, many long-time players are frustrated with the changes, declaring that they complicate things a great deal and pull away from the original simple nature of the game. The addition of the divination skill was met with great excitement and anticipation, but disappointed fans with its simplicity and lack of connection to other skills.