For a 15-year-old MMO, Runescape doesn’t make the news very often, which is surprising considering how popular it is. After launching back in 2001, and accumulating 240 million registered accounts along the way, the current incarnation of Jagex’s browser-based MMO is now home to 2 million active players a month. Not too shabby for a game developed by one of the UK’s few remaining independent studios.
Which is why, during a recent event in London, Jagex decided to combine a celebration of that 15-year milestone with some major announcements on the upcoming year. Commissioned last year, Runescape – 15 Years of Adventure chronicles the MMO’s fortunes and studio mistakes since launch, and involved several significant community members. But, while there was cake to cut and cheers to be made, there was also a definite eye to the future.
This year, the Runescape universe grows wider, with several new launches in the pipe. Freshly announced is Runescape: Idle Adventures, a low-maintenance but story-rich RPG inspired the emerging ‘idle game’ genre. In a first for the studio, Jagex is collaborating with a third party - Adventure Capitalist developer Hyper Hippo – in order to bring the narrative-laden clicker to life. Due in PC beta this Spring, we’re told that Idle Adventures will be on other platforms soon afterwards.
Rounding things out, Chronicle: Runescape Legends – a quirky and unusual card game – moves to open beta on March 23. The first beta weekend for NXT, a next-generation client that brings in significant graphical improvements, starts in just a few days on February 19. And that’s not including the numerous updates to Runescape and Runescape: Old School planned throughout the year.
Over the last few years, the CCG genre has become cluttered with several games, all offering similar styles of play. Chronicle: Runescape Legends aims to mix things up a little, using a different play style to create a different feel of game. Instead of playing cards one at a time against each other, each duelist picks a run of cards from their hand to be played out in sequence, and requiring a different kind of strategy. Our own RipperX went hands-on during the closed beta late last year, with several positive words to say about the format.
Following on from that closed beta, Jagex is wheeling out open beta on March 23, and packing in twice as much content. The Vampyre and Slayer Master are two new Legends, bringing the roster up to six different choices. Dungeoneering mode adds a new drafting mode to test deck-building skills, complete with a tabletop dungeon-crawler look and feel. Skills, progression and customisation systems are all entering the mix, and will be updated throughout beta.
Crucially though, there’s a need for distinctiveness, particularly as fantasy card games can become visually similar at first glance. It’s a topic that’s touched on during our exclusive interview, with Jagex stating that they found the ‘core mechanic in itself was unique enough’ and making everything different was ‘actually alienating to card game players’. You’ll be able to catch more of that interview, including the studio’s monetisation plans, shortly.
When Hyper Hippo’s Cody Vigue talks about the emerging ‘idle game’ genre, he describes them as games that almost play themselves, with minimal or occasional involvement from the player. They’re what you whip out on your phone when you have a few minutes spare, or alt-tab to check on while your raid gradually wipes. Vigue’s also the creator of Adventure Capitalists, an idle game that managed to infest much of Jagex, including Runescape’s Design Director Mark Ogilvie. You’ll be able to catch our exclusive interview with both soon.
In development for 8 months and entering beta this Spring, Runescape: Idle Adventures takes some of the most common elements of the parent MMO, such as fishing, farming and blacksmithing, and places them in the hands of a giant, mystical being that goes around helping people. That might be growing cabbages, building useful items, or feeding a starving village, making it somewhat more altruistic. But the overall vision for Idle Adventures is mch grander: we’re told that this mystical being will battle, struggle, and make crucial decisions. They will meet, ally and oppose famous characters from Runescape, including gods themselves.
As to the motivation behind it, Vigue revealed that the player would wield ‘The Needle’, a new and powerful artefact that can be used to weave and unweave the tapestry that makes up the world’s history. Actions would be tied to the greater Runescape story, running in tandem with the main MMO. Interestingly, we’re told that the two games will affect one another, although the details are still being worked out. Even so, the format could prove successful in delivering that lore and story to a wider audience outside of MMOs.
New & Old School
Alongside these two new games, Jagex still has two existing games to manage, each with their own pipeline of content and upgrades. Runescape itself finally gets a major makeover, moving away from the java-based client, and to a new one that delivers better performance and higher visual quality, including significantly better lighting and water effects.
On the content side, each month will see a significant update, including two new landmasses. A new and highly requested combat area – God Wars Dungeon 2 – will open in March with four new bosses and a new dynamic battlefield. The headline summer release will bring in the Wushanko Isles, an unexplored archipelago where players will have to start afresh, earning a new currency, building up notoriety, and exploring a new continent. Even the founding Gower brothers are being immortalised in a new quest, as a pair of Arch Mages on the search for the Lost Cabbages of Runescape.
Meanwhile Runescape: Old School is starting out with a new season format, complete with new rules and game modes. Each season will culminate in a tournament, with $10,000 on offer, and the first running over Easter weekend. Epic scale raids are also in the pipeline, with plans for 100s of players being able to participate per raid. Surprisingly, each new feature for Old School is voted on by the playerbase of 300,000 paying members, with nothing being added without a significant thumbs up.