The world of Gielinor has always been changing, but today brings Runescape’s most significant update in the game’s 16-year history. Menaphos: The Golden City, the first full expansion for the veteran MMO, includes a new area to explore, new storylines, and new mysteries to delve into beneath the desert sands. It’s such a symbolic shift that UK-based Jagex invited us to the studio to find out more.
After previously relying on weekly, fortnightly and monthly updates, this major expansion represents a radical change for the company. However, in a Netflix-era of binge watching, that movement away from weekly soap-opera episodic delivery makes sense. It allowed Jagex to build bigger plans and devote more effort in bringing the grand city of Menaphos to life.
And, by and large, it’s a change that’s worked. Menaphos itself is huge, with four distinct districts that each have a unique feel, in a way that’s grand enough to support four new factions within the city walls, and with a cast of new characters to discover and interact with. Launching today (June 5), it also marks the first in a series of large expansions, arriving to subscribing members every three months.
City of Legend
Menaphos itself has been a part of Runescape for over 12 years but, until recently, only existed as a fortified gate. Quests have mentioned it, and lore has been developed around it, but the elitist and closed-off society within has resisted contact with outsiders. That is, until now; as a Royal Envoy, I took my first steps towards the Golden City. Although, strictly speaking, I floated in by Magic Carpet, rather than getting involved with the whole feet and walking business.
It quickly becomes apparent that all is not well within Menaphos, as Ambassador Jabari is quick to explain. Civil unrest runs deep among the workers and labourers, while a scoundrel calling himself the Jack of Spades plagues the merchant and imperial classes. Pharaoh himself has become more distant, retreating within his council chambers to attend to affairs of state. And yet, beneath those sandy city streets, a corruption seems to be welling up from the tombs below.
Alongside the new story questline that runs through the city, there are several other activities to hold your interest in Menaphos. For mid-level players, a whole bunch of procedurally generated city quests have been thrown in. Even getting access to the City is straight forward, requiring only three scene-setting quests to complete to provide context for the adventures within.
City of Shifting Tombs
Every sprawling city has a secret lurking below its streets, and Menaphos itself is no different. Below the bustling life above lies a largely forgotten network of tombs, containing exotic treasures hidden away. Finding the loot is a difficult challenge, although not in ways you’d expect – there are no monsters to defeat and no bosses to slay. Instead, the tomb’s layout is procedurally generated each time, with adventurers getting five minutes to explore the tomb before corruption overwhelms them. Find the hanging rope that marks the exit, and keep everything you looted. Fail, and it all stays beneath the sands.
While it’s possible to play the Shifting Tombs solo, I definitely preferred entering as a group, as it allows everyone to spread out and coordinate in clearing the place faster. Mining giant crystals helps to clear the corruption and counts against completion, but the real loot is in destroying urns, opening treasure chests and unlocking sarcophagi. This isn’t easy, as the chests require particular skills, and each sarcophagus has an intricate puzzle. And all this goes on while the counter ticks down.
The non-combat nature of the Shifting Tombs does give the place a unique feel, almost reminding me of King Solomon’s Mines or Indiana Jones. Even though there are no monsters present, there’s still a risk versus reward element, depending on how close you want to push that time limit. That said, this isn’t for the novice, as the tombs require level 50+ in eight specific skills to enter.
City of the Dead
It wouldn’t be an expansion without new endgame content, and Menaphos brings in a new Slayer Dungeon for players to crunch through while raising their Slayer skill to the new cap of 120. Beneath the neighbouring city of Sophanem, the foreboding ‘City of the Dead’, lies a crypt infested with powerful creatures, twisted by the corruption that blights the land, or tainted by the Devourer.
The dungeon itself is split over several floors, with the entrance areas still showing walls of dressed stone and brick, even while the area is brimming with packs of corrupted creatures. Descend to the lower levels, and those halls and corridors give way to tunnels and caverns, before eventually revealing Devourer creatures at the heart of the complex. And, at the bottom of the central chamber, sits a gigantic chamber door, blocking access to the Boss Room. Protecting it stands a magical barrier, which seems to get minutely weaker with each creature slain.
Defeating these creatures has a chance to drop a key to the dungeon’s Boss room, but it won’t be open immediately. The keys themselves will become tradeable two weeks after the expansion launches, with the boss room becoming available a short time later. I’m told that it’ll be a fight worth winning, with some incredibly impressive rewards locked away.
Don’t expect to be able to rock up to the Slayer Tomb immediately though, as I’m told that it will require work to unlock, including crossing a plague-ridden bridge. But for those who want to be as lethal as they possible can be, the race will be on.
A Studio Renewed
For Jagex itself, moving to an expansion-based model was in response to listening to Runescape players, and acting on the feedback they provided. A survey in 2016 indicated a strong desire for more meaningful updates that contained more significant changes, and Menaphos was a popular suggestion that the studio decided to act upon. It’s required some organisational shifts to accommodate the new approach, but it’s also allowed stronger themes to be harnessed.
It’s a result that Jagex is clearly proud of, as the studio is also planning to go beyond including it for subscribing members. From June 9 to 12, Menaphos will be part of a free-to-play weekend, allowing non-members to peek at the new content on offer, should they choose to opt-in.
The Expansion initiative isn’t just a one-off either, with further instalments planned every three months. It’s a cadence that feels about right for an MMO, as it takes the pressure off players who feel worried they might miss something, while still allowing the world to evolve at a reasonable pace. After getting the chance to experience the size and scale of Menaphos for myself, I can’t wait to see what Jagex come up with next.