It seems odd, but honestly necessary, to reintroduce RuneScape every couple of years. This is a game so infinitely popular and yet so astonishingly marginalized. Perhaps due to its browser-based nature, or the fact it launched around the time of genre stalwarts EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and Anarchy Online, it seems that nobody really pays any attention to the UK-based MMO.
But then, that isn't strictly true. RuneScape is one of the world's most popular online games, pegging up an impressive 200 million users throughout its 12 year life. So it would probably be apt to describe the Jagex product as a "quietly massive" groundbreaking, ultra popular fantasy simulation, that shares a similarity with Fight Club (and we don't talk about Fight Club).
And so while a lot of you deem RuneScape as one of those products that lots of other people play, Jagex are looking to remedy the situation, and with the 3rd iteration are pulling back the curtain to the wider world and showing off their game beyond their own, humongous, community.
It seems like the greatest trick in MMORPG player wish fulfilment, as the developers work from an imaginary list: do you want better graphics? Check. Do you want lots of gameplay styles? Check. Do you want endless content and weekly updates? Check. Do you want to play an active role in shaping the world? Check.
RuneScape 3, is for all intents and purposes, the biggest, most complete MMORPG on the market. The new graphical update shifts focus away from Java and heads in the direction of the more powerful HTML5. Not only does RuneScape now play anywhere and on any PC, but it also looks fantastic.
One of the biggest hurdles for any would-be adventurer within Gielinor was the sometime lacklustre aesthetic. The browser technology was impressive, but in a begrudging way; draw distances were short, animations somewhat lacking, and the entire appeal handed over to the gameplay.
Now with the leap in technology thanks to the switch to HTML5, Jagex can now play with a new and vast toolbox. RuneScape 3 doesn't just look nice for a browser, it looks charming and contemporary. Of course it still doesn't match up to the Guild Wars 2s of the world, but its appeal lies elsewhere in a more simplistic and artisan art style.
But perhaps the biggest advance from RuneScape HD to RuneScape 3 isn't the graphical update, but the consolidation of 12 years of development. Jagex's game isn't just a neat little distraction, but an all encompassing adventure that combines elements of themepark and sandbox to create an experience that many have crying out for years.
Lead designer Mark Ogilvie explained "RuneScape is less like a game, and more like a life". While this may same fantastical, after sitting down with the title for a few minutes it becomes plainly obvious that this is an MMORPG - with an emphasis on that last bit.
RuneScape 3 is well and truly influenced by games of the 90s, and in particular adventures such as Ultima Online. The focus isn't on the endpoint of the level cap, or on raids, or PvP - instead it's on everything. Players can be all things from mighty world domineering warrior to a pacifist fisherman.
Ogilvie describes RuneScape's design philosophy: " It is really important that you think about the player's journey through the game as a series of experiences, I don't like games that limit the player in the content that they can access. I see that almost as a crude way to have someone play through the game time and time again: have more accounts, pay more money, etc. I'd much rather give players the freedom to play however they want. And also, why would you assume that customers are always in the same mood? You might wake up one day and say I just want to fight people, or another say I want to be involved in a community, or even play a mini-game. I think in this regard, we're more closely like earlier games because we give so much choice, and try to be so much at once, not really thinking about what will sell particularly, but how a player might want to interact with our game on any particular occasion."
RuneScape gives the player the option to simple inhabit the game world, without truly telling them what to do or be. In this regard, it is an RPG and not a linear track ride that goes from 1 to 90 and fails to stop along the way. The player is truly involved in this second life experience.
But this level of interaction and adaptability to the avatar doesn't just stop at the types of activities available, but also within the design. The development team at Jagex adheres to a strict weekly schedule of updates, continually churning out new content, but also reflecting players involvements within the game.
From time to time, polls will emerge, and decisions will be put upon the community at large, essentially asking them to direct where RuneScape is headed. And this isn't just design decisions, but narrative and story driven. Choices such as slaying the god of balance Guffix have been taken, and Jagex then adapt the gameworld to reflect that choice.
Ultimately this interplay between developers and players makes the game become a massive version of Dungeons and Dragons, with Jagex sitting in the role of Dungeon Master. Instead of throwing players on a campaign of their choosing and never asking for their opinion (y'know, the traditional MMO experience) RuneScape adapts to the player, and responds to their questions.
So if you're an old school MMORPG player like myself, the pangs for that traditional form of roleplaying that is influenced by pen and paper, RuneScape, as in the words of Mark Ogilvie, might be the “second life” I’m looking for.
If there are any MMO veterans around, kicking their heels, and wondering just where to head next, it seems like there is one game you might have overlooked. RuneScape 3 is pretty, expansive, and has oodles of content - and it may well be the last 'true' MMORPG standing.
Expected to launch in the coming summer, head over to http://www.runescape.com/ and play for free.
Adam Tingle / Adam Tingle is a columnist and general man-about-town for MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and FPSGuru.com. He enjoys toilet humour, EverQuest-themed nostalgia, and pointing out he's British: bother him at @adamtingle
- Check out the MMORPG.com RuneScape page