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Runefest ‘17: A Return to Origins

Gareth Harmer Posted:
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If Runefest ‘17 could be summed up in a single theme, it would be about getting back to the roots of the veteran MMO. The annual Runescape fan gathering and convention, held at London’s Battersea Evolution, focused less on major updates and more on features that would grow and improve both games. Whether it’s classic Old-school Runescape, or it’s newer and more glamorous sibling, the conveyer belt of future updates certainly looks packed.

Instead, this year’s flagship was about bringing Runescape to Mobile devices. Both games will benefit from the move, with clients heading to Android and Apple smartphones and tablets over the coming months. Old-school will be landing this winter, while new-school should arrive sometime early next year. We managed to get a hands-on preview with both versions during the event, which already perform surprisingly well.

Of course, any fan festival is more than just a series of developer announcements, and this year’s Runefest was no exception. For Jagex, however, it’s not just about PvP tournaments and the opportunity to throw a party, but also a chance to thank the community for their contribution. The Golden Gnomes awards are a celebration of this, recognising everything from streamers and artists to amazing cosplayers. Fans were even invite to take part in a number of skilling challenges, which bizarrely included throwing water sponges at the dev team - a rather unique form of ‘player feedback’.

Old-School: the 12 Month Plan

The classic version of Runescape, based on the game as it was back in 2007, has defied expectations and continued to grow. Since bringing in competitive gaming (both PvE and PvP), the older variant has reached 400 thousand members, with half of those playing at the same time. It’s a significant milestone for what many would consider a legacy MMO.

As a result, updates continue to roll out, with most of them being voted on by the members themselves. Chief among these is Raids II, a follow-up to the Chambers of Xeric, but incorporating more of a gauntlet feel and reducing the team size down to 3-5 players. The Theatre of Blood will be more linear than randomised, and have a wiping mechanic that removes the ability to respawn and rush back in. There’s also an interesting twist to rewards, with armour sets having perks that only apply to the raid, being pretty average otherwise.

Farming is receiving an update, as part of a sweep on skills that could do with a little love. Part of that is to make farming more consistent, expand under-used patched, and add variety to patches that are already used. Evil trees and dragonfruit trees will start popping up, and livestock are being added to provide further harvestable resources. Even a Guild is being added to make farming more worthwhile.

PvP is also getting a two-pronged rejuvenation, firstly in the form of a Bounty Hunter system that will assign slayer tasks on other characters, set goals for how the kill is achieved, and provide incentives to rank up. The other method is through the Revenant Caves revamp, which will offer a variety of monster levels and some unique rewards, but also be an attractive beacon for player killers.

However, new features like Mage Arena II were previously known, Jagex did keep one final surprise up its sleeve. A new Grandmaster quest, Dragon Slayer II, could potentially bring in a new zombie ice dragon solo boss, and even a Myths Guild to aid in questing. Even so, it’s an idea that might never make it in game, with it all depending on that crucial Player Poll and securing enough votes.

Runescape Reveals

If anything, Jagex had dialled down this year’s Runescape presentation, mostly to avoid promising anything that didn’t work out or took too long to deliver. It’s why, this time, the development team chose to keep a cap on features and only refer to new content landing in the next six months.

Even so, it’s a fairly packed schedule, with the Lost Grove arriving imminently. This new region, comprising ten map squares, will contain new mobs to help beef up that Slayer skill. Not only that, but there’s a new boss monster named SOLAK, who will be challenging groups of players, with a multi-phased fight across the forest canopy, the trunk, and the roots below, and comes with a new batch of rewards.

Novtumberfest is a new beer festival landing later in the year, inviting players on an epic bar crawl across the world of Gielinor. We’re told it’ll include table dancing, and even a seasonal Kegger event, along with seasonal rewards to celebrate. On a similar theme, a new Pirate quest will also be arriving in the form of Pieces of Hate, bringing a conclusion to the Rabid Jack menace.

Beyond new content, a whole heap of skills are also getting overhauls. Whether it’s clue scrolls, skilling offhand items, deep sea fishing or even safecracking, guilds are being updated and rewards are being added to make putting in the work even more compelling. After all, who doesn’t want to net fish and chill? Even skilling pets are being added, with companions designed for every type.

Refocus on Social

Even with the onslaught of updates, Jagex also mentioned that the studio is renewing focus on the social aspects of MMOs. Part of that’s related to the new Dimension of the Damned update, which will introduce a new coo-op gaming mode where new players can control a maxed out character in an alternate world filled with zombies. A group Ironman update is also arriving where new accounts can get involved.

But there’s also a bucket of unfinished business, whether it’s bank storage reworking, mining and smithing, day/night and weather cycles, or other quests and ideas. One of the highlights, however, is to improve Clans so that they’re easier to organise, have more relevance with future updates, and welcome new players in a way that offers more than just an XP buff.

With 15 years under its belt and two games to manage, Jagex seems to be choosing its battles carefully this year in order to deliver the biggest benefits, using polls and surveys to understand what players truly want to see and launching Runescape on new platforms to bring in more players and more chances to play. It might not be the mammoth expansions and reveals to get fans excited, but it’s definitely building the bedrock for more impressive construction in the future.


Gareth Harmer

Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.