For many gamers, the mention of Runescape conjures an image low graphics, tedious skill leveling, and a young community (IE: immature players). However, for those of us who have remained loyal to Runescape over the years, the game represents much more: a community which influences new features through content polls and feedback. Seasonal events which are humorous and novel, reliable, quality updates to both the mechanics of the game and the world in which we play.
Runescape is one of the few games on the market which has gone through a complete overhaul, essentially creating a sequel with which players could transfer current characters without starting over. The transition of moving everyone from Runescape (now referred to as Runescape Classic) to this new version of the game allowed for many improvements; graphic upgrades, changes to interface, and the elimination of certain in-game requirements (such as sleeping). The original version of Runescape is still accessible, for any players seeking a nostalgic escape.
Graphics: How To Not Judge A Book By It's Cover
Originally set in a fixed-size window, Runescape has updated their game's graphics over the years to include alternate camera angles, realistic water, and moving shadows. While this java-based browser game remains limited in its visual quality, Jagex has continuously pushed the capabilities of the Java engine to deliver the most attractive game possible. This includes two major updates to the graphics engine within the last year alone.
Players have also seen an increase in character customization over the years; new hair styles, colors and textures have been added in addition to "costume" options and other wardrobe features.
The landscape, monsters and NPCs have also frequently received makeovers. "Lumbridge," the starting location for new players, was one of the first towns to be completely renovated. These changes often complimented an implementation of an "Achievement Diary;" a list of special objectives players can complete at each given town. Many locations are still pending selection to be featured for one of these additions.
Community: Player Interaction and a Personal Niche Among Millions
Unlike most MMORPGs, Runescape doesn't give the illusion of listening to the players - Jagex actually does take user opinions into account. They implemented "guaranteed content polls" to allow their membership to immediately, and transparently, influence new content. One example of which was the naming of a new Slayer monster, and the naming of one of the pubs in the world.
Another update that Jagex added to the game which I have not encountered in any other MMORPG is what they call the "Tools for Games" feature. This includes various items such as voting hats, checkpoints for creating races and tools for hide-and-seek. These additions allow players to create their own games within the world, a common inclination among player clans.
Although the game does not offer "grouping" in the traditional sense, it does allow for "multi-combat areas" where the one-person-per-monster rule is lifted, allowing folks to collaborate in killing attempts. This allows for a high volume of "solo-ability," which is often a complaint among players in other MMORPGs. Being forced to resort to PUGs (Pick-Up-Groups) to complete tasks isn't a concern on Runescape.
Another aspect of Runescape which holds strong appeal to many players is the skill-based system. The "goal" isn't to reach level 60 and amass rare items; a member can decide to focus on all skills, or merely excel in a given few. The range is from 1-99, with a sliding scale of experience. This allows for every character to be unique to the player's whims; you can focus on melee, or magic, or neglect both "combat" skills and be a simple fisherman.
The flip side of this coin, of course, is that many skills can become tedious. Gaining skill mastery to level 99 is a reflection of dedication (and a multitude of hours) in that ability; having skill 99 in numerous skills is often joked to symbolize a player with entirely too much time on their hands.
Free-2-Play, Availability, and Performance
Runescape continues to offer a huge variety of play to its "F2P" members; without paying the monthly fee (which is currently set at $5.95 per month), players are allowed access to the majority of skills and most of the content under each ability. Subscribing provides access to an additional nine skills, members-only servers, and a world which is suddenly three times larger. Arguably, this is one of the biggest "P2P" upgrades while being offered at one of the lower subscription rates.
Offering over 150 worlds with locations ranging across the globe, the universal access to your character eliminates the problem of having friends and family already established in the game - on a different server! They've also implemented server "themes," making it quick and easy to find a place full of other players with the same objectives.
The java-based play also sets Runescape apart; which allows users with slower connections and older computers access to a game when they otherwise may have failed to run, unlike other more graphic-intensive alternatives.