To kick off my 10/10 project — 10 MMOs I’ve never played in 10 days — I decided to go back to a title that pioneered free-to-play and browser-based online gaming, RuneScape. It’s amazing how long this game’s been out there and how popular it’s remained.
Making a new account and getting into the game was exceedingly easy. Just an email address and password, then about a minute for a loading screen, and I was in. I’ve got to say, that was a huge plus.
I guess RuneScape doesn’t really do classes so much as a skill-based system, so character creation was picking the visuals for my toon. There’s only the option to be a human (boo) and the graphics, well, let’s talk about the graphics for a minute. Even with so many years of development, RuneScape’s visuals still skew toward 1997-era PlayStation 3D blockiness. Seriously, I haven’t seen this type of primitive chunky polygon design in a long, long time. Whenever the game zoomed in on character faces it got downright ridiculous how bad it looked.
Yet there are two factors that overcome mere looks. The first is that it allows a full-fledged MMO to run in a browser, and that ain’t nothing. The second is that there is a ton — I mean, a ton — of personality in the animations. It adds up to a cartoony feel that made me look at the game as a cartoony style, and that was that. I was OK with the looks.
What I was less OK with, and never quite resolved, was how RuneScape handled. It’s click-to-move with arrow keys moving the camera, either pulled back in an isometric view or swooped in to over-the-shoulder. It felt slow and unresponsive to me, particularly movement but also whenever I’d ask the game to perform an action, as there’d be a second of lag. Combat was also rather underwhelming, as I couldn’t really tell if my character was attacking with her magic staff or if her abilities were doing much at all.
But what I found is that RuneScape isn’t primarily a combat-centric MMO, which I guess I knew but didn’t really realize until just then. The opening zone moves you through the different types of activities that your character can perform, including combat, gathering, and crafting, as you level up your various skills. I had to outfit a soldier by making him a helmet and gloves, exercise my thieving skills on some snooty rich merchants, and fry up some crawfish for hungry soldiers. Actually, aside from the opening scene and one point where I had to kill a cow, I wasn’t engaging in combat at all. That felt different and not unwelcome.
What I probably liked most of all is the cheeky dialogue and sense of humor that ran through it all. RuneScape made me chuckle at least twice in this first play session, and I was pleased that the NPCs had memorable personalities (and occasional voice-overs) instead of being boring cutouts. At one point, the game had me deliver a poison pie to a fat jerk, and I had the option to listen in on him barfing everywhere or not. Of course I did.
That’s another nice aspect: choices. The game kept throwing me little choices, either in dialogue or actions, and it was quite effective in pulling me into the world. Do I fire a baby troll out of a cannon or save it? Saving it netted me a cute little pet, but I had to wonder what it would’ve been like to see that cannon fire.
Would I play it again? The question I’ll ask myself at the end of these articles is if this initial foray into the game was intriguing enough to make me log in again. With RuneScape, it’s probably a no. The clunky controls are a big deal-breaker. If I was a poor kid in the early 2000s with no other alternative, however, I could see myself getting into it.