On March 29, 2004, Jagex released a most eagerly awaited, browser-based project, spanning over three years of heavy development, constant revision, and considerable reliance on a loyal player base. RuneScape--then a tenuous collection of sprites and game testers--has since expanded into one of the most successful MMORPGs of all time—for good reason.
Before it thrusts you into its strange, massive world, RuneScape first offers a tutorial that familiarizes you with different components of the game. The sheer number of skills at your disposal, from prayer and magic to cooking and fire-making, is truly incredible. Many players find it rewarding simply to focus on one specialization for their entire RuneScape careers, so don't be surprised if you run into combat-level-three hoodlums with outrageous woodcutting levels!
Fig. 1 – A myriad of skills provide RuneScape's distinct flavor.
Quests are a joy to undertake, as they often involve fun errands and amusing NPC interactions that most other games lack, be it from minimal creativity or few native English speakers on staff. MMORPGs rarely allow you to save a coward of a husband from a haunted mansion or to (try to) reunite Romeo with his Juliet.
Unfortunately, combat and navigation can be incredibly painful. RuneScape's early constructionists clearly didn't have convenience in mind, as towns lie far apart from each other. Unless your magic is at a relatively high level, you'll have to rely on your feet to traipse around, which is a burden because running depletes your stamina rapidly and you'll have to walk as you wait for it to recover. Moreover, combat is nothing to write home about; most of the time, it just entails clicking once and watching your character and a hideous monster duke it out with each other.
If your computer could be donated as an artifact to your local museum, then RuneScape will look like a relatively primitive, bland landscape with primitive, bland people. If, on the other hand, your computer has any semblance of a graphics card and can thus afford to run the game on higher settings without sacrificing speed, then RuneScape will look pretty magical, especially when you consider the limitations of a browser game.
Fig. 2 – Graphical enhancements have greatly improved RuneScape's appeal.
Everything, from armors and faces to fountains and castles, is meticulously detailed eye candy. Granted, this wasn't so true before the summer of '08, but nowadays, towns like Lumbridge and Varrock and their surrounding areas can contend with those of lower-tier must-download games and hold their own.
I'm not gonna lie: the music in RuneScape can get on your nerves. The medieval-esque mood the composers were obviously going for is transparent, but it's that very in-your-face delivery that detracts from the quality of the songs. I have to commend the creators for including such a vast and obviously full-of-effort variety of themes; however, none of them are particularly memorable, and a lot of them are, in fact, grating.
One of the most unique aspects of RuneScape is its accessibility—you can play it straight from your browser, no questionable files necessary. That said, such freedom attracts some undesirable characters into the game. Sure, their knowledge might extend only to a 12-by-12 multiplication table, but immaturity is obnoxious regardless of the circumstances. Even so, the audience is broad enough that people of all ages will be able to find others to connect with, and the community is certainly nowhere near as dreadful as much of the game's competition.
Although the game is free, $6 a month nets you a world infinitely more expansive, more quest-heavy, and more skill-full (pun intended) than its free counterpart. ‘Nuff said.
Overall (8/10—not an average)
RuneScape is definitely an MMORPG worth trying. Despite the vexing tunes, so-so community, and time-consuming combat and navigation, RuneScape more than makes up for its flaws through engaging gameplay, breathtaking graphics, inexpensive membership, and, above all, unmatched accessibility.