Massively's hands-on with RuneScape's Dungeoneering

For many of today's MMO players, RuneScape provided a first taste of massively multiplayer online gaming. Released in 2001, RuneScape was a blocky world full of ugly characters trading each other logs and feathers. The world existed only to perpetuate an endless skill-grind that was largely without purpose, and the height of competitive or co-operative gameplay was racing a friend to a particular skill level. It's been almost ten years since those first moments of RuneScape, and the game today is barely recognisable as that world many of us grew up in. The game engine has had several major graphical overhauls over the years, from the RuneScape 2.0 3D upgrade in March 2004 to the RuneScape HD overhaul in July 2008. There are now hundreds of servers worldwide, and players can benefit from ten years of previous content updates.

Back in April, Jagex published the largest content update in RuneScape's entire ten-year history. The Dungeons of Daemonheim expansion brought in dungeoneering -- a fantastic new solo or group activity with practically infinite replayability. Players can form groups of one or more characters and venture down into the dungeons of Daemonheim to test themselves against some unique challenges. The high degree of replayability comes from the fact that the dungeons are procedurally generated and tailored to the specific skills of the players in the group. The dungeon rooms are filled with monsters of varying difficulty, items you can use and skill challenges that unlock bonus rooms and loot. Dungeoneering is available for free players, though some of the content is limited to subscribed members.

In this hands-on article, we get to grips with RuneScape's massive dungeoneering system and ask whether or not it's as fun as it sounds.

The concept

The basic mechanics of dungeoneering are absolutely inspired. By procedurally generating dungeons tailored to a specific group, players can have a completely different experience when grouped with different friends. One of the most important mechanics is that you can't bring any items into or out of the dungeon. Part of the challenge in the dungeons is in crafting the various items you'll need to survive. Materials can be scavenged from the environment by cutting down trees, mining ore nodes, picking various plants or fishing for food. Materials like wood and ore can also be looted from various monsters or bought for gold at a smuggler NPC who sits at the start of every dungeon. Since you can't bring any gold in with you, the gold dropped as loot when you kill monsters is an invaluable resource. Items you find that you're not going to use can also be sold to the smuggler in order to buy materials you can use.

The items you make inside a dungeon only last until the end of that dungeon. You can pick one item to bind to yourself, which will then persist from one dungeon to the next. At dungeoneering levels 50, 100 and 120, you gain the ability to bind an additional item. For most players, this means you can only bring your single best item from dungeon to dungeon, and must make everything else you'll need once you're inside. The dungeons become a kind of survival scavenger hunt, where rooms must be explored for loot and monsters in order to build up your arsenal for the final boss battle. You can choose to speed-run the dungeon and avoid unnecessary rooms, but the final boss battle may not go so well. Alternately, you could spend too much time gearing your party up for the final fight when they can probably each only bring one piece of that gear into the next dungeon.

Navigation

Dungeons are composed of a series of individual rooms interconnected by doors. Players can use the doors to hop between rooms, but monsters are trapped inside the room that spawned them. Doors are marked on the map as red lines on the walls of a room, and rooms don't spawn until you open the door leading into it. This makes navigation very easy, as you can tell which doors haven't been opened yet by checking if there's a visible room next to it. Some doors will require a coloured key of a specific shape, which will always be on the ground in a room accessible to your party. If you can't find the key, rest assured that it's somewhere you can access. The game won't generate a dungeon that can't be completed or spawn a locked door with an inaccessible key.

Strewn throughout the dungeon will be additional bonus rooms requiring some kind of skill-challenge to enter. Sometimes the door is haunted and a demon must be exorcised from it by someone with a sufficiently high prayer level. Or sometimes there's a magic barrier that someone with a high magic level has to dispel. Other challenges include rocks that must be mined in front of a door, tough wooden barricades that need a high woodcutting level to destroy and broken door keys that need a high smithing level to repair. Every now and then, you might even find yourself in a puzzle or skill challenge room. To complete the room and unlock bonus doors, you have to complete the skill challenge or puzzle. With the occasional trap puzzle thrown into the mix, every dungeon you go through will be different.

Group play and loot

While you can make a group of one and run dungeons solo, where dungeoneering really excels is in group play. Group dungeons are significantly harder, but the monsters drop more loot and the XP reward at the end of the dungeon increases. The level of monsters encountered varies significantly across the dungeon, meaning players with significantly differing combat levels can even run dungeons together. As dungeons are generated based on the skills of each party member, it also makes sense to bring some friends along who all have high levels in different skills.

Although you can't take items out of the dungeons, there is a scheme in place to reward players for their dungeoneering efforts. In addition to each completed dungeon providing dungeoneering skill XP, participating players will also receive dungeoneering tokens. These can be redeemed for a ton of awesome rewards, from more dungeoneering XP to powerful magic items. Useful items you can buy with tokens include a bag that stores 27 coal in one inventory space, an item that automatically converts bones dropped as loot into prayer XP and an item that automatically converts dropped herbs into herblore XP. Other items include powerful weapons that only last for a few hours in combat before they must be recharged. In addition, gaining a higher dungeoneering level will unlock special areas of the game that many players won't have access to.

Is it fun?

Overall, I found the dungeoneering system to be a hell of a lot of fun. The fact that your party starts with an initial set of starting gear and must use whatever they find inside the dungeon to defeat the challenges inside reminds me of old-school Dungeons and Dragons. Using your character's existing skills to conquer challenges and solve puzzles keeps things interesting, and tackling a dungeon with some friends can be a lot more fun than going it alone. Dungeoneering has definitely added some much-needed life into RuneScape. If you have an old account sitting around that you haven't used in a while, I'd definitely recommend you log in and head over to Daemonheim to give it a go.

This article was originally published on Massively.