RuneScape: Sixth anniversary retrospective

When it first launched back in 2001, RuneScape was a primitive beast. Its blocky three-dimensional world was littered with hand-drawn two-dimensional sprites, and most of its sound effects could have been created by whacking random objects with a hammer. Only a handful of quests and skills existed, and there wasn't much land to explore. After over a decade of development, the RuneScape we have today bears little semblance to its primitive ancestor. The map is an order of magnitude larger, the list of quests has grown immensely, and there are countless things to do in the world.

With several million actively playing free accounts and over a million paid subscribers, RuneScape has risen from its humble beginnings to be one of the world's most popular free-to-play MMOs. It's been a long road, with a few important milestones along the way. Today marks the sixth anniversary of the date that the RuneScape 2 beta was officially completed and the game's first major overhaul was launched live to players. Anyone who played back then will remember the beta fondly as the rebirth of a game they loved. Since then, regular game updates have added a huge amount of depth and content every year.

In this retrospective article, I look back at RuneScape's past to see how it got to where it is today and what's new to the game over this past year.

Iterative updates

As technology advances, old games tend to fall behind the curve and begin to seem outdated. In the MMO world, falling behind competitors in graphical quality or game design can be devastating. Many MMO studios have taken the bold step of completely rewriting their core game engines, overhauling graphics or revamping old gameplay styles, but few have done all three at once.

With the RuneScape 2 beta in December 2003, that's exactly what RuneScape's creator Jagex did. The beta concluded on March 29th 2004 and was renamed RuneScape, while the original version of the game was kept online as RuneScape Classic. In July 2008, a high-detail version of the game was released for fans with high-end computers. As well as increasing model and texture quality significantly, RuneScape HD expanded the game window to a full screen for the first time.

PvP and RMT changes

If you've been following the RuneScape news lately, you'll have heard of the wilderness. In the game's early development, the wilderness in the north of the game served as an open-PvP area with rewards for players willing to risk being player-killed. In late 2007, PvP was removed from the wilderness as part of a crack-down on gold-selling.

"Bounty Hunter" worlds were opened to replace wilderness PvP, letting players kill each other but not letting them loot their victims. This was done to prevent players from trading items via the death mechanic. The change was deployed alongside alterations to dueling and trading to make life difficult for gold-sellers.

Early this year, Jagex released a public vote asking whether the wilderness PvP and free trade restrictions should be removed. Over 1.2 million players voted, with a huge 91% majority supporting the removal of the restrictions. Jagex believes that its developers and GMs are now capable of handling the RMT threat without resorting to such drastic measures as the removal of PvP.

This year's updates

One of the key factors in RuneScape's success has been the regular release of new content and gameplay. The year 2010 was a bumper year for RuneScape fans, with a huge list of additions to the game. Around 17 new quests were released for paying subscribers, including a new Court Cases series and parts 3 and 4 of the popular Elemental Workshop quest line.

The year was crammed full of special one-time events, from the Halloween and Christmas quests to the temporary appearance of the powerful level 654 enemy Hati the wolf. A new Conquest minigame introduced in August puts players in charge of a squad of Void Knights and pits squads against each other in turn-based tactical war games.

A new urn-crafting system was introduced, allowing players to make pots that automatically collect scraps of the materials they harvest for some extra XP. Smithing received a revamp with the opening of the artisan's workshop bringing a whole series of new items to make. The Castle Wars minigame also received a revamp, with new siege weapons and rewards becoming available for purchase. To read more on any of these updates and others that came in this year, check out the official RuneScape game update news history.

Dungeoneering

Of all the new additions to RuneScape in the past year, dungeoneering has been both the biggest and the most revolutionary. In the game's biggest-ever content update, Jagex released the new co-operative dungeoneering system last April. Using the new dungeoneering skill, players can form groups of up to five people and venture into the dungeons of Daemonheim. The game then generates a random dungeon tailored to the skill levels of your group members.

Players must enter the dungeon without any gear and use their skills in smithing, crafting, runecrafting and fletching to make themselves armour, weapons, runes, bows and arrows to fight with. All rooms in the dungeon will have monsters to kill and loot, and some rooms will contain resources you can harvest to help make equipment. Since the dungeons in Daemonheim are randomly generated, you can have a different experience every time you play.

Items can't be carried from one dungeon to the next, so each dungeon becomes a balancing act between investing a lot of time to get geared up and speed-running to the end boss. If you get to the end boss without having explored the dungeon significantly, you're unlikely to have the gear you'll need to take him down. Puzzle rooms and minigames add further levels of challenge and co-operative play to the system. Completing dungeons rewards players with special tokens they can use to buy rare equipment. For more information about dungeoneering, read our hands-on article with the game mechanic or look through the official RuneScape knowledgebase.

Summary

In 2001, RuneScape gave a lot of people a primitive taste of massively multiplayer gaming. Since its relaunch after 2004's graphics upgrade, the game has been grown through regular content updates into one of the most popular MMOs on the market. Jagex has even gone as far as to release two RuneScape novels within the last 12 months. This year has seen a lot of new quests, items, and minigames, but the highlight of the year was definitely the dungeoneering update. It's difficult to imagine Jagex producing something more impressive than dungeoneering over the coming year, but if history has taught us anything, it's to never underestimate RuneScape.

This article was originally published on Massively.