MMObility: An exclusive look at the Runespan in RuneScape

RuneScape screenshot
Jagex, developer of the ever-popular browser-based game RuneScape, is known for its rapid development schedule. Heck, I fully expect that this article will be outdated by the time I finish its rough draft. Players of the Jagex flagship MMO can log in to find new items, places to explore, and quests to do almost weekly. I tend to poke my nose into the game several times a week, so I know that a more casual player has endless amounts of content to run through. I might level up my construction skill and then switch to something completely different. I just recently spent an afternoon playing with just the new bonfire skill.

Of course, those pesky developers are at it again: giving me more content to go through even though my highest skills hover around only the level 40 mark. This time it's the Runespan, a brand-new area that helps players level runecrafting by offering them a one-stop shop that is more casual and non-competitive than the normal runecraft experience.

I got the chance to call up some of the lead developers on the phone and ask not only about the Runespan but about the new FPS improvements, so be sure to check that out!

RuneScape screenshot
First of all, what is the Runespan? It's a special area that is accessible by anyone at any level, and it offers a way to level up runecrafting without much of the headache previous methods offered. If players go to the wizard's tower just south of Draynor village, they can take a portal to either a low-level, a mid-level or a high-level Runespan area. Each level is built using a different aesthetic. The first level is pleasant and open, while the mid-level is a bit more mystical and dark. At the highest level, the scenery becomes much forboding and bloody. The developers wanted to create an area that allows players to casually level their runecrafting and have a chance to socialize while doing it. I found the Runespan to be relaxing and beautiful. I turned on some nice music and watched my character go from level 2 to level 25 in no time at all.

Once in a while, a wizard in a yellow outfit will show up and yell for help. If players can find him, he'll offer a trade: a stack of a specific runes for more runecrafting experience. I watched as the developers gained thousands of experience points in exchange for a stack of runes. Brilliant!

"It could be said that the Runespan is an AFK activity, but it would be better described as a casual way to level up."

Getting runes is easy enough. You simply gather rune essence from floating globs and take specific runes from different creatures and spawn points that are spread throughout the Runespan. I clicked on esslings, creatures that are tuned to particular types of essence, and as my stack of blank essence ticked down, a pile of earth, air, or other rune would show up in my bag. Those specific rune types are often needed to transfer from one floating island to the next, almost like keys for specific locks. The developers explained how pleased they were to watch players having conversations and enjoying the scenery as they leveled. Sure, it could be said that the Runespan is an AFK activity, but it would be better described as a casual way to level up. Players can still do it the old-fashioned way, but this new way offers something for those of us who have less time to play than would normally be required. As I write this, I am leveling runecrafting!

The size of the Runespan is impressive. Open up the map and you'll find floating island after floating island, all connected at some point. With the recent performance updates to RuneScape, the beauty of the area is easy to enjoy.

Speaking of performance tweaks, I asked about the recent FPS improvements. If you're familiar with the great Bot Nuking Day that happened not so long ago, you know that after the bot-destroying event, performance dropped. I admit to having issues running the game while livestreaming, making it difficult to play live. Now, however, performance upgrades have made the game feel appropriately snappy and smooth. After all, I can run much more graphics-intensive games like Vanguard or Planet Calypso with almost no issues, so it was a shame that a browser-based game like RuneScape had worse performance. Well, no more.

RuneScape screenshotJagex looked at it like this: Increased security should not come at the price of poor performance. It took the devs a while, but they finally tuned performance up while keeping the same level of security the players enjoyed after Bot Nuke Day. The new upgrades were too good to be true, I felt, but I verified that the team isn't going back to the way things were before. (I made the developers pinky-swear.) They emphasized the fact that security is always a work in progress and that changes would have to be continually made to fight botting but that performance should go up, if anything, over the next few patches.

I asked about the Squeal of Fortune, the new prize wheel that offers players a chance to win great items like XP lamps or even rare gear that normally require a lot of game time to aquire. In some players' eyes, being able to purchase extra spins means that players are essentially able to buy XP and amazing items. Unfortunately, I was told that we'd have to discuss it another time. I suppose something as controversial as the Squeal of Fortune deserves an entire column. (For the record, I have no issues with it and have even bought 20 or so extra spins. The extra XP has been wonderful for me.)

I also found out about a new player quest line that will start in Rimmington and tasks players with a mystery involving sleeping villagers and a massive dragon that is so large that five of the game's current largest dragons would fit in its head. While a newbie would have no chance at killing the massive end-boss at the end of the new quest-line (it will take a "massively high-level" character), anyone can at least start down the path.

I took the moment to try to squeeze any information I could out of the topic of the huge combat upgrade that's been hinted at, but I got only the standard answer. It promises to be one of the largest and most important updates to the game, and the rule is generally that the larger and more important the update, the tighter the developers' lips. I tried, though.

After our time in the Runespan, I quickly logged in and teleported myself to the area. Within the time I have written this article, I have gained 28 runecrafting levels. I imagine that by the time I am done editing it, I will be able to go to the higher section, accessible at level 33. I grab any chance I can to level my character a bit more quickly when I can play, especially since I play in such unpredictable chunks of time. I would like to thank the developers for taking the time out to take my call, and I look forward to getting them on the line again. I'm sure as we get closer to the new combat upgrade, I'll have a crop of new questions. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some leveling to do.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
This article was originally published on Massively.