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Rise and Shiny recap: RuneScape


This week I decided to take a deeper look at RuneScape, one of the web's largest free MMORPGs. I've played it off and on over the years but thought it was the perfect time to take a deeper look. After all, one of my fellow writers is currently taking a look at the game and its developers, so why not round off the discussion with a good solid week of playing? Really, I could have played it for a much shorter time and still come to the same conclusion. From the very beginning, the essence of RuneScape shines through.

But what about the community? Isn't RuneScape a "kid's game?" Isn't it filled with 14-year-old boys named some version of "Pwnzer?" What about the graphics? Aren't they pathetically unrealistic? How does that affect immersion in the game? All I can say is read on! I was not only glad to see my gut feeling about the game being reinforced, but excited to see a game that is doing things that no others come close to doing.

First, what is RuneScape? Well, it's a deceptively simple browser-based game from Jagex. The game has been around for many years and was started by two brothers. I imagine that they never dreamed the game would grow to the size it had; it's currently the "largest free mmorpg in the world," according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Pretty amazing, especially when you consider not only the age of the game but the fact that it plays within a browser.

"It was exciting to have such freedom. In these days of class based bloated 'AAA' MMOs, it's so nice to feel that I have a say in the course my character takes."

In fact, I found more than a handful of my friends sort of laughing at me when I told them how deep and wonderful the game is. To them, it looked amateur, or like a "kid's game" -- so that must mean it is. Let me be very clear about something I have learned in my limited time in the business that if you judge a game only by how it looks, you are missing some amazing games. I actually love the look of the game, anyway. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore and so many details peppered throughout the environment that it's easy to get lost (in a good way). I spent many hours just wandering around, finding adventure. Remember adventure? That's the stuff that existed before World of Warcraft. Remember spending entire afternoons gaining different skills and finding different items to craft? That's what happens in RuneScape.

Essentially, as you use different items or skills, you gain experience and levels in those particular skills. If you chop down trees, you gain skill in chopping wood. As your skill rises, so does the diversity of the woods available for for you to chop. (There's a lot of wood-chopping in RuneScape.) If I use a weapon, I gain in combat, attack or defense skill. Each weapon even requires a different stance that helps you accrue experience in different styles of combat. For example, if I use a block style, I gain experience in the defense skill. It's a simple sandbox premise. It just works, and it works very well.

Not only can RuneScape be played like any good sandbox game in which the player decides what he wants to do with his time (you can exist completely without combat if you'd like, for example), but it also offers a very robust series of quests and tasks to occupy time. As soon as I logged in, I found quests to start me off. The quests were amusing, full of story, and even featured cutscenes done in typical RuneScape style that reminds me of old stop-motion animated movies. Brilliant!

The task system can be seen as a series of quests but really is a list of tasks that players can tick off, eventually hoping to complete the set. For example, I am currently trying to complete the Lumbridge series of tasks. The handy task list lets me know what the task is and what reward I get out of it, and it will even provide me with a hint. Most of the tasks are basic, like "cook a loaf of bread," but some do become more involved. The great thing is that I feel absolutely no pressure to go run away to greater adventure. Instead, I want to stick around the area to level up different skills and to discover the local secrets through the tasks and quests.

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While crafting, in my limited experience, seems relatively straightforward, the sheer volume of craftable items makes the occupation of crafter a complex one. You can go for blacksmith or concentrate on one particular weapon. I'm guessing that you can go for all of them with enough time. I found myself crafting my own weapons, armor and housing items within the first evening. It was exciting to have such freedom. In these days of class-based bloated "AAA" MMOs, it's so nice to feel that I have a say in the course my character takes.

"In fact, I don't remember many details of the game -- not quite yet. In case you didn't know, this is a very good sign."

Combat is seemingly very basic at first. Again, though, the number of spells, attack styles and weaponry makes honing your fighting skills a pursuit in itself. In my short, concentrated week of playing (even with the weeks of playing from before) I am still not completely clear on how combat magic works. You need to craft runes, or use runes, in order for magic to work, but I didn't experience it enough to know. I was able to go through a very cool quest early on that explained to me what runes were for and even led me through a simple yet epic quest that tossed me around the map, but I can't remember all the details.
In fact, I don't remember many details of the game -- not quite yet. In case you didn't know, this is a very good sign. When a game simply sweeps you up and almost overwhelms you with choice, that is a good thing. In example, I discovered players running across logs and ducking through holes. I asked around and discovered that the "agility" skill would allow me to do such things. I asked around some more and found out that if I were to go to the gnome area, I would be able to run an obstacle course to gain the agility skill levels I pined after! Despite trying to find my way there, I found myself blocked. A kind player teleported me there and gave me return scrolls as well.

Climbing that agility course was so thrilling. It was the result of brilliant, simple design. It makes sense, as well: You go through an agility course; you gain agility. That agility allows you access to "shortcuts" in the environment. There is smart design at work here.

Needless to say, I was floored. RuneScape has done more, is doing more, and will continue to do more than many games in the market. While I wish I could have a review that was filled with every detail I came across, there were just too many. You'll have to log in and see for yourself. I didn't even touch on the housing, the random player-specific events that whisk you away to instanced adventure, the summoning, the clans, the PvP castle events, and much more. All I can say is that we should never judge a game by how it looks or because of what we heard about the community. Do not avoid this game. When you do play, take your time with the game. If you turn it into a "skill grind," it will definitely become that. But if you allow yourself to get lost in the game, you'll realize just why the game is so popular.

Feel free to file this under "gushing."

Next week I will be looking at a new browser-based game from alaplaya called Forsakia, the Lost Clans. I hardly know anything about the game and have only barely played it. My name is BeauHindman in game, so look me up. Until next Sunday, enjoy your holiday -- now GO LOG IN!

Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. We meet each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. EST; the column runs the following Sunday. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email, or follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr!

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