Jagex just keeps surprising me with its flagship title, RuneScape. Almost every time I sit down to get some time in the world of Gielinor, I find something new. This time around, I want to talk about how the newest version of the game brings not only a fantastic world event and tweaks to all sorts of systems but offers options to the UI that are surprising and wonderfully innovative. The first thing I thought when I played around with the new UI options was, "Wow, why isn't this happening in more MMOs?"
Another thought occurred to me as I slid, snapped and joined parts of my UI: This feels suspiciously like a tablet-friendly change. Jagex has mentioned the possibility of a tablet version of RuneScape, thanks to the new HTML5 client (which is still in beta), so could this new UI be the first of many steps to playing on our portable computers?
I'll wait and see what happens with that, but in the meanwhile I wanted to show you the most impressive parts of the UI redesign.
If you click on the small help section in your RuneScape hotbar, you'll find several different sections that will introduce you to the changes in this new version. Most RuneScape fans have likely already played around with the recent changes to combat, but if you'd like to take the new combat tutorial, you can simply click a button from the help menu and it will send you to the location needed. I'd recommend the tutorial to anyone who has been away for a while. It might seem pretty familiar to anyone who has played other standard, client-based MMOs, but the new hotbars and swappable abilities in RuneScape are something 'Scapers have never seen until now.
Once you're used to the new combat options, it's time to play with the new UI options.
First, the minimap. For so long that darned thing has been sitting in the top right-hand corner without being particularly useful. I would click on it to auto-move places, but it was so small and hard to read that I often ignored it. Now you can drag the minimap anywhere you want and make it much, much larger. That means that not only is the map easier to read and use, but you can also click on areas of the minimap that you couldn't before and can auto-travel there. This is really handy for those times when you are moving through a city on your way to a quest or shopping district. I tend to move almost exclusively by clicking on the minimap, so this was an awesome discovery.
Next, try zooming in and out using your middle-mousewheel. Nice, huh? Normally you would have to hold down the middle-mousebutton or use the arrow keys to move the camera around to take a closer look at things, but in general the zoom in and out was never very effective. Now you can zoom out much further and zoom in much more closely, so you can finally get a good look at that new armor or friend's new pet. It brings a whole new level of detail to the world that we always knew was there but couldn't quite access.
Try hitting escape. BAM! Under the escape menu, you'll find many of the same options that you would in other MMOs, but there are some extra goodies as well. You can adjust every little bit of your game, including key bindings and soundtrack volumes, but you can also load different UI templates, adjust transparency, and flick through different styles of hotbar and other menus.
The most fun comes when you get to play around with a UI arrangement. You can change the size of any window, meaning that you can finally have that massive chat window you always wanted, or in my case, that itty-bitty chat window that I have always wanted. Hovering over a shortcut menu brings up a few options, but now you can grab any one of those options -- say, your inventory or skill window -- and rip it away from the hotbar and place it anywhere you want. That means you can have almost any window open for as long as you want, a fantastic option for people who are grinding out skills, organizing inventory, or wanting always-on access to equipment or information. I especially like having a task window open all the time to see the next step I might need to take.
You can also "swap" windows, meaning that you can drag one open window over to another; once you see the symbol for swapping, you can make them exchange places. This is handy for those times when you have a great layout and simply want to switch the information but not location of two windows. If you want to combine windows into one tabbed window, simply drag one into the other. It's simple and works perfectly. The whole thing can be locked once you have it arranged to prevent accidental swaps or tweaks.
It might seem almost silly to be so excited about many UI improvements that you'd find in other MMOs for years now, but Jagex went several steps above even modern MMOs. Many of the options that RuneScape now has would be nice improvements to games that are a quarter of its age. These new improvements bring new life to an older game and help to cement it securely in the future of MMO gaming.
Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!