Since I'm an unemployed student in the early parts of their summer vacation, I've had a "small" amount of time to catch up on gaming. This week it was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a game that's almost around the same age as a fair portion of RuneScape's audience, give or take a few years. It's old enough that I've probably run through the game enough times to do it blind, so I did the opposite and found myself paying extra attention to the little details of the game's world.
It made for a pretty good lesson in how to create beautiful environments with incredibly limited technology, through details that the average player will probably overlook.
So where does RuneScape come in? It's traditionally been a game that could run on pretty much anything with an internet connection, but its reputation came from the incredibly simple (some would say 'bad') graphics that the game had as a result, and it's never quite recovered from that. And yet, here I am praising a game with much worse graphics, simply because it makes the most of them. Every area feels unique and is built for immersion.
RuneScape, while it has a very distinctive and stylized visual style, tends to have areas that look largely the same (especially older areas). Other places and objects go overboard with details, filling every space with the graphical equivalent of noise: it may look pretty but it's usually more distracting than immersive. Ultimately, most dungeons tend to look relatively similar.
Ocarina, on the other hand, keeps those details in the background. The Lost Woods, for example, is one of the earliest areas: an untamed and downright magical branch of the forest the player starts in. Yellow-green wisps and lights float in and out of existence regularly, and the lighting makes everything look as if it's covered in mist. In addition, every opening is nearly identical, as suits the name.
The main difference is subtlety. RuneScape's graphics and animations are fairly over the top and in-your-face, so to speak. Ocarina's are background details; they don't draw attention away from the gameplay. The Evolution of Combat's changes to character models and equipment are a prime example of this trend; body builds are exaggerated, and armor and weapons are detailed to the point of being impractical.
That's not to say the graphics are bad, of course, just that some elements would be better off as background details.