While Jagex has made massive, impressive progress on the competition within the MMORPG genre, have they made some progress at the expense of the individuality that once made the game so great?
Most sound-minded people steer clear of a side by side comparison of Runescape versus its competitors, specifically the industry dominanting World of Warcraft. It’s logical to distance the two; while they have many similarities, it remains the differences that define the games. Runescape is completely browser based, requires no support CD, and has very limited downloaded content. While they have made leaps and bounds in the graphical package, and have made several massive improvements in creative methods, Jagex has continued to offer quality at a bargain price. Increases have been very limited, and “bang for the buck” has never been better. To wit, Jagex has even announced plans to bring back one of the most popular elements of the game – player killing. This large undertaking hopes to satisfy a blood-thirsty audience without succumbing to the gold-farming conundrum that previously forced game makers to sacrifice this feature.
There are other differentiations within Runescape that always really made the game stand apart: the nature in which a player was truly free to choose the balance of combat versus non-combat adventure, and a population which generally approached the two elements with a refreshing spread.
Sadly, this has recently been abandoned. Trending towards the combat-laden competition (such as WoW), Runescape has quickly shifted to a warrior’s game. There is no longer any method for non-combat players to earn money AND experience on anywhere near the scale that fighters currently accrue wealth. Looking at all of the “massive” additions to the game, Jagex has clearly indicated a desire to place a high premium on combat.
God Wars Dungeon was the first recent noticeable improvement, a wonderful dungeon that has reshaped the game. It changed the face of Runescape, and introduced drops of value that old “must-have” luxury items like the dragon chainbody, abyssal whip, or dragon medium helm never dreamed of.
Other improvements to the game have made for more interesting places to train, and better fighting arenas. The insertion of mithril dragons, the introduction of new slayer master Sumona (and the lovely new slayer rewards!), the new slayer dungeon under Polyniveach, and now the Corporeal Beast have all added in huge incentives for people to don armor and get smashing.
Conversely, while skillers were also devastated by many of the peripheral changes with the removal of Real World Trading, little has been done to re-scope the allure of non-combats. Removing feedstock items such as yew logs and pure essence from gold farmers killed profit margins on runecrafting and fletching, while the grand exchange obliterated pricing on most herblore potions. The money in the game shifted quickly from performing the skills (and earning experience) to collecting feedstock items, an inherently tedious task which typically yields no experience. While there have been some new items released with high level noncombat requirements, and some fun new minigames, non-combat skills simply don’t earn on the same level as their weapon-wielding counterparts.
When I began playing this game in October, 2005, a player had strong incentive to either focus on non combat skills, work their combat level up, or do a little of both. Fighting was viewed as more prestigious, whereas non-combat skills served a nice niche market and earned great money. There was a nice balance in the game for all three genres of player, and sadly this has slid very quickly from balance.
What does this bode for the future of the game? One could argue that with the reinstitution of player killing, the popularity and overall appeal should reach an all-time high. Coincidentally, one would think that a vast majority of new players will be combat oriented, as this has become the wisest choice for a new player looking to do the highest profile / fastest earning format for Runescape. Also alarming is the price control which Jagex has over the market, dictating the “value” of items, above and beyond what may be deemed reasonable by players (see the Sigil prices as Exhibit A). This could further skew the disparity of combat focused to balanced/noncombat players.
Are balanced and non-combat players a dying breed?
Did You Know...
...that Fortunato, the Draynor Market wine salesman that plays a minor part in the Rag and Bone Man quest, shares his name with a character from the Edgar Allan Poe story "The Cask of Amontillado" who gets walled in in an underground tomb, with the wall hidden behind a pile of bones. (Thanks to Necromagus!)
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