The Tip.It Times

Issue 1899gp

The Horrors of the Underground Pass

Written by and edited by Tip.It

The Underground Pass quest was introduced in early 2003 as one of the last quests of the RSC era. It is memorable for several reasons. First of all it was another chapter in the Plague City storyline, the first attempt by Jagex at creating a series of quests that progressed the players through an extensive storyline. After freeing Elena from the quarantine on west Ardougne and helping her prove that the plague affecting the city is actually a hoax, the player confronts King Lathas about the quarantine. The player then learns about the presence of the Underground Pass in west Ardougne, and the threat of the deranged Iban, self-proclaimed son of Zamorak, that needs to be confronted.

Furthermore, the quest introduced Klank's Gauntlets. These gauntlets, which were only the fifth piece of hand equipment to be introduced since the start of the game, immediately gained immense popularity amongst pure players, as they boosted both weapon aim and weapon power (attack bonus and strength bonus in RS2). To understand the importance of Klank's Gauntlets to these players, you have to know several things about the way combat levels, equipment and the Dragon Slayer quest worked in Runescape Classic. First of all, the RSC combat system took all combat related stats into account when calculating the combat level. This meant that to complete the Dragon Slayer quest, which at the time didn't have the option to simply buy the map piece from the jailed goblin, pure players would have to raise their combat level unnecessarily, as the increased defense from rune plate mail compared to rune chain mail and leather gloves wasn't considered high enough to be worth the extra combat levels. With the introduction of Klank's Gauntlets and the weapon power boost they offered pure players could now actually hit for more damage than non-pure players, as RSC didn't allow players to equip gloves and plate mail at the same time.

It was also the first quest to extensively use the relatively new agility skill. The Underground Pass is filled with all sorts of obstacles and traps that depend on the player's agility skill to be successfully navigated. These obstacles didn't have a minimum Agility requirement like most agility obstacles, but in stead had a random chance of succeeding that improved only marginally as your agility level got higher. Furthermore, failure often resulted in massive amounts of damage. In fact the whole underground pass was a multi-level hell of endless trial and error with only sporadic moments where the player got to kill something or solve a puzzle.

The fun starts as soon as the player enters the Underground Pass. The player is offered three separate paths, two of which have minor obstacles that hit for three or four damage and a third that led straight into a swamp that sent you tumbling down a painful slope. After this you'll have to solve the first puzzle of the quest to cross a bridge, followed by more agility challenges. The entire quest progressed much in the same fashion, a minor puzzle followed by some sort of agility obstacle that requires luck rather than skill to solve.

One such puzzle, that illustrates everything that is wrong with the Underground Pass quest, is the five by five grid that the player has to pass. The problem here is that the safe path across it is determined entirely by random chance, with no way of knowing which of the dozens of possible paths will lead you to safety. Endless trial and error, with massive damage to punish failure, is the only way to find your way across. The problem with this is that, unlike a hard boss fight or complicated puzzle, obstacles like this don't create a challenge, only frustration. Unfortunately the grid 'puzzle' is only the beginning. The entire second half of the quest, where the player tries to gain access to Iban's sanctuary, takes place in a massive maze of broken walkways. These walkways have to be jumped, and like pretty much every puzzle before it you'll take massive damage if you fail. By this time finishing the quest is simply a matter of perseverance, as you now have access to an infinite supply of food. If you run out of food before that however, you'll have no choice but to teleport out of the dungeon, restock your supplies and try again, repeating a lot of those same frustrating obstacles you already clawed your way past the first time around.

The Runescape Knowledge Base lists the Underground Pass quest as 'long'. However, this classification is highly deceptive as the majority of the quest will be spent navigating obstacles that require nothing more than dumb luck to overcome them. Of course, this is incredibly poor game design. By designing quests like this the player gets needlessly frustrated, as you are forced to spend time endlessly repeating actions without any influence on whether or not you'll actually succeed. The only thing that's challenged here is your patience.

Compared to the previous quests in the series, Plague City and Biohazard, Underground Pass is far longer and far more difficult. However, if you took away the agility portions of the quest, you would be left with something that would take far less time to complete, but wouldn't actually be easier than what we have now. After all, you'd still be required to complete he various puzzles hidden in the dungeon, and the paladins and demons you encounter along the way would still need to be beaten.

This is clear proof that the agility sections of the Underground Pass are flawed. All they add to the quest is frustration, and the quest would not get easier in any significant way if you removed the agility obstacles. Sure, you might have more food for the fight sequences, but by the time you reach he most difficult battles of the quest you already have access to infinite food from the dwarves that live at the bottom of the pit. There are many quests that have this particular flaw in their design, but this flaw is absolutely rampant in the Underground Pass quest, a quest that is, in my opinion, a strong contender for the title of worst quest in the game, even after six years.

When the quest came out back then, it was considered one of the, if not the hardest quest in the game. However, hard is often confused with frustrating. The Underground Pass is a clear example of that. It is comparable to a platform game where you have to navigate a long pit by using randomly placed invisible platforms. If you try long enough you'll eventually make it across, but if you do you still haven't really proven anything other than that you're patient. Other than that, there is very little skill involved beyond pushing the buttons. Underground Pass is a lot like that, and this makes it a quest of true horror, but not the fun kind.

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