This is a question that seems banal to most, but what does really a “balanced combat triangle” mean? Jagex have never said much on the issue, but it is easy to infer that they mean an environment where magic, range and melee form a triangle of power. Rangers hold advantages over mages, mages hold advantages over meleers and meleers hold advantages over rangers. What would Gielinor look like if that were the case?
This is something Jagex have been casually vague about, as they are on most issues. They have not said much about their vision of things: should range, melee and mage be useful in all areas? Do they have specific niches, or are they all meant to be usable in most areas with a small degree of varying effect? We simply don’t know.
That fact is interesting for one major reason, all the discussions and debates that flourish about how a class or the other is “overpowered”. Where does this balance of power lie? Well, there must be a triangular effect in PvP combat, but how large should a ranger’s advantage over a mage really be? That is a topic worthy of debate, a debate which is a vital component before assessing whether something is overpowered or not. Why has this not been done amongst players? Emotional investment is a hot contender: almost all of us have a preference, a role we find more exciting than the others.
A balanced PvP environment stands and falls on the Jagex ideology, which would at this stage be speculation, and that only. The author has no way of knowing how Jagex wish PvP to function. Versatility and players utilizing different strategies seems like a positively reinforcing direction for Jagex to choose. It prevents monotony, and marginalizes the luck factor of PvP combat, because people need to respond to different strategies.
Further, this ideology catalyzes diversity, creativity and gives variation to players, so they personally choose different set-ups, rather than specializing, which is common amongst the pking community today. On top of that, there needs to be a balance between survivability and death in both minigames, and player killing worlds.
Clans would also see creative new game-play with greater versatility. A clan of rangers demands a different fighting strategy than a mixed clan of mages and meleers. Here set war rules, skirmishes and clan contact in the wilderness becomes diverse, and every pking trip becomes an exciting new arena, no two fights are likely to be similar if many options are equally effective, or vary with each situation.
This clan element seems similar to a balancing act of real-time strategy games. This is notoriously difficult, and in “fixing the combat triangle” Jagex have taken upon themselves a massive challenge. Do they have the game understanding required to perform complex analysis, where multiple players interact in teams? Not realizing that a removal of the strength bonus from the fighters torso renders its stats almost identical to another expensive rune plate surrogate (here there are a multitude of other items with almost identical stats), this is something we as players should worry about. Jagex have said they have hired some of the top players to help them with this type of analysis, they announced that last year. Where have these new and important mods been in the advisory process of the ice strykewyrms?
Where PvP is astoundingly complex, the interaction between players and their combined creativity create unforeseen scenarios, PvM seems relatively simple. All three methods of combat should have significant areas of use in day to day activities, in quests, and in slayer training. Magic is, and will remain, an expensive alternative both to range and melee training, where ammunition may be reused, and weapons do not degrade close to as quickly as runes expire with use. How can that be changed? Monsters killable only with mage, that have drops paying for rune costs in much the same way Armadyl monsters in the God wars dungeon works? That would be a quick fix, but show little use in existing content.
It seems the expensive nature of magic as an attack form needs to be changed. Jagex started moving down that road with the Runecrafting update that allows you to sometimes craft more than the number of runes per essence that you have the levels for. For example crafting two nature runes from one essence from 44 to 91 Runecrafting. Runecrafting complicates the picture further, as it needs to hold importance within the game. That can only be done with money-making as runes are created in many other ways.
A third factor complicates things even further. How to deal with PvB (player versus boss) combat? Here there are vast arrays of options that are available in the future. However, one option stands out as the most exciting option to players. First and foremost boss killing should cater to teams of players cooperating, as it creates so many more areas of dynamism between players and friends. This is the Massive Multiplayer aspect of Runescape as an MMORPG. That in turn means that bosses need to have different capabilities, they must require different strategies to fight effectively, so there is gameplay variation within Runescape. This is very similar to the workings of PvP combat.
How can different bosses be attained that require different combat forms? Again there are two important solutions, both of which should be implemented as unilaterally as possible. Bosses should have several almost equally effective ways of being fought, so groups of players choose to do different things, and not gear up for the same old KBD or Bandos trip.
Along with several strategies that all have similar effects, these strategies should rely on players within the team that is required to successfully and effectively fight the boss to perform different roles. This provides further variation, as different players wish to perform different roles, and switching of roles creates game variation. Mages, rangers and meleers should all be required for effectively killing almost all monsters. Their ratios may not need to be similar, but at least one of each is advantageous in solidifying a balanced combat triangle.
As may be seen, the opportunities that exist in the rebalancing of the combat triangle may spur the most exciting content Runescape has yet seen. It can also evolve the game into something greater than grinding. However, much depends on the attitudes and goals of Jagex. We do not know those goals as of today, but that is beside the main point.
What we can and should do is discuss how we wish to see the rebalanced combat triangle, and what opportunities lie in the different paths that stand before us at this crossroads. As players we have a large influence on Jagex, and our creative thinking can develop the game into something greater than it is today. So please, before claiming that “range is overpowered” or “mage needs an update” please consider what situation is most beneficial to the future of Runescape. The tip.it forums are a very good place to start.
And as we explore our ideals on the forums, we may see the outlines of the mechanics that should be suggested to Jagex for improving our game. If we grab this bull by its horns, we, the players are the ones to benefit in the near future.
(Please note that this article was written before Dungeoneering was introduced, and discusses combat outside of the skill.)