As most of you already know, my RuneScape play focuses heavily on ranged combat rather than melee, which seems to be the standard for most players of any combat level. I've played this character on and off again for the past seven years or so, starting when RS 2 was released. I wanted to explore the revamped combat triangle, and over the years I've seen all three of its corners receive various updates. However, because I focused my play so heavily on ranged, I've also seen noticed that one corner of the combat triangle appears to be significantly favoured over the others. This article is part one of a four part series analysing the apparent pro-melee bias in RuneScape's combat system. While I will mainly focus mainly on melee vs. ranged, I will also discuss magic in areas I have personal experience in.
On the day that I'm writing this article, I've finally reached the 85 combat milestone, unlocking the Smoking Kills quest and the subsequent improvements to the Slayer skill. To reach this combat level, I've had to invest relatively much in my prayer and summoning skills, investing nearly two million GP to reach level 56 and 52, respectively. The reason I've raised these skills to a fairly high level for someone of my combat level is because it is ranged based. Due to the way the combat level formula works, I've had to rely on prayer and summoning to pad my combat level, so to speak.
In order to calculate your combat level, the game uses your attack, strength, ranged, magic, defence, constitution, prayer and summoning skills. The latter four are all given the same value no matter what combat type your combat level is based on. However, it is the offensive stats that make combat levels unbalanced. For melee combat, attack and strength are combined. Since ranged and magic users only have one offensive stat, a multiplier of 1.5 is applied to these. Your three combat levels are calculated, and only the highest is used.
For the following example, I'll be using my own combat stats at the time this article is written. I currently have 60 attack, 50 strength, 63 defence, 70 constitution, 43 magic, 56 prayer, 79 ranged and 52 summoning. The multiplier of 1.5 is what matters here, because it means that, with all the other stats being the same, a melee character would need 119 attack and/or strength levels to reach the same character level (79×1.5, rounded up). This means that a melee character with 60 attack and 59 strength would also have a combat level of 85. As you will see, I will not include pures in the calculations for this article, as I'm not familiar enough with their stat distributions and equipment choices. Instead, I will focus on characters with balanced stats and assume that they will have all equipment available that they can be expected to have access to at that level, regardless of quest or other requirements that pures might not meet.
As said above, the problem of the unbalanced combat level formula shows itself through the offensive stats. The combined experience the melee character requires for the mentioned necessary for these levels is 521,628. This is also enough experience for a ranged or magic level of 66. However, with that level, a ranged or magic based combat level would only be 79. This means that the ranged or magic based user would have a significantly lower combat level with the same amount of XP. To reach level 85 combat, the ranger or mage would need to reach level 79 in their offensive stat, which requires 1,798,808 experience. In other words, in the example given a ranger or mage would need over 1.25 million XP to match the combat level of a melee character.
Now, let's take a look at maximum hits. For this example, I will compare my own stats and max hit against a theoretical melee character with 60 attack (for dragon weapons), 70 strength, 60 defence (for dragon armour), 43 prayer (for protection prayers) and 52 summoning (for spirit terrorbirds). I will not take prayers or potions into account. I will, however, try to use equipment that can be considered a reasonable standard for characters with these levels. Unfortunately I've been unable to find a reliable magic damage calculator, so I've left magic out of the calculations.
First, the melee based character, using the aggressive attack style with a Dragon scimitar while wielding an Amulet of Glory, Berserker helmet, Obsidian shield, Klank's gauntlets and Dragon boots, would have a maximum hit of 194 (according to Tip.It's melee combat damage calculator). This would be before boosts such as potions, prayer and Black masks are applied. For the ranged character, I will be using my own default setup. The only piece of equipment that actually determines my ranged damage is the ammunition type, and I generally use broad bolts. With an accurate attack style, my maximum hit without boosts is 235. This is significantly higher than my theoretical melee based character, which actually has a higher combat level with the stats I've given them.
Of course these calculations are run on characters whose combat levels are 86 and 85, respectively. However, once you get to level 122, which is the maximum combat level for a character using ranged or magic, things start getting a bit skewed. To keep things as simple as possible, I'm using a theoretical character with 90 attack, 90 strength, 90 defence, 90 constitution and 80 prayer and summoning. This character would have a combat level of 123.
For the melee character I'm assuming the use of relatively high-end equipment. A Godsword, an Amulet of Fury, a Helmet of Neitiznot, a Berserker ring, Barrows gloves and Dragon boots. Without any other boosts, this gives the melee character a maximum hit of 363. Of course, the melee equipment I've described is far from optimal. Many high level melee users rely on the Bandos chestplate and tassets and the fire cape to give them an even higher strength bonus. Taking these items into account would raise the melee user's maximum hit to 379. For the ranger, the only realistic option would be the dwarven hand cannon, as the ammunition for this weapon gives a ranged strength bonus of 150. With this ranged strength bonus, the maximum hit is 286.
Now we're still dealing with characters that have roughly equal combat levels, but suddenly the balance has swung in the the melee users' favour. Assuming optimal equipment and a strength level of 99, using a godsword without boosts would give the melee character a maximum hit of 419. That's an advantage of over 100 lifepoints over the ranger. However, a character with 99 (or even 90) strength can generally be expected to have a combat level higher than level 122, and can therefore also be expected to hit higher than a character at level 122, regardless of the combat style they're using.
As you can see, math seems to favour the melee fighter. At the early levels, they require significantly less XP to reach the same combat level, although at that point the ranger and mage still have a chance to hit as hard, if not harder. However, once we enter high level territory the melee characters are the ones that can hit harder and reach higher combat levels. These last few paragraphs have also highlighted an important issue that we haven't really discussed yet: equipment. Next week I'll be looking at this in-depth, on both the offensive and defensive side, for all three combat styles, as well as several other supporting options, such as the available prayers and potions.