Welcome back to our four part series on the RuneScape combat triangle. After looking at the combat formula last week we will be focussing on various equipment options, as well as other aspects that the different combat styles offer. We still start by examining armour options. RuneScape isn't very original in that respect, following the standard set out by Dungeons and Dragons, and similar pen and paper role-playing games. Melee fighters wear metal, rangers wear leather, and mages wear cloth. There are a few exceptions to this rule within RuneScape, but you can generally tell what type of fighter a piece of armour is meant for by checking its material.
Herein lies the problem with armour. Melee armour is not only very effective against ranged attacks, against which it is supposed to be stronger than other armour, but it also offers the best defence against melee attacks. Ranged armour offers superior magic defence and mediocre defences against melee and ranged. Mage armour rarely offers anything in the way of defences at all, with Ahrim the Blighted’s armour being the only notable exception.
So to sum up: Melee armour offers strong defence against not only ranged, but also melee, and is weak to magic. Ranged armour has decent magic defence, with the other defences rarely being above average. Mage armour gently offers very little in the way of protection against any attack type, although it does usually come with a small amount of magic defence.
And this shows a problem. After all, if the design strictly followed the combat triangle, melee armour would be weak to magic, strong against ranged and average against melee, ranged armour would be weak against melee, strong against magic and average against ranged, and magic armour would weak to ranged, strong against melee and average against magic. However, this isn't how it works in the game, which can be blamed at least in part on thematic reasons, and the friction between real world logic and video game logic. After all, according to Jagex' video game logic, mage robes should be the best possible defence against swords, but real world logic tells us that the idea of a piece of cloth blocking a metal blade is stupid. The end result of this clash in logic is that anyone not using melee armour is just too damn squishy. After all, a character wearing melee armour, while also using the Protection from Magic prayer, has a decent defence against all three attack types. Neither ranged nor magic armour can grant such complete protection against all three attack styles. The only reason not to use melee armour all the time is that it actually offers attack penalties on other combat types.
One piece of melee armour that gives a good example of Jagex' attitude towards the combat triangle is the Black mask. Its defences are comparable to that of a Black med helm. However, the reason people use it is its bonus effect: A 15% boost in attack and strength while fighting monsters for your current slayer task. This item immediately became very popular, as it allows players to hit more frequently and for higher damage, thus not only increasing the speed at which they can train the slayer skill, but also offering improved XP rates for melee training. The Black mask was introduced to the game on July fourth, 2006, and it wouldn't be until February eighth, 2010, when the ranged and magic equivalents of this item would be added to the game in the form of the Focus sights and Hexcrests. This means that for three and a half years, melee fighters had a huge advantage in training their combat skills through slayer, and the slayer skill as such.
Weapons are spread out a bit oddly across the three combat types. Melee and ranged start off with all their usual weapon types ranging from bronze to runite (or normal to magic, for bows). It isn't until higher levels when each attack type gets its own distinctive weapon type. Melee users are favoured in the sheer number of options they have available to them, but for once ranged has plenty of options too, with items like the Crystal and Dark bows. Magic meanwhile has by far the smallest amount of weapons available, but then again its variety comes from its spells.
However, there's something odd about the way staves, which are supposed to be the first choice for mages in most situations, are designed. They start out with plain (or elemental) staves, then get (elemental) battlestaves at level 30, and mystic staves at level 40. However, because of their poor design, the only reason to use the higher level staves is because they have superior melee stats, while the magic attack stat for which it's supposed to be used is the same on all three types of staves. What makes this even more bizarre, is that most staves not only have a magic skill requirement, but often also a matching attack skill requirement. This is true for staves all the way up to the Staff of light, which is one of the best magic weapons in the game.
The reason for these attack requirements is obvious, as players could abuse their melee bonuses at low attack levels if those requirements weren't there. Once again, this is real world logic imposing itself on video game logic, as in real world logic staves are sticks, and sticks are designed to hit people with. However, if Jagex were to remove the melee attack bonuses and attack skill requirements from the staves, it would essentially turn them into the magic weapons they were also supposed to be. If Jagex applied the same logic to crossbows as they did to staves, crossbows would all have melee attack bonuses and attack requirements too. After all, you could theoretically do quite a bit of damage by clubbing someone over the head with a crossbow, even though that isn't what it was designed to be used for.
One can't look without weapons without looking at offensive stats. Melee fighters use the attack skill and bonuses on their weapons to determine their accuracy, and their strength skill and strength bonuses? to determine their max hit. Rangers use their ranged stat for both accuracy and damage, with the former being boosted by their ranged attack bonus, with the latter being boosted by the ranged strength bonus. However, where melee warriors have several pieces of high-end equipment to boost their strength bonus, the ranged strength bonus is only boosted by the type of ammo a ranger is using. The only two exceptions to this rule are the Crystal bow, which uses its own magically generated ammo and thus gets no ranged strength bonus from that, and the Zaryte bow, which is a very rare drop from Nex, that currently has costs almost 120 million GP on the Grand Exchange.
And this is where Jagex could easily improve ranged to make it competitive with melee when it comes to max hits (refer to part 1 of this series). I'm not calling for every piece of armour from studded leather onward to be upgraded to add to the ranged strength bonus, but I do think that by adding slight increases to the ranged strength bonus on certain pieces of high-end ranged equipment (Armadyl equipment, Book of law, Amulet of ranging), they can give the ranged skill a much-needed boost in damage output at higher levels. Unfortunately I can't speak for magic here, as I haven't found a single reliable resource on how magic damage and accuracy are calculated.
That leaves us with only the “secondary support” options to discuss. These mainly come in the form of prayers and potions, both of which can be used to increase offensive stats. At the lower levels of the prayer skill things are distributed pretty evenly, as there are prayers that boost each offensive stat for 5, 10 or 15%. However, things get a bit odd at higher levels. For a very long time melee users have had the Chivalry and Piety prayers, which boost all melee stats at the same time. These prayers actually boost melee skills higher than the basic boosting prayers, and drain prayer points less quickly than having all three combat boosting prayers up at once.
This imbalance wasn't fixed until the introduction of the Dungeoneering skill, when the Rigour and Augury prayers were made available, offering boosts to either ranged or magic and defence. Boosts which were comparable to the boosts of the Piety prayer. However, there is still one thing that makes these prayers hugely unfair towards rangers and mages: the way they are obtained. To unlock Chivalry and Piety, players have to complete a quest and a minigame. However, to unlock Rigour and Augury, players have to spend huge amounts of dungeoneering tokens, 140,000 and 153,000, respectively. This means that to unlock these prayers, players have to spend at least 70% of the dungeoneering tokens that they would normally use to get their chaotic weapons. I personally think that's an incredibly high price, compared to the virtually nonexistent cost of unlocking Chivalry and Piety.
Herblore isn't much better. While potions are available for all melee skills at relatively low level, ranged and magic potions require very high herblore levels to make, and as such are much more expensive to make and buy. Furthermore, ranging potions are only slightly better than the basic melee potions (offering a bonus of 4 + 10% of the skill level, compared to 3 + 10% for the basic melee potions). Magic potions work a bit differently, as they give a flat boost to the magic skill no matter what the drinker's base skill level is. Regardless, there are super versions of the melee potions, which give far better boosts and are available at lower herblore levels than the basic ranged and magic potions are.
All in all, it's pretty obvious that melee is once again favoured heavily. However, there are signs that Jagex does want to rectify this situation. In recent years they've added ranged and magic versions of content that was previously exclusively designed for melee fighters. Although their intentions are good, they still have a very long way to, and to truly make all three combat styles equal some radical changes are necessary to the way equipment, prayer and herblore work.