Welcome back to our four part series on RuneScape's combat triangle. After looking at equipment and other supporting factors last week, we will be focussing on the history of the combat triangle and its introduction in RuneScape 2.
No update to the game has affected RuneScape like the introduction of RuneScape 2 in early 2004. Next to going fully 3D using an early version of the graphics engine that's still used today, Jagex also fundamentally changed the way players fought both monsters and each other. The main reason for this change was the way players looked at combat in the days of RuneScape Classic. Ranged was mostly considered to be a useless skill, and training magic was generally considered a bad idea because it raised your combat level without increasing your damage output, thus making you less effective in PvP situations. Jagex rightfully considered this situation to be bad design, as players actually felt discouraged to train their ranged and magic levels. By changing the way combat levels were calculated, introducing new equipment stats and adding many new types of armour and weaponry, Jagex hoped to encourage players to train and use all three combat styles.
The original combat level formula for RuneScape Classic allowed for two types of characters: fighters and rangers, melee or ranged based. Similarly to the current combat level formula, the player's combat type was determined by which was higher: their combined Attack and Strength levels or their Ranged level, multiplied by 1.5. A player's magic level added to both those combat levels, giving one combat level for every eight magic levels. However, with ranged being next to useless and magic being considered a detriment, virtually everybody used melee.
This little quirk in the combat formula led to a very weird situation where a very large segment of the Runescape population never wore Rune plate mail bodies, the most powerful armour in the game. Because the Dragon Slayer quest required players to use the Telekenetic Grab spell in order to complete it (and earn the right to wear Rune plate mail). The magic levels required to do this meant that a player's combat level was increased by 4. Since combat level determined which players you could attack at any given point in the Wilderness, taking on four extra combat levels was generally considered not to be worth the extra protection the Rune plate mail body offered over its chain mail counterpart.
After the introduction of Klank's gauntlets, which increased WeaponAim and WeaponPower but could only be worn with a chain mail, the number of players refusing to do Dragon Slayer only increased. This was the reason that, with the introduction of RS2, an option was added to the quest to buy the map piece rather than obtaining it through Telekenetic Grab. It was one of the many changes Jagex made to the game to encourage the use of the combat triangle, although it was futile for their intended purpose since magic levels no longer automatically raised one's combat level, which meant that the main reason for not wanting to use the Telekenetic Grab option was already removed.
In addition to the problems with the combat level formula, the equipment options a player had were incredibly limited. There was leather armour, but it provided almost negligible defence bonuses and no bonuses to ranged combat. Robes offered a small magic boost, but players preferred rune armour for its superior defences. What it boiled down to was that every character used runite armour, no matter what type of combat they were using. Jagex sought to remedy this situation with the introduction of RuneScape classic by expanding the available types of leather armour, increasing the magic attack bonus on robes, and giving most armour types penalties for any combat type they weren't designed for.
Offensively, the equipment situation wasn't much better. Until the introduction of the fletching skill, all players had to work with were plain bows, crossbows, arrows and bolts. Even the melee situation was pretty horrible, as there were only two serious options: the Runite or Dragon battle axe or the Runite 2-handed Sword. The choice usually depended on whether you were F2P or P2P, but even in P2P the Runite 2-handed sword still saw a lot of play from PKers, as it had only slightly worse stats than the Dragon battle axe, and they gladly traded off the protection of a shield in return for lowering their combat levels by five, thus making them more efficient PKers.
All in all the combat situation in RuneScape Classic was pretty bad. Players generally only used melee, as they considered ranged and magic either not worth their time or as a detriment to their characters. Furthermore, they were only using two or three different weapons out of the many that were available to them. Jagex sought to change all that by completely rewriting the combat system and the way equipment worked. The introduction of various weapon speeds meant that bigger was no longer automatically better. By adding attack penalties, players were encouraged to wear armour appropriate for their combat style. However, while Jagex has the admirable goal of making all three combat styles equal, they still have a long way to go. It seems like the game's development is still caught in a vicious cycle, because ranged and magic are (considered to be) weaker than melee, player demand for melee updates is generally much higher, and because of this Jagex is much less likely to introduce new ranged and magic updates, which would add more balance to the combat triangle and thus increase the demand for ranged and magic updates.