Unless you've had your head in the sand for the past few weeks, you'll know that JaGEx is about to make the largest update to RuneScape since Classic gave birth to RuneScape 2. JaGEx is going to completely redefine the way combat is done in RuneScape. This update is so big they'll be opening up a beta to allow a select group of members to give feedback in order to try to perfect the update before it goes live.
I use the word "try" because in a game as complicated as RuneScape, it is nearly impossible to completely balance every aspect of combat, a subject so broad it virtually defines the game. When JaGEx introduced Dungeoneering, they essentially had the opportunity to start from a clean slate, being limited only by the mechanics of the game.
They had the ability to author the stats of every weapon, define the strengths and weaknesses in each setup, and tweak the monsters below the surface to finalize what players would wear. They also were able to pick four attack styles per weapon. For melee, they came up with eight weapons, only three of which are used regularly in free to play (the spear most common, followed by the 2H or battleaxe).
If JaGEx had balanced melee in Dungeoneering, there would be a situation in which a player might bind any of the eight weapons. The answer to the question, "What is the best Dungeoneering melee weapon," would be "It depends."
The task facing JaGEx right now is many orders of magnitude more complex than balancing the bubble of Daemonheim. Not only do they have to consider player versus monster and player versus boss mechanics, they also will have to consider player versus player, player versus clan, and clan versus clan. They have to consider how each and every weapon ever created will interact in this complex new ecosystem, and how weapons and armors with special effects will fit into the dynamic.
While I seriously doubt JaGEx will change the stats of every weapon, it is conceivable they will introduce new stats and merge old ones. Furthermore, the underlying combat mechanic is almost guaranteed to change, and with those changes come shake ups in the hierarchy of weapons.
With these future changes come questions that will only be answered in time. Will there be a weapon that is used in every circumstance, or will there be more than one? Will the rune scimitar remain the de facto standard in free to play, or will the two hand return as king? Could the longsword finally have its day in the sun?
More broadly, will there even be a triangle? Will melee beat range beat magic beat melee? Will hybriding still be an option? One thing Dungeoneering taught us was that JaGEx was fully behind this complicated game of Rock Paper Scissors. They made it advantageous for a player to pick one style of combat and stick with it throughout a dungeon, and not to mix and match. Will there still be such a thing as a range tank?
How will players combat levels be determined? Will attack and strength be separate skills, or will JaGEx merge the two to put it more in line with range and magic? Will range be separated into accuracy and draw strength; will magic be separated into accuracy and power? Will magic level still play a part in magic defense?
How will this new system of combat affect pure or niche accounts? Will players have to toss their hard work out the window, and start fresh? Will defense play a more prominent role in player versus player interaction, and can the game move beyond just red hits and blue splashes?
Lastly, how can we, the players, measure JaGEx's success? The most obvious (and cynical) measure is the number of players that remain after the update. Another measure, albeit more obscure, is the ratio of players using each style of combat. While difficult to measure, a truly balanced combat triangle would indicate that players chose each style equally. The final question would be between each style, how many different "best" setups are there? Will there just be a rune scimitar for training, and a rune two hand for finishing, or will there be no answer as to what weapon is the "best"?
This overhaul to the combat system promises to be the biggest change to RuneScape as we know it. It can potentially make or break the most central part of the game. Hopefully the new mechanics will compliment the players and draw new audiences. Hopefully the beta testers and JaGEx get this one right. As a free player, I look forward to using the next rune scimitar.