When I first played Runescape I was a snivelling preteen with too much time on his hands. It was the only game of its size and scale I had access to - all it required was a dial-up internet connection and a browser window. As an added bonus, that meant I could play it both at home and in school. Ten years on, despite cataclysmic changes and additions, its unique brand of total accessibility is still going strong in a world where free MMOs are commonplace, and you don’t have to wait for your parents to get off the phone to log in.
Related: speaking of free MMOs, here are some to check out if your Steam wallet is empty.
I recently tried to log in to a very old email account, which I could only do by hunting down an even older login for Runescape. A username can bring back a lot of memories as it happens, especially one like g0ds1ayer94. This saga got me thinking: what’s ol’ Runie like these days? Fuelled by nostalgia, I created a new account and began exploring the fantasy world of Gielinor once more.
In the ten years I've been away, Runescape has gone from a fantasy-themed chatroom to a fully fledged MMO, complete with its own annual festival, a card game spin off and enough content to make 12-year-old me weak at the knees. If you can believe it, you have to actually download the most recent version of the game.
It’s a game that’s maintained many of its players through constant updates and unrivalled audience interaction; log off for a month and you might have missed something the community will be referencing for the next few years.
I logged off for ten years.
In that time, Jagex have canned their old tutorial island, added an entirely new combat system, overhauled the entire game engine five times and filled the game world with roughly 200 new quests. And those are just the biggest changes: Runescape has also received around 650 other feature updates in that time, not to mention innumerable patches and fixes that have also been deployed. The fact that Jagex removed the Wilderness for three years still feels like an insult to a past self - even if I wasn’t playing at that time.
Returning after so much has changed is uncanny, because essentially it’s exactly how I remembered it from 2006. Lumbridge is still there, with its pair of Mischievous Imps still wandering the castle grounds amidst a sea of players barking the same immortal question at each other: “Will u be my gf?” Ten years has done nothing to weather this beast.
In spite of all the updates, slipping back into the same old regime of grinding resources and sprinting to the nearest bank to sell them is seamless.
My experience of Runescape in 2006 was predominantly this: grind for hours, buy some shiny new gear, smash keyboard upon realising my combat level wasn’t high enough to equip it, grind combat levels, equip gear, get killed in the Wilderness, lose shiny new gear, repeat. Every few months I’d decide it was time to start a new account, inspired by some specialist build I’d seen or an inexplicable desire to live a simple life and become some sort of fabled hermit. Honestly, 12-year-old me thought that would be a fun thing to do.
Logging into Runescape is like coming home to discover your parents have gotten a new dog without telling you, and they absolutely refuse to say what happened to your beloved Brassica Prime. At first you might sulk and long for the dog that once was, but soon enough you start to notice that the new dog is gorgeous compared to its haggard predecessor. It does all sorts of new tricks, it has charm and character, heaps of endgame content and doesn’t need to be fed or walked as often.
Where Runescape used to involve offering up one’s hands to hours, or even days, of grinding for piecemeal progress, now it hands out level increases with a regularity that’s hard to stomach if you can remember sinking 20 hours of continuous play into acquiring just half the XP you need to level up.
Out of blind habit, I spend my first hours mining ore, killing cows, burying bones, chopping wood and lighting fires. Pleased with my progress, I put an additional eight hours into boosting my skills. At this point my general impression is that Runescape has just gotten prettier and easier, which wouldn’t be enough to drag me back into its F2P clutches.
What did manage that (I begrudgingly admit) was the number and quality of quests to be completed in RuneScape. Quests are everywhere, and each one is its own foray into a tiny fragment of Runescape lore. They also come in all shapes and sizes, from shearing sheep and running errands to slaying dragons or mounting your own prison escape. There’s even a quest where you take control of a seagull and use it to bomb zombie pirates with bird poo.
Runescape’s tone is joyously light, and with fewer level cap hurdles to leap over you’re free to embrace and explore it without submitting to the grind. Which is great, because Runescape’s quests have never really required you to use skills other than combat, and have usually incorporated puzzles or interactive elements that have more in common with old school point-and-click adventure games than fantasy questing.
Areas that used to be empty are now brimming with NPCs, quests and stories. Every inch of the world has been filled in, or in some cases expanded, in order to incorporate all the characters, enemies and features that Jagex have been busy stuffing into the game for the past decade. The fact that Runescape is an online game is now a bonus rather than its main draw. Jagex could take their game entirely offline and it would still be worth playing.
But that’s the biggest difference between Runescape and its still running Old School Runescape counterpart. Both share roughly the same number of concurrent players, but the way that players interact in each one is very different.
Old School Runescape might only have about 25,000 players at any given moment - hardly a scratch on the numbers it used to reach in 2006 - but its players have known the game for years. They have decade-old friendships there, they know where to hang out, how to interact and almost every talking point the game and its storied history has ever produced. Conversely, many of the inhabitants of Runescape, myself included, are returning players or total newcomers. They wander past each other without commenting, don’t all converge in the same spots for no reason or attend pretend parties in empty attics… they just get on with playing the game.
Runescape is best experienced as a never-ending RPG. There are online experiences to be had there, but the ones I played through were more structured and curated than anything in Old School Runescape. My memories of Runescape in 2006 entirely revolve around interacting with others. I was scammed or lured into PvP zones and killed almost daily because I was promised some gift from a high level player, but as often as players exploited my ignorance there were also countless times that they offered to help me, taking me under their wing in testing boss fights or giving me free gear.
Jagex spent ten years trying to smooth out the rough edges of Runescape’s online interactions to help noobs like me. They created the massive, sprawling Stronghold of Security and filled it with unique rewards just to teach players about online security, they removed free trade to stop new players getting conned into unfair deals, and made it so players could only lose a small amount of loot upon dying in the Wilderness.
The current version of Runescape was essentially made for me. However, while I enjoyed spending a few days bumbling around its world and revelling in its apparent familiarity, it’s done nothing to satisfy the Runescape craving that brought me there in the first place.
Got some fond memories of Runescape? Let us know in the comments below.