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RuneScape

RuneScape Mobile Hands-On & RuneFest 2017

RuneScape to bring fifteen years' worth of development to mobile MMO gaming.

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British game developer Jagex hosted its annual RuneFest event in London this weekend, bringing together players from around the world and allowing the developers the chance to announce new content and its plans for the future. One of the highlights was the opportunity to try the mobile versions of both Old School RuneScape and RuneScape 3, but if you're looking for a MMORPG that's playable on the go, you might want to keep your eyes on RuneScape Mobile.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, RuneScape has two versions; Old School is a more classic version of the game based on the game as it looked back in 2007, while RuneScape 3 is the most modern version. The Old School mobile game is going to be released later this year, while RuneScape 3 will come to mobile sometime in 2018.

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RuneScape has been in development for over 15 years now, which means that mobile gaming is to receive an MMORPG that is very rich in lore and content. Besides introducing a new audience that's into mobile gaming to RuneScape's world of Gielinor, this mobile version will give current players the freedom of doing some of their daily tasks on the go. The mobile version's biggest target audience is, in fact, the vast group of former RuneScape players that already have accounts but stopped playing for one reason or another. RuneScape has over 250 million registered users and Jagex is expecting to reel some of them back into playing regularly by making RuneScape playable anytime and anywhere. In order to appeal to both current, former, and new players, RuneScape will have to strike the correct balance between nostalgia and modernisation.

According to Matt Casey, product manager at Jagex, the decision to go mobile was also in large part fuelled by requests from the current player community. Jagex is a developer that's serious about involving their player base in the game's development, with a 75% threshold for making changes or adding content to OSRS and RS3 based on player votes. During the main presentations, Jagex announced that its goal is to make the game more social over the next few years and a mobile version with improved possibilities for clan or raid chats fits in nicely with this ambition.

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When we gave the mobile versions of OSRS and RS3 a try we found them to be running smoothly and in fact very suitable for mobile gaming. RuneScape 3 switched to the new NXT game engine last year, which has made it easier to port the game to mobile but will still take some time. There was no stuttering, with frame-rates supposedly over 60 FPS for OSRS and around 40 FPS for RS3 on the high-end phones set up for the demonstration. Whether you're playing on mobile or PC, you'll play on the same servers and for the most part have the same gaming experience. We tested the game on mobile with the current PC user interface still in place, but the developers showed us a promising work-in-progress of a mobile UI that looked intuitive and easy to master. The mobile UI will adapt to the in-game situation with different buttons popping up in combat or when trading with other players. The developers thought that perhaps the most difficult bosses and tasks could best be tackled on PC, but when we asked some of the experienced players trying the mobile version at RuneFest they didn't seem to share these fears.

During our interview, Matt Casey stressed the unique level of humour, character, and deep level of story writing as things that set RuneScape aside from its competition. We found that both OSRS with its classic visuals and RS3's graphics looked very solid on mobile, but competing mobile MMORPGs such as Order & Chaos 2 have an edge over RuneScape on the graphics side. On the other hand, RuneScape's origins as a browser game give us high hopes that optimisation will be very good, meaning RuneScape will be playable on almost any smartphone, including low-end ones. Definitive hardware or software requirements could not be provided, but the aim is to ensure compatibility with as many devices as possible.

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Something else that we feel is very important for mobile gaming is how the game handles data usage and battery drain. Luke Forman, one of the programmers at Jagex who spent the past months developing the mobile version, ensured us that they are committed to providing good optimisation in both respects. In his experience, with the game fully installed (around 100 MB for OSRS and 2 gigs for RS3), data usage should be limited to under one megabyte of data for fifteen minutes of playtime. This makes the game playable on even the most humble data bundle, like other data-friendly games such as Hearthstone. Low data usage coupled with low battery drain would mean you can be slaying, fishing, or trading whenever you have some spare time.

The revenue model won't be changed either, so players will be able to enjoy OSRS and RS3 for free on mobile as well. We think RuneScape mobile has the potential to boost RuneScape's popularity and to any fans of mobile MMORPGs, we certainly recommend giving it a try. Your first opportunity will be later this year when Old School RuneScape arrives on mobile.

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Besides making the leap to mobile, there will be plenty of new content for players to explore in the coming year. Jagex works with polls where the community co-decides which content will be added next, a system they have been emphasising since last year's RuneFest in an effort to more closely follow their community's wishes, and this had a part to play in the announcements.

The major announcements for Old School RuneScape, based on the 2007 version of the game, were about Raids II and Dragon Slayer II. Raids II is new content aimed at providing new high-level group combat content that will give players the high-level loot they're looking for. This follows up on the Raids content that was added to OSRS at last year's RuneFest. Raids II is called Theatre of Blood and will require a new approach to teamwork in order to be completed. Instead of randomised environments, Theatre of Blood follows linear storylines for smaller teams that need to carefully pick a role to play in the team. Dragon Slayer II, on the other hand, will add an entirely new Grandmaster Quest and lets players explore the lost history of the dragon race in both old and new locations.

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Besides adding new opportunities for adventure, the farming system will receive an update and different types of livestock will be added as harvestable resources. Another addition will be Farming Guilds where players can choose different methods to gain resources and XP. Other new content is aimed at adding new areas to look for unique rewards and a rework of the Bounty system, where players can be tasked to kill other players to stimulate the PvP aspect of the game.

For RuneScape 3 some of the changes that were promised last year are taking longer than expected and the developers asked for patience from the community, for example on the bank rework. Luckily, new content will be added in the meantime. A new Master tier of clue scrolls with corresponding loot will be added for high-level players, alongside the addition of magical relics for off-hand skilling, Combat Skilling Pets, and Safe Cracking for the game's Thieves Guild.

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New adventures will await players in a new Pirate Quest Finale called Pieces of Hate too, as well as in a new area called The Lost Grove which will occupy over ten map squares and offers new creatures to fight for loot. This year's new boss monster was revealed to be Solak, which will require even greater teamplay in order to defeat, while a new cooperative game mode called Dimension of the Damned will allow players to explore a parallel universe in which zombies are the main antagonists. Dimension of the Damned will be concluded in October during an endgame event in which only one player will emerge victorious. This year will also see the Novtumberfest event, bringing social celebrations to the Lumbridge area of the game.

During our interview with Matt Casey and Jamie Brooks, product manager and producer at Jagex respectively, we heard that the company will be looking ahead further in time from now on, with more ambitious projects to further enhance the gameplay experience, and in line with this ambition is a five-year plan to overhaul the game's skills. Another direction the developers will be taking is to make RuneScape more sociable with the addition of things like clan chats to enable players to communicate through an app outside of the game. The addition of RuneScape Mobile means the developers will be able to engage their players more actively, for example by adding push notifications about important in-game events or opportunities to collect rare items.

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Casey also told us that the coming year will also see some efforts to bring all of the game areas that were added over the years to the same standard, aiming to "deliver a level of consistency across the whole game, so that the whole experience is as good as it can be". Jamie Brooks added that the past emphasis on boosting the graphics has brought the game to a level the developers and the community want it to be right now, so that now is the time to focus more on adding more consistency between different areas.

According to both, the biggest challenge for RuneScape in the coming years will be to balance the level of game optimisation with things such as the user interface, without changing the game too much, making it unfamiliar for players coming back to the game. With over 250 million registered accounts, RuneScape sees many people returning to the game after not having played for a few years. For Jagex, the difficulty will be to offer both new players an experience they expect based on other games, while at the same time delivering the nostalgia that appeals to returning adventurers.

The Event

With the entire venue at RuneFest transformed into the realm of Gielinor, RuneScape players in elaborate costumes really added to the atmosphere. The purpose of this yearly event is to give both players and developers an opportunity to connect and exchange ideas and to simply enjoy a day full of everything RuneScape.

One of the highlights this year was the chance for players to try out the new mobile version, set for release later this year for the Old School version and sometime in 2018 for the RuneScape 3 version. The phones and tablets were pretty much continuously manned for the entire day with generally positive responses from the players we talked to. Other highlights included Dimension of the Damned for RuneScape 3, where players can play in a parallel universe with zombies spawning outside city walls, which will end in an endgame with one player emerging as the winner in October of this year. As mentioned, Old School RuneScape will be treated to new content in the form of Dragon Slayer II and Raids II, providing new bosses to beat and areas to explore.

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During the RuneFest festivities, players were able to complete small challenges in order to collect skill chips, ranging from throwing wet sponges at an unfortunate man stuck in a pillory to digging for bones inside grave caskets and balancing scales with the right amount of corn. There was also a demonstration of a VR game fighting goblins with a bow and arrow, but apparently this was already showcased last year in pretty much the same form. Alongside goody bags and the collectible skill chips, players were able to get their hands on a variety of RuneScape merchandise to show off at home as well, and outside the main venue was a big tent full of PCs, where dozens of players spent the day playing their game of choice. The game's expansive lore was also touched upon with presentations in support of RuneScape's deep storylines for anyone who was willing to listen.

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As in previous editions of RuneFest, the main events were two presentations on the future of Old School RuneScape and RuneScape 3. Much of it was about improving some of the core elements in the game, including some that were already promised at last year's RuneFest. We were promised an announcement on a new upcoming VR-game as well, but Jon Wilcox, communications manager at Jagex, told us we'll have to hold on and wait a bit longer for its arrival. At present, it's not known when this announcement will be made.

Our general impression was a very enjoyable day for both the players and the developers of RuneScape. Both sides have a passion for the game that often spans more than a decade of time and this was definitely impressive to experience. For Jagex, taking the effort to organise such an event really allows players to be part of the game's development and strengthens a sense of community. The emphasis the developers at Jagex put on listening to what their community wants could be an inspiration to other developers.

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