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    Zak Hughes discusses the highs and lows of one of the most popular MMORPGs in his retrospective reminiscent of romantic RuneScape recollections

    What was the best part of being a kid? Was it the lack of responsibility or expectation? The school days spent with friends? The summer holidays that seemed to stretch on for months? We've all got our own reasons to look back and be nostalgic, but many of us share a common one: RuneScape.

    If you're in your twenties - or perhaps slightly younger - you'll likely have spent some obscene amount of time on the classic MMORPG. It was the after-school activity of choice for so many of us when bad weather forced us inside (though that was never the only reason to play). But why was it so popular at the time? How did this free online RPG, developed in Cambridge, capture the attention and the hearts of so many? And where is it today?

    Just what happened to RuneScape?

    I'll be up-front with you: it's hard for me to write about RuneScape without some level of bias - admittedly based mainly upon my own rosy-tinted nostalgia for the game. In case it isn't perfectly clear by now: I love it. I loved it then and I love the memories I have of it today but I am going to do my very best to look back at it now in the most objective way I can - for a while, at least.

    However, there was one thing that RuneScape had that Warcraft didn't - and that was simplicity. Whilst some enjoyed the complex gaming experience that WoW offered - with its damage spreadsheets and optimal character builds - many didn't want this, or understand nor care about this side of gaming. RuneScape was point-and-click, point-and-skill, point-and-kill, but it did this very well and in an extremely accessible manner. In its early days, the gameplay experience for the training of nearly every skill or the fighting of nearly every monster was little more than 'click on the thing and wait for x to happen', which made the core of the game open to anyone who could work a mouse. Advancing in any one of the 19 skills (upon 2004 release, currently 27) was often a simple task - but it was notoriously an extremely lengthy one.

    For example, to advance the Fishing skill to its maximum level 99, a grand total of 13,034,431XP must be acquired - and considering catching a mid-tier type of fish would fetch around 90XP, just under 145,000 would need to be caught. This was grinding taken to an extreme level, but the obsessive desire to level up one's skills was a staple of the player base - despite the enormous time sink. Indeed, skilling in RuneScape was nothing short of harsh self-punishment, but the sense of achievement when the level-up messages for Defence or Cooking or Woodcutting appeared was sublime, as was the gratification that came from finding a new, faster method of advancing skills. RuneScape always found a way of making you want more of the monotony, no matter the social or mental health implication. It made you a prisoner - albeit one of your own device. Fans of the Civilisation series of games will be familiar with the notion of "Just one more turn", but for RuneScape players this was "Just one more inventory full of lobsters". The economy of the game often meant these skills wouldn't go to waste, either, and hard work - or hard grinding - almost always paid off once the fruits of one's labour were sold. Many who played the game as a kid will likely say they learned a thing or two about the art of the deal from days spent bartering with other players in RuneScape - along with the valuable lesson of "if something seems too good to be true, it probably is".

    RuneScape 2

    RuneScape's combat system operated on a rock-paper-scissors 'triangle' of melee, magic, and ranged attacks - each with strength over one of the other two but a weakness towards another (for example, ranged attacks did little damage against melee-based enemies but the equipment by rangers used had extra resistance to magical damage), but in reality this meant skirmishes were little more than a fight between two stat-weighted random number generators. When two players with identical gear and stats came face-to-face, luck was the deciding factor of who would go down first. Whilst on the face of it there was little input that a player could actually have in proceedings - beyond eating the occasional bit of food to restore health - this simplistic system actually spawned some fantastic opportunities for creativity and skill. The combat was 'tick' based, meaning that a fast finger on a mouse could allow the player to switch out an entire set of gear before the next attack animation and damage calculation began. This became a popular tactic in PvP, as two or even three corners of the combat triangle could be utilised to maximum effect - spawning the creation of countless over-edited ‘hybridding’ montages on YouTube, usually overlaid with Linkin Park.

    It's often said that one never truly 'quits' RuneScape, more-so you take extended breaks. Like many MMORPGs of the early-to-mid 2000s, the game is like a black hole: pulling old players back in with the simplicity and addictive nature of its progression - complete with the time dilation one experiences when playing for a few/lots of hours/days. Even whilst gathering the research for this article I had to resist the urge to get too close for fear of nostalgia taking hold and dragging me back in. Just like The Eagles' Hotel California, "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave". So go and rediscover RuneScape - it really hasn't changed that much - but be careful: nostalgia is a powerful drug.

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