Very similar to our Stardew Valley review, reviewing Old School RuneScape (Free) feels like more of a formality than anything else as Jagex has spent the last 17 or so years refining the game into what many fans of super hardcore “classic" MMORPGs like this would define as the perfect example of the genre. Old School RuneScape, or OSRS for short, is one hell of a rabbit hole to fall into. You can get a small glimpse of that in our RuneFest 2018 coverage, but the long and short of it is this: RuneScape is a one billion dollar game that has a global fanbase, holds several world records, and has so much content that you could play the game for quite literally years.
RuneScape was originally released all the way back in 2001, when the gaming world was still figuring out what an MMORPG actually was. At the time the main competition of RuneScape would’ve been Ultima Online and EverQuest, but RuneScape had a major edge in that it was a browser game- Meaning kids could totally play it on their school’s computers. (Which is where a lot of the nostalgia for Old School RuneScape comes from.) Over the years, like any game that is operated as a service, RuneScape has massively evolved. Again, like any game that is operated as a service, these evolutionary steps were not always seen as positive things by players. This dissent served as a vital ingredient in the primordial soup that would become Old School RuneScape.
OSRS launched back in early 2013, and effectively is a modern fork of RuneScape as it existed in late 2007. That alone would only be sort of interesting, but what has me going whole-hog into falling in love with Old School is the way all the changes to the game are made. You know how in any online game patches come along that inevitably nerf things that annoy you, among many other “balance changes?" Well, in Old School RuneScape the whole relationship with the developers and players is flipped. The developers pitch changes to the playerbase, who then vote on whether or not those changes go through. If said vote fails a supermajority, nothing gets changed. I feel like every game should be operated this way, as if the majority of people playing don’t think something should be changed or added, it probably shouldn’t be. Sure, you could get into more elaborate arguments surrounding the drawbacks of design by committee, but still. I dig it.
Old School RuneScape plays a lot like many other MMORPGs because it was one of the bricks in the foundation of the entire industry. There’s a subscription fee of $10.99 a month to play, with options to buy more months at a time to reduce that average monthly cost. For instance, a year is $99.99, or a bit more than $8 a month. There’s also a limited free to play section which honestly I’m not super familiar with because I just immediately subscribed. I have noticed in OSRS circles there’s a bit of pride from being a 100% free player, so take that for whatever it’s worth.
You start off by creating your character, and after a brief tutorial island you’re free to do whatever you want. Goals in OSRS are super fluid, which can be a bit intimidating to new players as you can work towards any goal, skill, item, or quest that interests you. But, once you complete the tutorial there’s a definite sense of, “OK, now what?" Thankfully, I’m not sure there’s a game online that has been powergamed harder than Old School RuneScape. There’s an extensive wiki that features everything from each crafting recipe in the game to a comprehensive guide on doing each quest. There’s also an absurd amount of video tutorials, like this one:
If you’re willing to do a little research, the world of Old School RuneScape really opens up, and it doesn’t take long before you’re just totally lost (in a good way) inside of the game. I’ve been taking the approach of trying not to follow any guides beyond basic “here’s how these things work" kind of things, and have been having a fabulous time exploring a huge virtual world. The mobile client has made things even better, as when I heard RuneScape was coming to mobile, I decided I should start playing it so I could intelligently talk about it. I’ve mentioned this a zillion times before in other similar reviews and our podcast, but when you’re used to mobile gaming, tying yourself to your PC is a tall order- Particularly for an MMO with has a lot of grindy elements.
On the go though, Old School RuneScape is absolutely phenomenal. It’s real easy to hop in, do a few tasks to get some skill-ups, and jump out. The game controls reasonably well too, for a title that was originally very much designed for a keyboard and mouse. Basically, all the mouse input has been translated to touch, with a short tap acting as a left click which does things like move your character or select things, and a long tap acting as a right click which brings up more in-depth context menus. Smaller buttons frame the screen to bring up the various menus to manage your equipment, inventory, and more.
Curiously, my “complaints" with the game are the same as those I had with Stardew Valley: When you’re playing on a smaller device, these touch points can be super tiny which leads to a bit of fat-fingering. This is completely negated on the iPad, but on the up-side, Old School RuneScape is a pretty slow game so there’s not a lot of harm that can be done by missing a tap, it’s just a little frustrating at times.
Also like Stardew Valley, it’s easy to make the argument that the best version of Old School RuneScape is the one you have with you. It’s neat to not necessarily need to set aside time to play a game like OSRS, and instead just playing it on the go in whatever holes you can make in your schedule. It really feels like it flips the MMO dynamic on its head, which has more or less been dominated by the stereotype that you’re playing these games alone, in your basement. Thanks to the mobile client, I was able to work on my fishing and cooking all while drinking a $12 beer at a Florence and the Machine concert last week.
Particularly around TouchArcade, people are always begging for games that have actual depth and meaning to them. For better or worse, mobile has been completely dominated by these wholly disposable game experiences that feel more like eating a snack-sized bag of Doritos instead of anything remotely resembling a full meal. Well, in this analogy, Old School RuneScape is like a whole king-sized Las Vegas buffet. I’ve been playing for weeks now, and still feel like I’m barely even coming close to knowing what I’m doing, which has been really awesome as so few mobile titles seem to offer anything that even feels like any meaningful discovery or character advancement anymore.
If any of this sounds even remotely appealing to you, you owe it to yourself to check out Old School RuneScape. If you set aside some time to actually learn how the game works, and have been hungry for depth in a mobile game, you will not leave disappointed. Better yet, everything you do in game is totally cross platform, so if you find yourself really falling down the Old School rabbit hole, you can just download the client on your Mac or PC, log in, and be right where you left off.
I love that these kinds of totally seamless cross-platform experiences are becoming the new normal, and even if you don’t particularly care for RuneScape, you’ve got to appreciate the kind of thing Jagex is pushing for here: A future where you just play the games you like, wherever you want, with whoever you want, and they all just link up together. That’s something everyone should be excited to see more of.