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|RPGs, RuneScape Series
It's easy to forget that there's an online gaming world that exists outside of the big-budget, big hype, shiny-boxed titles. One that isn't bogged down by ponderous downloads and annoying patching sessions. Welcome to the world of Java games, a sub-genre that's flourishing just a few browser-clicks away.
While you may know that those little Java games you dabble in to kill a bit of time while surfing can be very addictive, it's unlikely you'll have considered them as a long-term gaming option. So it would probably surprise you to know the Java-based RPG RuneScape, from Cambridge-based developers Jagex, has over 660,000 regular players. That's almost as many as Everquest. The RuneScape world is about to go through big changes as RuneScape 2 approaches its release (although when the transition from prequel to sequel is complete it will still simply be known as RuneScape), which involves, among other things, a huge 3D graphics update.
The Big Time
Before you start turning your nose up at these new screenshots, it's worth remembering that while RuneScape 2 might not be Neverwinter Nights looks-wise, the limitations of Java are very different from what we're used to seeing on these pages. In fact, when the game goes into public beta in December it will be the most accomplished and far-reaching Java game in the world.
Like many Java games, a lot of RuneScape 2 is free to play, and for this you'll get access to a huge world that's a cross between old-school point-and-click adventures like the King's Quest series and RPGs like the Ultima games. There are skills to be learned, quests to be completed, trading, chatting and the usual vanquishing of evil. Subscribers will also get access to even more quests and areas for a very reasonable $5 a month.
The real appeal of the RuneScape world is its portability - you can play it anywhere through a web browser. You don't even have to worry about patches, because they'll automatically be there each time you load up the homepage. Developer Jagex is also hoping to make it feel like a very organic, ever-changing experience. Through its own home-grown 3D engine, they can add new content very rapidly, which is why they're aiming to introduce new quests, areas, skills and mini-games on a weekly basis.
Essentially, RuneScape 2 is all about accessibility, both in physical terms and in its gameplay. It may not be as complex as hardcore RPGers are used to, but Jagex certainly deserves much praise for introducing many advanced gaming mechanics into an area of the gaming world that, until now, has mostly been governed by nothing but Tetris clones.