Don't get me wrong; this system is great for grinding out experience by killing monster after monster, but in higher-level combat or PvP, a player's "skill" is determined by how much she knows about the UI, rather than how much she knows about her enemy's weaknesses or which skills to use. This is all about to change, thanks to what is being called one of the largest updates in the entire decade-plus history of the browser-based giant.
I sat down with an interview with Mark Ogilvie, lead designer from Jagex, to find out just how large the update will be and how it might affect players.
Normally, I might be attacking a bunch of scorpions in the hopes of grinding up archery experience. I typically don't enjoy a grind, but with the hotbar, I can experiment with different weapons, spells or items as I fight. The hotbar will bring a new element of strategy to the game without turning it into a twitch-based clickfest. A lot of the culture and pace of RuneScape combat is tied into the slower style. Generally, especially in higher-level combat, the first few hits are the most important. A player might cast a spell or cause a debuff, and then he will wait and watch his autoattack do the work. Occasionally, he might fire off a special attack. In other words, combat starts off fast but continues at a more sluggish pace.
The developers want combat to feel more heroic, so giving players instant access to whatever they need during a fight will help change the pace. As the recent developer blog stated, "That means making it more about mastering techniques, rather than navigating interfaces at speed." True skill, according to Ogilvie, comes from knowledge of one's enemy and knowing what to use.
I was happy to hear that Jagex is not attempting to turn RuneScape into a completely different game. Most of the players have been with the game for a long, long time. Those players want more high-level content, of course, but every player would like a more streamlined game. That streamlining doesn't mean easier, but rather it opens the game up to more strategic fighting. Will the devs pull it off? An upcoming beta will let them find out.
Right now, those accepted into the combat beta have received a clickable invitation for the summer's beta in their backpacks. How will the beta work, exactly? Being that there was really one other event that was similar to this one -- the switching of classic RuneScape to the version we know today -- it's good to know how to participate in this beta. When it is announced, there will be many, many beta servers that a participant can log into. The game will make a cloned version of the current character, but the events happening to that character on the beta server will not affect the player's "real" character. What happens on the beta server stays on the beta server.
The developers will slowly add on more areas of the game to test and will pay attention to the forum posts, Twitter and Facebook notes from players. According to Ogilvie, if the majority of players are dissatisfied with what is happening, he will switch gears or rethink the design. That's the nature of making an MMO; you have to adapt as fast as possible to what your playerbase wants.
In a surprising turn of events, Ogilvie let me know not only that fantastic new animations will be added to combat (things like transformations and fire eruptions!) but that critical hits will start to play a role. A critical hit will alert players when their weapons or abilities do extra damage and will be reflected in larger versions of those floating combat numbers we're are all familiar with. Critical hits can change how players pace their combat and how they react to being hit with something like a critical. While many MMOs already have criticals, it's important to note that this will be yet another thing that will change how combat is done in RuneScape.
I'd like to thank Mark Ogilvie for taking the time out to not only talk the new combat changes but give me the exclusive news about critical hits. I can't wait to see how different combat feels and how convenient that hotbar will be.
Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.