RuneScape was the first MMORPG I ever played. Little did I know that this relatively small game, programmed in Java, would go on to be one of my first real obsessions in life. While the game seems rather alien to me now, I fondly remember the Saturday mornings I spent mining and selling vast quantities of coal. I remember when they introduced armor with colored trimming around the edges, and I remember when they introduced the ability to dye capes. I waited, along with thousands of others on my server, clicking relentlessly on the dye merchant because she could only talk to one player at a time. I spent six hours clicking on her only to find I had the wrong ingredients. I am not a smart man.
Regardless of where RuneScape is now, there is no denying the legacy that Jagex has created with its browser-based MMORPG. Even today, when most MMORPGs style themselves in various degrees after World of Warcraft, RuneScape is a very unique MMORPG. But what if you aren't the biggest fan of RuneScape anymore? What if, like me, the game has transformed so drastically that you're just no longer interested in it as much as you once were? Are there any alternatives? Luckily, there are! Here are several games that remind us of RuneScape.
I would never call RuneScape a "sandbox game" because, in actuality, it is missing a lot of the telltale aspects of basic sandbox games. But, given how different RuneScape is from the rest of its contemporaries in the MMO genre, it tends to feel like a sandbox. Now, Albion Online is an actual sandbox game, but there are enough similarities that fans of RuneScape will absolutely want to keep this one on their radar.
First up, just looking at screenshots of the two games it is easy to see how similar they are. While RuneScape is browser-based, Albion Online is made using the Unity engine. However, the result is that both games share a vibrant and simplistic art direction. But the similarities go much deeper than just the aesthetic.
Like RuneScape, Albion Online is a game all about figuring out what you want to do and pursuing it. You're not caged by any overarching story or linear progression that forces you to grind to the maximum level. Instead, Albion Online gauges the power of a player largely by what equipment they're wearing. While there is a branching tree that you can use to unlock various bonuses towards certain activities, much of your worth is derived from the gear you have equipped and what abilities are crafted into the gear.
The result is that Albion Online is a very flexible experience that, like RuneScape, rewards players who aren't afraid to just dig in and get messy. Albion Online doesn't force you to become a warrior if you'd rather be crafting, and every pursuit is designed to be equally satisfying.
Another aspect that RuneScape fans will likely relish is the return of full-loot PvP in certain zones. Dying in any one of these areas means you drop every piece of equipment on your character, a consequence that will always liven up the experience and give players a good reason to constantly be working to obtain the best gear.
Unfortunately, as great as all this sounds, Albion Online isn't available yet. There is a closed beta you can buy into, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it just yet due to the fact that there will be a character wipe between it and the full release. If you can stand to wait, it might be best to sit it out until it arrives on PC and mobile devices in late 2016.
Look, I'm sorry that I keep suggesting MMORPGs that aren't fully released, but if anything that just goes to show how many exciting things we have to look forward to! Project: Gorgon should absolutely be one of them. Developed by a team that has quite the lineage with MMORPGs (they helped develop Asheron's Call 1 and 2). Project: Gorgon is an attempt to resurrect what made the genre so enticing to begin with.
One aspect of RuneScape that remains largely unparalleled to this day is the excellent quest system. Instead of rote and dime-a-dozen quests, RuneScape offers really deep and rewarding adventures for players to embark on. Project: Gorgon also manages to capture that same lightning in a bottle.
Instead of harvesting boar livers for marginally better gear, Project: Gorgon features a complex "favor" system where every NPC in the world has an opinion of you that you can raise or lower by tackling certain tasks. There are no quest markers or easy to parse text to push you to the next objective, either. Players will need to use their head and pay close attention to the world.
Exploration is key in Project: Gorgon, and if you're tired of MMORPGs where there never feels like anything new or exciting to discover, Project: Gorgon will absolutely offer something worth getting excited about.
The visuals might be on the wrong side of the millennium, but if you're wanting an MMORPG that doesn't hold your hand and isn't afraid to toss out the playbook, Project: Gorgon is worth your time. It will soon be entering into a closed development phase that requires buying into, but the fee is relatively small and worth investing in. If you're quick, you can jump in now and experience it for free and decide if it's worth the cost.
Shards Online is something else entirely. Instead of being a traditional MMORPG (even by RuneScape's standards), it's more of a platform for you and the people you play with to build their own. Each player controls their own "shard" of the universe, where they are free to design and tweak the rules of the game to their own ends. Players are free to enter your shard and experience the content you've designed specifically for them, just as you're free to enter theirs.
Beyond that, Shards Online promises a ton of things to do in the game. You can tame creatures, craft your own house, or work on training any number of skills. Like RuneScape, there seems to be plenty of pursuits to distract you instead of the regular level grind.
Aesthetically speaking, the two also share a lot in common. The graphics are simple, yet much more refined and inviting that RuneScape's, which have been circling the drain for years now. Monster and world designs look great, and hopefully we'll have even more power to use them in interesting ways as we work to create our own shards.
Shards Online is still under development, but the project is so ambitious it's hard to go a day or two without having to tell someone about it. While the connection to RuneScape is more felt through the commonality of both sharing a top-down camera angle, there is plenty of potential for Shards Online to offer that same unique experience that RuneScape built its reputation on. The only difference is that, with Shards Online, it's up to the players to craft it!
Realm of the Mad God
Okay, this is one of my more out of left field suggestions, but just stick with me here. What I love about Realm of the Mad God is that the game is just so perfectly tuned to sitting down for half an hour and having an excellent time. As far as MMORPGs go, Realm of the Mad God is incredibly simple. You play as one of several different classes, but gone are the cumbersome hotkey bars and overwhelming amount of choices, instead you have a single attack and some spells that you can pick up as you go.
What makes Realm of the Mad God so compelling is the fact that the entire game is built around permadeath. When your character inevitably bites the dust, you start over with a brand new one. For an MMORPG, that might be terrifying, but Realm of the Mad God is built to make these losses only sting so much. That said, the longer you stay alive and the stronger you become, the more intense every encounter begins.
Really, Realm of the Mad God doesn't share all that much in common with RuneScape. But the two games are complementary in the way that both have always felt great for short play sessions and for being incredibly addictive. Where RuneScape offers a variety of skills and ways to play, Realm of the Mad God has a laser focus on making a character, getting them equipped, and battling monsters until you eventually die. It's a rewarding cycle and one that you should absolutely try at least once.
RuneScape exists in a pretty untapped market of MMORPGs. Where most have chased the popularity of World of Warcraft in some fashion, RuneScape is doing something completely different and, judging by how high up it consistently appears on website like Twitch.tv, I'm inclined to think it is working. While I might be estranged from what it is now compared to what I loved about it way back when, there's no denying a massive audience adores it.
That said, do you have any suggestions for games that come close to tapping into that rich RuneScape vein? Let us know in the comments!