It’s clunky, it’s ugly, it has an ancient combat system, its plagued with bots, and it functions on a tick system that was probably made to allow 500 MHz CPUs to act as servers for its player-base way back in 2001. So why is Oldschool Runescape still the best Massively Multiplayer Online game to ever grace the world of gaming?
When compared to some of the more “contemporary” titles like New World and World of Warcraft, there isn’t really anything on paper that sets OSRS above its peers. The aforementioned problems with the game are decidedly worse forms of game design in terms of what players say they want, all the way down to the tick system. That said, I’d argue that giving players what they say they want is probably not in a studio’s best interest at all. In fact, all of these attributes that OSRS sports is something that I can, and will, argue for as a positive in OSRS’s favor. Additionally, these attributes can be weighed against the game’s peers’ alternate form of game design as a way to figure out what happens when developers opt for the modern approach to MMO creation.
First, I’d like to look at the art style of OSRS. The graphics. The big ol’ ugly looking models. To be perfectly honest, I can see where people come from when they say the graphics are a huge turn off to even trying this game. Its not only simple, but to the untrained eye its entirely ugly as well. Simple little characters running around with simple little animations. Disgusting, right? Well, I’m going to ignore the argument that this art style is in any way “charming”. Not because it isn’t charming, because I do find that its grown on me since my childhood, but because you don’t need to argue in favor of something so subjective to make a strong case for this art style working as an asset of OSRS’s design.
When I look at a modern game, I see a product that’s fighting with itself. Often times, the graphics on display is the product of an art team that has to spend months creating what’s in front of the player, if not years. In OSRS’s case, this is time that’s instead spent mostly on the content of the gameplay itself. I don’t know how long it takes to model a new NPC for an OSRS update, but I can’t imagine its more than a month, at the most. But when I look at all of the different models and animations seen in a game like WoW, I can’t help but feel like the prettiness of it all comes at the cost of resources that could have been spent on making the game actually fun to play.
Don’t get me wrong, both OSRS and WoW can be extremely fun to play for different kinds of people. But I can’t help but feel that the differences between the two is that most people actually enjoying taking part in the content that OSRS has to offer, while WoW players are simply conditioned from a bygone era to grind out every expansion that comes out. That’s an opinion that will divide the room, I realize, but its mine all the same. OSRS has content that is its own goal, while WoW has rewards for completing content that usually can’t stand on its own two legs. This is true when looking at a game like New World as well. Great concept, great artwork, absolutely dreadful delivery that only appealed to those players who get satisfaction out of grinding out goals for their own sake instead of actually enjoying the game. I mean did you even try PvP in New World? Ever? Trashimus Maximus, it was.
Tick Rates and Responsive Design
OSRS functions on a tick system, just like any other online game. The tick rate is the rate at which the server of the game updates the state of the things. A game like CS:GO, for example, functions on a 64 tick rate server. This means that every second, the position of players, grenades, and shots fired are updated 64 times. This is essential in a game like CS:GO where things happen rapidly. OSRS, on the other hand, updates it server once every .6 seconds. So its less than a 2 tick rate server, and yet it has fully functional PvP and high skill ceiling PvE aspects. How so? Well, as it happens, the tick rate of OSRS has created an asset for the game in the form of being able to produce heavily controlled content. The developers are able to accurately assess when a portion of the game becomes too difficult for the allotted skill requirements to partake in it because they know down to every .6 seconds when a player will need to respond to a change in the content. 3-tick fishing, Tri-brid PvP, skilling in general, and high level PvE content are all things that benefit from a low tick rate strictly because the developers are smart enough to plan their content around it. With a game like WoW, I’m not going to argue that a higher tick-rate server is worse, because its clearly not. I just don’t think OSRS’s low tick rate is a negative, I think it’s strictly a positive that offers Jagex devs the opportunity to plan content out in a way that no other devs are able to.
The Combat System
On a surface level, even the most inexperienced gamer can understand OSRS’s combat design. Click the thing, you hit the thing, it hits back, repeat automatically. Simple. The thing is, OSRS also incorporates its prayer system into combat fairly quickly into a player’s journey, which means a player is now clicking on a thing and also a prayer book’s desired effect before letting the combat automate. Still simple.
But, you know, OSRS uses positioning fairly often in medium to high level bossing. So pretty soon, one finds themselves in need of clicking the proper prayers, repositioning, using utility items, and getting their hits in whenever they have .6 seconds, or one tick, to spare. The belabored point being that, despite OSRS’s combat looking rather simple at a glance, it has a huge amount of depth that would put many MMO players to task with becoming even half-decent at.
It used to be the case that you didn’t play OSRS for the combat, but with the community’s ingenuity and the devs’ grand boss design, that’s all but changed as the combat is a huge draw for many players. This is to say nothing of the aforementioned tri-brid PvP aspect of the game you can see above, which has players making use of alternate prayer flicks, utility items, weapons, and armor against other players. This means that a player tri-bridding might be clicking 5 times accurately to swap 5 pieces of gear out, two times for prayer switches, and yet another to switch weapons to something that might be more effective against what they believe their opponent will be switching to, all in under .6 seconds, ideally. Then they do it again. When it comes to this PvP, it takes a special kind of talent to master the art. Its something I honestly believe tri-bridding is something that cannot come naturally to 99.99% of people, it takes hundreds, if not thousands of hours, just to become not terrible in.
The Game Itself
The game itself is unlike any MMO out there today. The quests you’d normally find in an MMO like New World, which are obnoxious fetch quests which blend together boringly, are outstanding experiences in OSRS. The writing is witty, the content in quests are unique, and the rewards aren’t just disgusting amounts of XP required to get your next level, but instead one of kind items or access to new methods of playing that completely alter how convenient it is to play a certain way.
The skilling can be click intensive and difficult, or relaxed and AFK, depending on your mood. And the game is built in such a way that, although you’re playing with thousands of other people, you don’t need to interact with them to make your account stronger. The game has the resources required to be completely self sufficient built right into it. This is why many players opt to play as ‘iron’ men and women, to show that they refuse to trade with other people or get help during bossing. Although you could take part in the thriving in-game economy if you wanted to.
Speaking of in-game economy, the market in OSRS is directly tied to the progression of an account. In short, this means that when you go and level a skill like woodcutting, say, you can sell the logs you get from leveling directly into the in-game market. Using the wealth you’ve gained from that, you can buy fishing bait and a rod to train your fishing. Then, afterward, you can sell the fish and buy weapons to train combat skills and get valuable drops. And so the cycle continues. The in-game economy in most MMO’s, which throws early-game content right out the window, isn’t there to be seen in OSRS. Instead, OSRS’s economy is thriving for a level 3 player in just the same way it is for a maxed player because everyone needs all kinds of resources, and all the time.
OSRS is a great game. Go and play it, even if casually. Other MMOs tend to suck and they bore me. Don’t play them, even if casually.