An Excellent Way To Experience An MMO... For Free!
~Excellent, immersive environments than run on your computer using Java - no download of software required.
~Graphics are pretty good (though not elaborate) and are able to run smoothly without glitching.
~Even the free players (those without paid subscriptions) get plenty to do, and players are never hassled to buy a subscription.
~For those who decide to buy a subscription, the monthly price is fairly low - about $7 a month, in fact!
~Audio and music are very nice and match the areas where they are placed.
~The community is generally helpful and it isn't rare to see a more experienced player helping a new one.
~Open chatting has a fairly good word filter and moderators are constantly patrolling the area - a plus for safety. There are opportunities for activities that encourage safe, fun interaction with other players.
~Players can utilize any combat style they wish - they are given equal stats to start out with.
~There are those members who will bother players without regard to the site's rules - bypassing the word filter, scamming, begging for money or items or harassing is common in some areas.
~The combat system is extremely simple - after clicking on an enemy, no further action can be taken during the fight except to switch weapons or spells or to restore health. This may lead to some annoyance due to the lack of challenge.
~The guides and tutorials available in-game and on the official website can be helpful but often have holes in the aid they can give.
~Free players are not able to access about 50-60% of the features and areas available in the entire game. This can be frustrating to players without the means or desire to pay for them, as references to them can still be found within the free area.
~Busier areas in the game are prone to lag and (depending on the connection) even dump someone off the server without warning.
~Though the system of death is designed pretty well, it can still get fairly annoying.
~Male players are far more prevalent on the site than females, which sometimes leads to harrassment towards females.
The MMO World of Warcraft is widely known among hardcore and casual gamers alike, and it has earned itself a place in the culture of gaming. However, the cost to play it can be steep - the original software costs $50, and the monthly fee is normally around $15 - and some gamers, especially those without those funds in their budget, are often left out. However, there is an excellent alternative that not only has lower monthly fees but can be played for free - Rune Scape. Though you may have to make some compromises in terms of graphics and ease of play, rest assured you'll be pleased with the resulting game. It is at once full of things to do and easy to follow and understand, and the community is excellent and helpful in most respects.
NOTE: In order to make this review relevant to the greatest number of readers, it will not describe any features available only to paying members.
If you've never played an MMO and are worried about how one works, not to worry - the tutorial tells you how to use any control you have and leaves you in an area heavily populated by both brand new players and often-helpful experienced players. You can choose to either make interacting with fellow players a top priority or ignore them all - no one will judge you. You can also decide how you want to play the game - you can begin fighting enemies straightaway (even without a weapon!) or never get around to it. Once again, the great thing about this game is that each player has his or her own goal.
For those of you who are interested in combat, the system is predictably yet disappointingly simple - you run up to (or get attacked by) an enemy and your player takes over for you until one of you is dead or runs away. There's not much to battling in most cases besides restoring your health and perhaps switching out weapons, which makes it grow dull after a while.
However, combat lovers will be happy to know that they can train in whatever combat style they like most - melee (with a sword, axe, battlehammer, etc.), magic (with a staff) or range (with bow and arrow). The game doesn't slant your initial stats in any one direction, and supplies for all three styles are readily available. Finally, there are many ways to train combat - enemies ranging from innocent town dwellers to more sinister foes such as demons or giants. There are even "worlds" (read: servers) dedicated to combat between players - note that these are not places where new players should try to go.
If combat isn't your thing or the urge to assert your dominance over other creatures isn't strong, there are plenty of other things to do. Simply exploring the area could take an entire day, as there's a lot to see even as a free player and your character often runs out of the energy to run, forcing them to a slower pace. You'll also run into creatures that like to pick on players below their combat level, so always be prepared to take care of your health. Some quests you can complete don't involve any aggressive creatures and there are also non-combat skills (Cooking, Crafting, Firemaking, etc.) that can be developed.
Since the game runs on Java and doesn't require any downloading of software, the graphics are understandably simpler than those that require a download. Still, they are fairly nice and run as smoothly as most players would want. Though in some crowded areas the game can lag and (in the case of slower connections) even dump a player off the server, the game generally plays fairly well. There are also some minor glitches with some equipped items and monster drops, but these should not be a major issue.
Along with graphics, the audio is fairly simple. However, the music is both charming and suitable for the area in which it is played and you will most likely not notice the decreased quality. Ambient noises such as birds chirping and water splashing can also be heard depending on location, which adds a nice level of detail to the game. Sure, this isn't the height of what video game audio can be, but isn't playing the game supposed to be the focus here, anyway?
As I've said before, the experienced players on Runescape often lend a hand to those just starting out, and it's easy to get help on whatever you might need to know. However, the community isn't perfect and it also isn't hard to come across less than agreeable players as well. Although there is a wonderful Amazon.com-esque trade center in the game (called the Grand Exchange), some lazier players don't want to make an effort to travel there and will hang around banks begging for food, money and items. Although these players are easy to avoid, others are harder. There are those who will verbally attack another player without any clear provocation or just insult an entire group at large, and some players will follow you around attempting to get you to buy into their scams or false claims. Players also find ways to bypass the swear filter and have been known to have sexually explicit conversations.
As can be expected, a good majority of the players on Rune Scape are male, though there are plenty of female players as well. Both genders are virtually in the same in terms of stats and capabilities. However, some male players have taken to harassing females with tactics ranging from simply immature to downright rude. Being a female on the site with a female character, I have been approached several times by male players who either ask about my relationship status (and then follow me around no matter what answer I give them) or make some inappropriate comment about my appearance (for the record, female characters are not overly sexualized at all). Once, while entering a dungeon, I was told by another player that there were "no girls allowed" and then continued to make rude comments the entire time I was inside.
Don't let this worry you that you'll be fighting off annoying and immature people the entire time you play - there are measures that Jagex, the company responsible for creating Rune Scape, have taken to ensure the safety and enjoyability of their site. There is a whole hierarchy of authority both in-game and out (not unlike the system found here on Neoseeker) ranging from regular players with a 'Report Abuse' button to players given moderator status to actual Jagex employees who issue bans and give warnings to rule breakers. As I've said above, the word filter also works very well and blocks just about any swear word you can throw at it. If all else fails (or if you happen to be under the age of 13 and therefore unable to chat legally online), there is a 'Quick Chat' function with a wide variety of pre-selected phrases for virtually every situation you might find yourself in. This makes Rune Scape a fairly good option for younger children as well as teenagers.
In terms of help you can receive from the official site on activities and features that might be confusing, the staff has done a fairly good job. However, the guides almost never contain complete information on any one thing and seem to rely on the idea that you will get most of your help from other players and NPCs in-game. This is a good idea, though not always the best as some players like to keep their interaction with other players to a minimum. Will your ability to play the game suffer? No it won't, but if you decide not to seek help from any source other than the website you will probably make some mistakes along the way.
Though there is plenty to do for free players, you will eventually hit that wall (either figurative or real - there are both) where you will realize that in order to continue on exploring and playing, you will need to subscribe. Good news: the monthly fee is only $7, which is not bad compared to other MMOs on the market. Bad news: even though you are a free player, you will still sometimes come across references to things you can only do as a paying member although you aren't told that, so you'll most likely try to get places or do things you won't be able to. Though you're never pressured to buy a subscription directly, these little slip-ups seem more than a little deliberate and it's a bit annoying.
Whether you're a paying or free player you'll probably find plenty of things to do - if one thing ever gets boring, you can simply move to another. Therefore, the world of Rune Scape is more than enough to keep a player occupied for quite some time. For the record, as a free player I haven't even explored all the area available to me and still have skills to master. However, for those who resent having to "grind" for their skills... you're out of luck. Though certain items are available to provide experience boosts in certain areas, they can't be found on the market. In addition, there are certain skills that don't really have any "easy" way to master besides grinding.
Though Rune Scape is far from a perfect MMO, it can still be considered serious competition for World of Warcraft in terms of popularity and ease of play and certainly has the edge in affordability. It's an excellent way to get the MMO experience without any sense of being forced into a commitment. Best of all, it requires no download and can be played virtually anywhere, anytime on any computer with Java - no download required. I would highly recommend the site to anyone looking for an MMO with a great community and great value, and to parents looking for a child-friendly place to let their children access.
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