Versus series: Runescape VS Runescape Old School

Hey, would you look at that? I’m back in the metaphorical saddle with another contest. Just as with the battle between Fallout Shelter versions, this contest began on my phone. I found Runescape Old School on the Google Play store, and had been playing a few weeks before a random quest sent me looking for the wiki. It was then that I found out the game was also on Steam, and from there, I found Old School side by side with the “newer” version.

I played both on alternating days at first, though often one or the other got extra attention because I became focused on a certain goal or quest. Unlike previous Versus entries, the question in this case was never “Which is better?” This is because both are fun, through often for different reasons. No, this time, the question was, “which version would I rather pay for a premium membership?” That being the case, it’s not even a tough decision. In Texan dialect, this would be described as a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest. That’s how uneven it is.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind: when a formerly paid MMO experience goes Free To Play, they have a lot of options about how to entice new players into parting with that monthly fee. The best examples I can offer for this are Anarchy Online and Ryzom. With Anarchy Online, all of the base game is free, but if you want access to guilds or the two very fun expansions, then you have to pay up. I played for months without spending a dime, but those expansions were so tempting that I went in for a six month pre-paid block, and I never regretted spending that money.

With Ryzom, which is now a fan-supported effort, I just got started playing it again after being away for many years. I’m actively considering dropping 30 Euros for a year of paid service, and I haven’t even left the tutorial island yet. This is because all of the game is available to me, but paying for memberships means I’d get extra XP to level up faster, access to an apartment to stash my stuff, and a pack mount to carry tools and materials for me. It’s a good deal when I consider how much fun I’m already having with the game doing the starter missions for each skillset.

That why when it comes to this entry in the series, Runescape Old School is the big loser because it holds a whole lot of stuff hostage, constantly reminding you that as a filthy FTP plebe, you don’t deserve even some of their basic features. Compounding this are a number of other factors that the newer version changes or gets rid of altogether to make for a smoother experience for new players.

Let’s start with the tutorial area. In Old School, the blacksmith introduces players to both the mining and smithing skills. After mining copper and tin and smelting them into bronze bars, players are tasked with making a bronze dagger. Then they move on to the combat tutorial, where the next instructor claims the dagger is worthless and gives out a bronze sword and a basic shield. But let’s say that like me, you thought, I’ll make a sword and armor before moving on. Well the game says, “No, you can’t do that in the tutorial.” Even after you leave and hit the mainland, none of the other bronze items are accessible until after you craft around a dozen daggers. Then each item is drip fed at a painful rate. Players can’t even forge bronze armor for legs until after gaining access to iron smithing, which starts the same slow grind to unlock items.

BUT to even accomplish this new grind, players have to walk all the way to another town, past a group of high level Dark Wizards who can and will kill them in one or two attacks. Outside of this town is the first mining location for iron, which must be carried to the bank because the player backpack only has 28 spaces, and many of those will be filled with tools, spare weapons, and food for healing. Oh, and did I mention there’s a mugger patrolling the mining site looking for noobs to kill?

Once the player has enough iron, they have to walk to another town past some mid-level barbarians, who will turn aggressive unless the player has sunk time into grinding up their combat levels. Here at the smelter, they discover that iron ore can fail to make iron bars at an alarming rate. I’ve gone to the smelter with 18 spaces of ore and returned to the bank with six iron bars. Yes, it’s that bad.

But wait, we’re not done. Players must then walk back to the second town to find an anvil to smith with. They can’t go back to the starting town because that anvil is only capable of smithing bronze weapons for the stupidest of reasons. This means for every new material unlocked, a whole new layer of bullshit gets added to the already laborious process.

Let us return to the tutorial area, this time for the newer game. For the player who asks, “Can I craft armor?” the answer is, “Sure, make a full set of bronze armor if you like.” If the same player decides to skip all the little weapons in favor of a two-handed sword, they can do that too. This freedom means that in the combat tutorial, they will straight up wreck the giant rats and be on their way to the next step in a few seconds.

Every level of mining and smithing is just as easy to access. Level up mining by ten levels, and a new material is unlocked. Remember the issue with iron failing to smelt? Doesn’t happened here. Additionally, one of the first things the game gives out is a tool belt, so even though players still only have twenty-eight spaces in their backpack, tools no longer take up those spaces. Then the players are told that if they want to work on mining skills, they can smith an ore box that will store up to 100 ore samples, further freeing up space and making trips back and forth less frequent. As new materials are unlocked, the ore box can be upgraded for a reasonable material cost, and it’s still backwards compatible with lesser quality ores. Lastly, every item is unlocked to smith right at the start, so there’s no need to grind daggers just to make a helm.

Then there’s the ore and bar banks. When players get to the smelter, they can press a button to bank all their ore samples at once. From there, they can decide to smelt some bars, or they can just go back to the mine and keep pulling ore. Once they do smelt bars, they can carry them to the forge and bank the bars with the same options to make an item, or go back to the smelter for more bars. Both activities offer XP in smithing, so even before a single item is made, players can level up by smelting and banking materials.

The newer game does add an extra step to smithing at the forge, where larger items may cool while being worked on the anvil and must be returned to the forge to reheat. But instead of being annoying, it kind of adds an extra layer of immersion that I rather liked.

Let’s look at another skill, cooking. Both games start you off by making a campfire and tossing raw meat onto the fire, and both games start off with around the same ratio of edible to burnt meat. But in Runescape Old School, almost every time players level up, they will get a message like this: “Paying member can now make three new recipes.” Non-paying members get nothing. Oh, every once in a while, they might get offered a crumb, like a different meat to roast, but it isn’t until level 25 when they get access to stews. By the way, stews burn at about the same high rate as iron fails to smelt, and in both cases, players don’t get XP for failed attempts. What this creates is an artificial inflation of grind times, and between it and the constant reminders that I as a non-paying player don’t deserve anything new to try out, I found this to be a recurring source of frustration.

Meanwhile, the newer game regularly drops new recipes for both paid and non-paying players. The first recipe I sat up and got excited for was meat pies, and it was all quite involved. I had to first mine some clay, soften it with water at a well to get soft clay, and then take that to the pottery wheel and kiln to make pie pans. Each round of cooking this recipe thus offers XP in mining and crafting. Once I have pans I have to go kills some cows or chickens (XP in combat and health) cut down a tree to make a fire (XP in woodcutting and fire making) and cook the meat. (XP in cooking) Next, I have to craft up some jars, go harvest wheat, and grind it at a mill to get flour. (Harvesting and making flour generates no XP in any skill, though, so that’s a bit of a bummer.)  Taking buckets to a well or water source, I combine water and flour to make pie dough, add the dough to the pans, add the cooked meat to the raw crust, and carry all these raw pies to a stove range to cook them. They can still fail to cook properly, but the burn rate is less frequent than in Runescape Old School, so their high cooking XP for each successful pie means it’s possible to level up cooking even faster. To compare, I’m level 26 in Runescape Old School, and 38 in the newer version. And yeah, it’s a complex process just to make pies, but it feels accurate to an actual cooking process instead of just combining random items to suddenly get a completed dish.

I know this is already getting long-winded, but I want to point out combat in both games, because lots of y’all are bound to want to engage in a bit of digital monster slaying, right? Right, so in both games, I spent a lot of time grinding to get both characters to the same combat level. The newer game made this easier because the starting town is geared toward learning to fight with various weapon classes. New players might go with melee, or archery, or magic. In all cases, the starting adventure will have players kill some low-level mobs before taking on their first boss. They will probably be like me, reaching the end of that boss fight with a sliver of health left, and excited for more battles of that level. Well in short order, I found more small dungeons in neighboring towns, and I fought two more bosses, winning and getting a goodly amount of combat XP in the process.

New levels in the newer game unlock combat skills that can be triggered manually, or left to the game to automatically trigger. An early defensive skill will channel all the accumulated “adrenaline” from a fight into healing the player, so instead of wasting food, players can focus on making more progress into the dungeons. Finally, higher combat levels will mean players will be dishing out lots of damage. I frequently got critical hits of 350 HP on enemies, killing them in just a few swings. That felt satisfying, especially when the first swing might only be 80 or so, and then BOOM! Super critical! Aw yeah!

Over in Runescape Old School, even having a combat level of 32, with attack, strength, and defense all at level 28 each, combat is a slow affair. It goes zero, zero, zero, zero, one HP taken from the enemy; zero, zero, zero, two HP taken from the player; zero, zero, zero, oh! Two HP taken from the enemy! Only 15 more hit points to go.

HP does regenerate, but it’s so damned slow that you can get kicked for being AFK while waiting to recover. So you might eat some meat to recover faster, only to get back into the same slow slog. I haven’t seen a boss yet because every quest I’ve done is just fetch quests of the worst sort. Go to City A and fetch an item. Go to City B to get another. In City C, trade the second item to get a dye to recolor the first item. Take that item back to the quest giver, who says, “Ugh, I hate that! Go do all the same steps again, but bring back the same item in a different color!” And that’s a real quest, and you have to do it three times for very little XP or monetary rewards. It’s all a colossal snore, and real combat with epic bosses feels hopelessly locked behind weeks of grinding against trash mobs.

So yeah, there’s no real competition this time around, because the question is which game would I rather spend money on to get access to the “good stuff?” The newer Runescape promises boss fights and raids, more recipes added to the already generous offerings for me as a non-paying player, more materials to smith with, and special epic weapons and armor. I can have pets to summon, access to guilds and an apartment, and all kinds of neat goodies.

What do I get with Runescape Old School? The same grind, but with extra recipes unlocked, and access to what should have been free skills, like fletching arrows or training agility. I’d still have to grind through each new material just to make a freakin’ pair of pants, and I still wouldn’t want to fight any real monsters or bosses without more minion grinding because paying to play doesn’t make combat any less of a slog.

I’m not saying Runescape Old School isn’t without its charms. After all, I’m playing it on my PC and on my phone. I wouldn’t bother with either if I hated the game. But if I had to choose which version to plunk down eleven Euros a month for, Runescape Old School just doesn’t have a chance. It comes off as stingy, petty, and even a little bit cruel to non-paying folks. It’s a case of catching more flies with honey than with vinegar, and the newer Runescape is a honey pot brimming with promises of epic adventures and epic loot. So yeah, that’s going to get my wallet open a lot faster than “Members can now cook fishing bait, brew Dwarven Stout, and bake fish pie, and you can go fuck yourself, plebe.”

That’s it for this entry in the Versus series. I hope you enjoyed it, and I’ll see you next time for…drum roll, please? Ryzom VS Runescape VS Anarchy Online. That’s a whole lot of MMO territory to cover and grind through, so maybe don’t expect that until next month at the earliest. Until then, happy gaming, y’all.