The year was 2007. I was almost done with high school, and MMOs were the big thing with my gamer friends. By this time, most of my friends had moved on to World of Warcraft, but I was still sticking around the first MMO I ever played, RuneScape. I had played for nearly three years at this point, and would continue to do so for a few years after. As updates rolled by, I never thought I’d be returning to this simpler time, at least in some fashion.
Ten years later, I’ve long since moved on, and so has the game. I go back and revisit most MMOs and other games I played in my younger days, but RuneScape, for whatever reason, has never been one of them. I’ve tried a few times, but every time I do, I feel like the game has changed too much to appeal to my nostalgia, and doesn’t have enough to offer beyond that to keep me there. I heard a few years ago that Jagex had found an old full backup copy of the code from 2007 and had set up some “Old School” servers for members. Apparently, at some point, it was also made available for free-to-play players, which probably would have had me back a long time ago, but whatever. Twitch Prime’s free-thing-of-the-month last month included a month of subscription time to RuneScape and I thought to myself “what the heck, it’s free. Sure, I’ll go poke around Old School for a month. I’m only playing three or four MMOs right now, what’s one more?”
The copy of the Old School code did not, sadly, include characters, so I had to start over with a fresh character. Honestly, though, as much as I miss being able to teleport around the world and kill anything under level 100 without thinking twice, I think I prefer it this way. All of those little noob experiences–killing chickens, mining copper and tin in the Dwarven Mine, getting two-shotted by the dark wizards at the south entrance to Varrock–are part of the nostalgia trip. As I’m wandering around the game, I realize how awful the new player experience really was. They dump you off in Lumbridge after a tutorial that covers about five skills, and doesn’t really tell you where you can go to practice them after the tutorial is over. From there, it’s really easy to die, and when you do die, you lose all but your three most valuable items (by vendor value). There also isn’t a fast or even automatic way to get from place to place. Sure, things aren’t super spread out, but click-to-move gets old after a while. The graphics are awful even for 2007, the controls are functional but awkward, some of the skills are worthless (seriously, who thought “firemaking” was a good idea for a skill? Especially in a world with always-on cooking ranges that a have better chance of successfully cooking stuff?), and those that are useful require more mindless grinding than any reasonable person would be willing to put up with before they can do anything cool. Even combat isn’t that fun; it’s mostly watching your character auto attack the other character, eating food to heal when your health gets low. The map isn’t even available in-game; you have to download it as an image from the website. If I had never played this game years ago and I came across it now, there’s no way I would stay more than an hour or two. So why am I playing it? Because it simply feels like home. I know every corner of this world, and even now I can navigate it better than my home town in most cases. I remember the badly synthesized MIDI music so vividly, and so much of it makes me smile every time it comes on. Also, back in the day it seemed only natural to have to spend large amounts of time doing repetitive tasks, and I think the game would feel somehow cheapened without it.
Old School RuneScape is also a little surreal, since it’s no longer an exact copy of the game I played in 2007. New features have been, and continue to be, added to keep the game fresh. So there are some things that I remember–such as the dungeoneering and summoning skills–that aren’t in this version of the game, but there are also some things that are in this version of the game that I’ve never seen before. It’s like playing a parallel universe version of a game from ten years ago.
This experience gives me a new appreciation for players who are fans of emulator servers for EverQuest, classic WoW, Star Wars Galaxies, and the like (though no sympathy for those who do so against the wishes of the IP holders). I don’t know if I’ll stick around Old School RuneScape, but at the moment it feels really tempting.