Almost five years ago, a skill was released which radically altered the way many of us play the game. This was, of course, the Construction skill. I see it as a precursor to the updates of the following year and a half, a period of great change for the game which altered it to the degree of being almost unrecognisable. Construction was likely the first update that brought not only breadth of content, but also depth.
Not only did it offer groups of people focal points to assemble in private – be it to chat (particularly difficult in large groups before the clan channel was introduced) without interruption or to fight, the player owned house also brought with it depth and customisability on a wider scale than seen previously.
Prior to this, customisation was limited to the essentials; attire, facial complexion, hair, and weaponry – all of which are on your avatar. The dawn of Construction gave players almost total freedom to customise this home which, because it was indirect (ie not part of their avatar itself), was a less pressing issue. Construction is entirely optional, but for those who choose to build a home, they have the choice of what to build where and how to furnish it. Only the fact that all furniture fits within a given space in a room – likely a logistical choice – prevents it being totally customisable.
As previously stated, however, half a decade has elapsed since then and, in my opinion, the standard of skills released has progressively declined. All skills released since – Hunter, Summoning and Dungeoneering – pale in comparison not only to their predecessor, but also to other, older skills.
Hunter, released just a few months later, was not awful. Though it did not offer quite the same innovation as Construction, the premise was unique and well executed, and though slow to start, Hunter is a skill which becomes progressively more enjoyable. Yet it is an example of adding breadth over depth (albeit more fun than later attempts to add more content), and the only downside is that Jagex have pursued this approach in later skills, which has proven a misinformed idea.
Summoning came two years after Construction, and failed to follow in its footsteps. The latter went down the route of increased interactivity and customisability which is, in my mind, the right one; in the modern games industry, interactivity and freedom is becoming an increasingly important part of gaming. Regardless, Jagex went with tradition, and opted to design a skill which adds little to the game.
True, Summoning affects combat; fighting alongside a familiar is a different experience to fighting solo, but it’s not a particularly enthralling one, nor does it add depth; only breadth. Aside from combat, Summoning adds little to the game. It’s not helped by the fact that it’s slow to train, while Construction is quick (if expensive).
Whereas I see Summoning as a poorly made skill, I do not even consider Dungeoneering a skill. It’s as if Jagex spent the two years in-between the release of the two skills trying to think of a skill, but found themselves unable to do so, and so made a sort of pseudo-skill which has absolutely no depth, as well as being dull and futile.
Dungeoneering is featureless; it is lost between the puzzle-like elements of quests and combat, with cooperative benefits of doing so resembling boss monster encounters. It belongs to no category and is a characterless feature added only to satiate demanding, shallow customers. Many players are also excluded because it depends on other skills, meaning only relative all-rounders can truly level highly. It is always telling of a skill’s popularity and/or difficulty when it only requires level 30 to reach the high-score list.
To us consumers, it’s also patronising to assume that we will be awed and satisfied by superficiality; we do not ask for simply ‘more content’, but ‘better content’ and ‘fresh content’. Perhaps Jagex needs to concern itself less with quantity, and more with quality, when it comes to releasing features, but that is another, equally worthwhile, discussion altogether.
If Jagex is going to follow its own trend, then 2012 should be the next time we see a new skill. If they follow their own trend, it should be worse than Dungeoneering, in keeping with the decline in quality we’ve seen since Construction was released.
I believe Jagex is struggling for ideas. The original skills (all combat skills, fishing etc), aside from being MMO mainstays, all had some basis in reality. Fishing, after all, exists in real life. The moderate success of Hunter was that it stayed close to life. Summoning, the first skill to deviate, failed miserably, and Dungeoneering is as far removed from reality as it is from being enjoyable.
Seeing as Jagex seem incapable of making something decent from the ground up, why not return to reality as the basis for the next skill? After all, there is still much untapped potential for a skill befitting a fantasy game which Jagex has yet to touch. At the forefront of my mind is Archaeology, perhaps the most inventive skill idea I’ve yet seen, and the brainchild of one of our own forum members.
In its three years of existence, the Archaeology Skill thread has slowly gained supporters; when the list was last updated, in August 2010, it had over 300. Now, I’d say it’s got a minimum of ten more. Feedback to the idea – meticulously devised and written by Outsanity, including a prospective skillcape design – has been almost unanimously positive in our community, and I imagine such a response would extend to the players as a whole.
The Archaeology skill would need a whole article of its own if I were to go into detail. To see all of the logistics, planning, and designs for the skill, the eponymous thread in our own forums makes for a fascinating read. However, I shall say this about Archaeology; the premise is a superb balance of interactivity and content. By interactivity, I do not mean it in the customisation sense – as per Construction – but in the sense that there are (as the thread makes clear) a whole host of dynamics all relating to this central skill, similar to different Fishing methods but more diverse; the skill enables players to excavate a variety of dig sites and fissures, set up a private dig, or enter ancient caverns, whilst keeping them on their toes by including archaeological dangers which could even result in death. The ability to summon dinosaurs using prehistoric remains is a marvellous idea which goes some way in validating the abysmal Summoning skill.
The best way for you to understand what I’m talking about is to read the thread. If released, I’ve little doubt that the Archaeology skill would become the favourite of a great many players. For not only is the plan itself detailed, creative and brilliant, but the general concept fits perfectly into the setting of our game. In an ideal world, Jagex would see an opportunity in this and 2012 would become the year of Archaeology. Over the years, Jagex has proven itself to be rather mercurial in its actions and, while the cynic in me expects another disappointingly dull skill, I retain my hope that Archaeology – or something similarly appealing – might one day see the light of day.