Dinosaurs are coming! Hands on with RuneScape The Land Out of Time update

LOOTosaurus Rex.

You know what’s cool? Dinosaurs are cool. These beasts have fascinated and confounded scholars for centuries, but it’s really in the last 50 years, and especially since Jurassic Park that they’ve been thrust into the mainstream consciousness. 18 years after the launch of MMO RuneScape, Jagex have finally twigged that dinos are great and, with the Land Out of Time update coming this month, are bringing them into their fantasy world.

But was there another motivation? There’s a bit of rivalry between Jagex and fellow Cambridge studio Frontier, who released Jurassic World Evolution last year. Obviously they’re in very different genres, but did that factor in?

Laughing as he replied, Lead Designer Dave Osborne admitted, “I mean, it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind, but I know that at one point we were thinking about a Jeff Goldblum style heaving chest emote, but we thought we probably can’t go there, and not just because of all the Jurassic Park references.

“I really want to say some things about future content we’ve got planned… but yeah, it was a little bit on our mind!”

For lapsed players, and I know there’s an awful lot of people in their mid-20s to 30s who lost countless hours to the game while at school, coming back to RuneScape on the allure of dinosaurs might be part of Jagex’s plan, but there’s also a bit more to it than that. Land Out of Time gives them the opportunity to subvert expectations, adding a whole new island, adding living dinosaurs instead of the expected bones of where players have known Fossil Island exists in Old School RuneScape, and kickstarting some new story arcs.

Dave said, “Players are doing what you’d expect them to, actually. They’ve already got the corollary, they’ve already got Fossil Island [in Old School RuneScape], and so they’re expecting fossils!”

Project Lead on this expansion Kevin Grantham added, “I think one of our subversions is how we designed the dinosaurs. We didn’t want it to just feel like ‘real life’ dinosaurs plopped into the game. We wanted to mix up what they looked like so they feel like they belong in the RuneScape universe.”

And it’s true, after landing on the beach of Anachronia and following a narrow path with some suspiciously large footprints, the expeditions that set out from Varrock is confronted by a huge and surprisingly colourful dinosaur. As they squabble over whether to stand still, to attack or what, a native character runs in telling them to just run away.

Setting up a new base camp and venturing out to explore from there, you’ll come across a variety of different beasts big, small, and gigantic, but they’re universally colourful and have some more interesting designs than found in most popular media, drawing inspiration from insects. So sure, there’s a T-Rex dinosaur, a Stegosaurus, but they’ve been given a bit of a twist.

Building up your base camp will be a key part to the new island, and so there’s the light management exercise of sending out workers to collect the resources necessary to built lodgings, a spa, and more. All of this will feed into your time on the island, giving you various buffs to help in the other tasks.

“The base camp, for the most part, is going to help you out on the island,” Kevin explained. “So it’s buffs that increase damage and XP, all the nice things that players love. we also have Totems as well, these ancient relics that you can discover on the island, and once you’ve put one together, they have these time-saving elements to them that can leak out to the wider game world.”

So, of course, a lot of players are going to want to go out and hunt some dinosaurs, right? Well for those players out there, there’s four dinosaurs to hunt down and fight if you’re deep into the endgame of RuneScape, but there’s also the much more interesting Vile Blooms, which are plants that you’ll battle with for their resources. Interestingly, while there will be found at certain points on the island, you can also just plant a seed that you’ve earned from a previous encounter and do battle wherever you are.

But that’s not the only way to battle dinos. Dave said, “We’ve got to be careful that some players will hear about Land Out of Time, see the big dinosaurs and think, ‘Well, I want to take them down!’ So that is why the Slayer component is there, where there are big creatures and you still get to live that dream of just going after them, but Big Game Hunter is about dinosaurs that are just too big, that you could not feasibly take down, even as the World Guardian. It’s all about what we can bring to the game, and non-combat skilling didn’t have that top-end strategic, high-risk gameplay. This brings a little bit of that to the game.”

Kevin added, “A large proportion of our players are skillers, instead of traditional combat players, so this was a way for us to offer that intensive gameplay that’s probably been lacking for a while. So they get these encounters, but they also get to roll for some of the really good loot in the game.”

“It’s the dopamine rush,” Dave continued, “and as a skiller, you don’t really get the same feeling of loot in the game compared to having things just flying out of creatures! You don’t get that for mining a rock or cutting down a tree!”

It’s great to see Jagex catering to different styles of character and player like this. Big Game Hunting is more of a stealth action puzzle than outright battling, but the pressure is just as high, even without the possibility of getting chomped on. At certain points on the island you stumble into an arena where you can lure these extra-large beasts and try to take them down using traps. As they stomp around, you need to avoid being within their area of detection as you collect resources, drain frogs of their poisonous venom and then set up ballistas and a pressure switch to bait and take down the dinosaur.

While it’s great to have, I couldn’t help but feel that I was also battling the controls. RuneScape is still a mouse-led MMORPG, but when I heard Big Game Hunter, I was expecting a little more of the action of Monster Hunter. Additionally, outside of needing to figure out which frogs are most poisonous, the encounters are all the same. Still, you get to earn some of the highest tier loot from this, crafting a suit made up of dinosaur bones and skins.

It ties in nicely to a, perhaps slightly intentional acronym. “Yes, we were aware!” Dave laughed when I mentioned LOOT. “Players use acronyms all the time, they are efficiency gamers and try to shorten things down. I hope people just remember the origin of LOOT and not where it’s ended up!”

Also rewarding non-combat players is an island-wide agility course, intended as a kind of string of shortcuts through the island, which offers a lot of experience for the Agility skill as you use it. It’s split into lots of smaller sections, so you can hop on and off at plenty of places and explore the different biomes found on Anachronia, but it almost blends in a little too well into the scenery. The first time you try to do it you’ll get a little lost, but then I guess that’s part of the reward that it offers to long term players, giving you a very literal gameplay loop to learn and speed through.

Perhaps most exciting is what Anachronia and Land Out of Time mean for the future of RuneScape.  Jagex have really embraced episodic storytelling of late, building up to this point through a prologue story, with an overarching story arc surrounding the Elder Gods and with plenty of twists and turns along the way.

“This isn’t the end of the island itself, Dave said. “We want to bolt onto it, add to it. You might notice some parts of the map that you can’t get to, but then there’s also the story. There’s some elements that are relatively low down in the mix, but we want to explore them in future storytelling, then you’ve obviously got the Elder Gods and that broader objective.

“Previously we’d done kind of monster of the week storytelling, so we’d do something about the Elves, something about vampires. Now we’re doing [more serialised stories]. We can do that better than probably most other MMOs can, because of the building blocks and because we front-load story so much. Not many other MMOs take that solo RPG approach to storytelling.”

So Anachronia will evolve into one of the pillars of the upcoming story arcs that they’re working through and offer them new opportunities with gameplay. There’s more than a few places they can head, not least of which might include the giant dormant volcano at the heart of the island…

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