Runescape can be confusing for those who don't know much about the series, and even then, it can still be hard to understand. Even if you're an active player, there's a lot you may not know about the game. Fans of the series, though, almost universally will tell you that Runescape is an old, old game with graphics outpaced by a PS2 or PS3 game, depending on the version of Runescape you play. However, there's more to the story: You can play Old School Runescape in HD right now, so in this article, we'll explain how that all works.
What is Runescape HD?
Runescape started off as a browser game and eventually became an actual application that you ran locally on your own computer, relying on your own hardware to render the game's graphics rather than a server. In 2008, Runescape received an HD (or high-detail) update at the height of the 'HD era' when mainstream games were released with dynamic lighting, realistic shadows, and high-definition textures.
UI elements were updated, higher-resolution textures were added, and the overall detail of the world was massively increased. This change laid the foundation for the next 14 years of Runescape, with the world only continuing to become more detailed and graphically complex as the years went on.
Old School Runescape began as a backup of the game's 2007 state before the HD update, and since then, the game has developed far beyond this original 2007 code, but there hasn't been an official graphical update. When people talk about HD Old School Runescape they're generally talking about Old School Runescape looking more like it did in 2008 after the HD update.
Imagine the same old game with the same art style, layout, and all the rest but with higher resolution textures, better blending between tiles, water effects, shadows, dynamic lights, ambient occlusion, bloom, and realistic skyboxes. Ultimately, HD Old School would work like how indie games today often work.
Many indie developers make games that have the aesthetic of old games while still using a broad variety of advanced tools and features enabled by modern game engines. This is what is generally meant by HD Old School: A game that looks and feels like Old School with some more modern graphical features and effects.
How to Play HD Old School Runescape
Jagex does not have any official support for HD Old School Runescape. There's nothing developed by Jagex you can download to make Old School look or run any better than it does on the official client. In part, though, this is because the community already supports these features on third-party clients not developed by Jagex.
With the extremely popular RuneLite client for Old School Runescape, players can enable either the GPU or 117's HD plugins. The GPU plugin, naturally, forces Old School to use your computer's graphics card rather than its integrated graphics chip, exponentially increasing performance.
You can also extend Runescape's render distance alongside a suite of other graphical tweaks, like unlocking the FPS, brightening textures, and more. This plugin has a lot of the technical upgrades an HD Runescape would have, but the plugin stops short of higher-resolution textures, advanced effects like shadows and dynamic lights, and the like.
This is where 117's HD plugin steps in. This plugin does all the same things the GPU plugin does while also increasing the world's level of detail, adding in higher-resolution textures, and implementing shadows and dynamic light sources into the game. This plugin is what most Old School players think of when they think of HD Old School Runescape.
This plugin, in fact, was originally blocked from being released by Jagex because the company was apparently working on their own similar HD client for Old School, but after a swift and intense overwhelming backlash from the community, Jagex allowed the plugin to be released. So, 117's HD plugin for RuneLite is right now the closest thing Old School Runescape has to an official HD client.
Unfortunately, the plugin does come with some issues. For one, it's still in beta, so you can expect graphical issues and bugs. But more importantly, performance is a huge concern with the plugin. Even with a monstrous PC, many areas in the game will run at or below 60 FPS, and stuttering is commonplace.
RuneLite itself, known for offering the best performance out there for Old School, still struggles to maintain regularly high FPS in Old School, even with a good connection to a server and a powerful rig. Ultimately, Old School Runescape was never meant to run at hundreds of FPS on modern hardware, so even with all the tweaks in the world, the game will never run great without a total code rewrite.
This is what happened to the main game, regular Runescape, and that game's long list of major changes is precisely why the game's popularity plummeted and incentivized Jagex to introduce Old School Runescape. So, don't hold your breath expecting history to repeat itself by way of another major engine overhaul. Old School launched 9 years ago in 2013, and there hasn't been an engine overhaul yet.
More Ways to Play HD OSRS
While the RuneLite plugin is the most popular and most feature-rich way to play Old School Runescape in HD right now, it's not the only option.
There are other Old School clients like HDOS that are entirely built around overhauling Old School's graphics without the focus on a broad variety of different plugins that RuneLite offers. And then, there are even crazier reinterpretations of Old School Runescape.
OS Remastered is another third-party HD client project but this one renders the game in Unity, turning Old School into a fully-3D totally modern game with all the familiar graphical effects of any mainstream open-world RPG. It's an exciting idea, but it's only being worked on by a single developer, and there hasn't been an update on the project posted in months at the time of writing.
In conclusion, the demand for HD Old School Runescape is definitely alive and well, and if you want to upgrade Old School's visuals, there are a lot of options for you to consider today. However, there isn't official Jagex support for any HD version of Old School.
And if you do want a performant total overhaul of Old School's graphics, unfortunately, you can't have the best of all worlds right now. But considering how beloved Runescape is, especially Old School, it's not crazy to imagine there may be future clients that do even more than what's possible today.