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11 years in, Old School RuneScape's toaster graphics are about to look better than ever

 Old School RuneScape church grounds in HD.
Old School RuneScape church grounds in HD.

The Old School RuneScape look is iconic: Just a clatter of vaguely humanoid models running around a landscape of flat textures, accomplishing feats of grandiose heroism and sheer lunacy all the while. It's a faithful reproduction (to my eyes, anyway) of original RuneScape's graphics from the 2000s, a stunning example of how much you can do with six polygons and a dream.

But brace yourself, because those polygons are about to look better than ever. OSRS developer Jagex has announced the venerable MMO is getting an official HD mode, bringing a suite of lighting, effects, and texture improvements to the game later this year.

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Old School RuneScape running in SD mode.
Old School RuneScape running in SD mode.

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Old School RuneScape running in HD mode.
Old School RuneScape running in HD mode.

It looks kind of great, if you ask me. From the image and video above, it manages to make OSRS look a whole lot better without messing with its trademark lo-fi look. The addition of proper, "fully dynamic" lighting to the desert scene, for instance, gives the whole environment a more robust and sweltering sense of place, in comparison to the original look of a sandy pyramid suspended in the void. There's even fog now. Who doesn't love a bit of fog?

But fear not, because Jagex also says you can keep hold of the original appearance if you're determined to keep things as old school as possible. The appearance upgrades will be achieved by wholesale replacing OSRS' current renderer with Jagex's Runetek, er, tech, but the studio is including an SD mode toggle that makes Runetek run "a custom emulation that allows us to replicate the original 2007 look with pixel-perfect accuracy." It works Master Chief Collection-style, too: You can swap between the new and old looks "at the touch of a button."

Thing is, of course, that plenty of OSRS players were already running an HD (but OS) RuneScape thanks to fan projects like HDOS, but Jagex is very keen to point out that it's not going to mess with those mods at all. In fact, it's pretty much the first thing the company says in the HD mode news post: "We want to get one thing out of the way before we dive in – you will still be able to use 117Scape and HDOS after these updates launch." Now there's a company that has experienced the wrath of its disappointed fans before and isn't eager to do it again.

There's no concrete date on the OSRS HD mode release date just yet, but Jagex wants an alpha out there "very soon," which will be followed by an "always-on" beta once the studio is sure it's got the worst performance issues ironed out.