Sunday, January 15, 2017

The recipe for a great MMORPG

It's time for a rant about these new games, and also for my expectations of 2017.

I've played a small amount of MMORPGs in my life. I've downloaded and tested many of them, but those that have truly caught my attention are extremely rare. They're not even the most popular ones; while most people out there will tell you they come from World of Warcraft, Star Wars the Old Republic and Lord of the Rings Online - games which I have also tested - I have mostly played Runescape, Silkroad Online and Guild Wars 2. I keep getting disappointed time and time again by these new games that are presented to us as the real deal, get postponed into oblivion by their developers, and then fail to impress anyone when they finally come out.

Here's Tera... or Black Desert... or was it Archeage? Can you tell the difference? Seems like it's all the same shit, man.

 Every year there's a new batch of them being announced for release within the next twelve months. I find it ridiculous to massively announce a game that is barely out of its diapers, but many of these game developers seem to think otherwise. They'll tell you that their pre-Alpha MMORPG will be released this year, and then keep you waiting until everyone loses interest and moves on. Whatever economical sense that makes, I really don't know, I study biochemistry, not economics. For 2017, I share the same feeling many other bloggers out there do : I no longer feel hyped for any of the upcoming online games, although some of them might just be a light in the dark.

It's difficult to pinpoint what makes a great MMORPG, but easier to understand what makes a bad one. I've been brainstorming this idea for a few months and I think the culprits are a lack of difficulty and freedom, which both lead to a lack of personal identity in game. This difficulty comes in several aspects in earlier games : having to grind for the things you want, having to struggle to defeat a boss, having to take huge risks when exploring dangerous areas, having to be careful of other players scamming or griefing you, having to train to master your class, and above everything, having to chose your own path. 

Here I was exploring new places in Runescape back in 2011, still stuck in red dhide armor... great times.
 I love Guild Wars 2 for many reasons, but I see in it this lack of difficulty which is present in almost all MMORPGs of its generation. The game only has two ways of getting difficult : one, it throws an impossible amount of monsters at you, and two, it throws a really tough boss at you. Ascended gear is difficult to obtain, but not at all necessary. It takes little effort to level a character : I've seen players with over 40 different characters on their account; how can you possibly have a sense of identity (as a Warrior, a Guardian, a Ranger...) when you're regularly playing more than five different characters at once? The penalty for dying is negligible, quests are completely devoid of any actual questing (as I discussed here), and overprotection is such that you can't even trade with other players directly.

Even with all that said, GW2 still has something the majority of new MMORPGs don't : freedom. The RPGs I have truly enjoyed, and I say "RPGs" to encompass offline games like The Elder Scrolls series, all have one thing in common :  they drop you in a vast open world and let you do whatever you want, become whoever you want, go wherever you want.
The reason I quit most MMOs within a few minutes of playing is because they just won't let me play my characters the way I want and do things in whatever order I feel like - they don't let me role play, yet it's what the genre is about. I'm fine with there being a tutorial, but if the tutorial is lasting more than thirty minutes to complete and if it's followed immediately by an unavoidable quest, that's enough to make me uninstall the game. Game developers seem to only care about aesthetics, fancy animations, and linear storylines nowadays, and forget about what makes a game truly stand out. As soon as I set foot in game I'm forced into a cringe-worthy storyline I have no reason to care about. I can't even chose to go do something else, because the entire game is designed to be linear and if I'm not doing their retarded storyline and going from map to map in the order they want, then I'm missing out on huge chunks of content or not progressing at all.

I might have played this "sandbox" MMO Black Desert if it didn't have this fucking spirit pestering me all the time to do its "quests". Just kidding, the entire game was crap.
The old Runescape, and its predecessor Tibia, got many things right in this regard. It was tedious, challenging, risky, and it knew how quests were supposed to work. They were optional, rewarding, very difficult (as in, they were real brain teasers and not just "kill x" "gather x" tasks) and non-linear. The game was sadly ruined by its developers, and the old school version is no longer appealing to me due to having received unwanted updates like the Grand Exchange. For this reason, I've been waiting for the next Runescape for years, but it seems like it's just never going to happen.

But there might be some hope left this year. Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen comes to mind, although it's being announced way too early and most likely won't come out before 2018. I already see a few flaws in it, like the ridiculous prices they ask from backers - including a subscription fee from forums alone! - and the progeny system, but their survival system is very interesting. 
But above anything, there's Chronicles of Elyria, which promises an amazingly dynamic, player run world, focusing hugely on "do it yourself" gameplay and much less on aesthetics. And I don't mean bullshit like Archeage; this is supposed to be your down to earth, survial modded Skyrim gone online. There's so many concepts I like about this game that it would be difficult to make a list in this already long blog post. I'd instead encourage you to check out their website and see it for yourselves. However, I also doubt it will be coming out anytime soon.


Oh, about that recipe for a great MMORPG, these are the things I personally enjoy finding:
  • Give players the freedom to chose what they'd like to do in game, right from the beginning,
  • Make quests optional, locational, but difficult (brain teasing puzzles, enigmas, plots...) and rewarding, more about you and less about the NPCs,
  • Levelling must require hard work, take a lot of time and feel like a journey where the destination isn't all that important,
  • Characters must be customizable to a degree, but not items (I'll post about items later)
  • Death should be consequential; perhaps not everywhere, but at least in dangerous areas,
  • The economy must be run by players; gold should not be purchasable from the store,
  • Trading should be done between players and not via some server wide auction house,
  • Some items and skills should be situational and have specific uses against specific opponents or areas.
Might have missed some ideas but that's the general concept I like of a MMORPG.

2 comments:

  1. There's a lot of that that I agree with but mostly it feels like a list of what I would have wanted from an MMORPG ten or more years ago. These days I very much feel I've paid my dues with doing it the hard way. Life is too short for leveling that's "hard work". I'm fine with it taking a long time but I'd prefer that to be because there were a thousand levels that took an hour each rather than a hundred that each took ten.

    Player economies I particularly dislike and any MMO that tries to operate entirely on player-to-player trades is one that I wouldn't even bother to download. I've played through that and it was horrible.

    A big world with complete freedom to explore is a must but I want to learn about the NPCs in that world, who are the real citizens, who live there and know no other life. Players are the background color, NPCs are the foreground. Even in EQ fifteen years ago it was the NPCs whose stories I wanted to know, not the players, and those were very underwritten compared to what we expect to see nowadays. Actually being underwritten often makes the NPCs seem more real...

    Old school MMO players, who grew up on EQ or RQ and their contemporaries, frequently compare modern MMOs unfavorably with those days but I feel the sweet spot is nearer where we are today than where we started.

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    1. I came back and forth from the idea of hard word levelling. I used to despise it after I was done with it back in 2011 when I quit Runescape. But since GW2 I've seen the benefits it has and how meaningless your progress becomes once everyone's capable of doing the same thing twenty times over. However I do agree that I prefer a thousand levels lasting an hour each than a hundred that each took ten.

      I remain opposed to the server wide auction houses simply because I actually enjoy trading with players personally and the two models can hardly co-exist. When you can buy everything with a few clicks from the auction house there's no need to risk trading with others anymore.

      I agree with what you said about getting to know the NPCs. It's true, I like doing that in Guild Wars 2, Runescape or in Skyrim, but that's because it's not forced upon me in those games. I can go from town to town visiting them and learning what has happened there, independently from one another. I can't stand Korean MMOs because they either try to force the quests down your throat, or are very linear about it.

      I'm not sure where we are today but I think MMOs kind of derailed into all being the same during the past 10 years or so. Maybe you are right and these years will have been fruitful somehow, it's in our best interests after all.

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