As we mentioned yesterday the last few years have seen developers and publishers alike competing against one another to make the next big MMORPG. World of Warcraft can hardly be expected to stay on top forever and game designers have made it their mission to take over once it fails. In their attempts at doing so they have come to the simple conclusion that new lore and a different world aren’t enough. Shocker. But they seem to think that instead they have to completely revamp the entire genre. While I agree that the current MMORPG model is hardly ideal, many of the ways in which devs are attempting to reinvent it seem misplaced. They’re focusing on aspects that needn’t be focused on, and often times ignoring the aspects that should be.
One of the biggest problems people have with WoW is the leveling system. While quests and exploration are my personal favorites, I can see where they’re coming from. As it stands, leveling in WoW is mind numbing, it’s repetitive and, unless you have a good story, it can be quite dull. It’s unfortunate the way questlines are designed because I often find that the main chain in a zone often starts out strong, gets tedious throughout the middle, and finishes on a strong, interesting note. Unfortunately, given the boredom many players encounter during the midsection, they never see how good the ending is because they go grind a few dungeons or head to a new zone.
So there’s one category that legitimately needs to be reworked. People shouldn’t “suffer” through the leveling process. You should never have the majority of your players say that “the game starts at level cap.” That means the entire rest of your game, and all of the work you put into it, is completely wasted on these players. And that seems like a pretty foolish way to repay all the artists, animators and writers who worked to create those chains.
Another problem with the MMO is that the player doesn’t affect the world to the same degree that he or she can in a single player RPG. Your decisions in WoW (the example I’ll use for most of this given that it is still the most popular) don’t affect anything in the game world. They don’t affect how the NPCs interact with you, or how enemy NPCs react, nothing. One thing I’ve always found strange is that reputations don’t seem to really matter. You grind out your rep with a given faction (which again, I don’t particularly mind doing) and the only reward is the objects you can buy. The NPCs don’t really treat you any differently. They won’t go out of their way to treat you as the hero you supposedly are. At the same time, you can’t do much to make any enemies either.
The holy trinity. Many people are either wholly for or wholly against this feature. Some believe that, without it, there’s no need to plan who to bring. You don’t need a tank and a healer, so in theory you could see the whole world populated by the most OP class combo. You also prevent people who really enjoy healing or really enjoy tanking from doing what they love most. As a society we like to assign roles and labels. Without the trinity, we don’t have that ability. On the other hand the trinity is exceptionally restricting. You have to play as one of three roles, but I see no reason why you couldn’t extend that. First you could add a support class, which Lord of the Rings Online does fairly well already. Or perhaps specializations within healing, tanking, and damage in order to give a wider range of variety and options for different fights.
Now that we’ve looked at a few standard features of the MMORPG that could use a facelift, it’s time to look at those that don’t. Let’s start with the combat system. I see nothing wrong with hotkeys, health meters, cast times, etc. These are signature features of MMORPGs built off of the D&D concept. These features are what make these games what they are. “But—but—it’s boring! I don’t want to play that way anymore! It isn’t fast enough!” Then this isn’t the genre for you, plain and simple. I don’t like first person shooters so guess what…I don’t play them (which is not the same as watching other people playing them, but more on that next week). I also don’t like real time strategy games or turn based combat so I don’t play Final Fantasy, despite hearing good things about those stories. I feel like by drastically changing so integral a feature as the combat system, what you’re looking to do is create an entirely new genre. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine! There’s nothing wrong with that, and more power to the people who are able to pull it off. But don’t market it as an MMORPG, because it simply is not. I’m not saying the system can’t be tweaked. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be able to develop new ways to utilize the current system (for example, coming up with a way to dodge attacks when not channeling like in Neverwinter), but a complete overhaul is entirely unnecessary.
Recently I discovered a game called Repopulate. You can switch between your typical MMORPG hotkey combat system or you can play it FPS style. They maintain that neither method has an advantage over the other and that it comes down to your play style, but I’m not so sure I buy it. I just don’t see how you can balance two entirely different systems like this that are designed for completely different games. Other games I’ve recently played that boast a “faster, more engaging combat system!” are Dragon’s Prophet and Neverwinter and both of these failed to impress me as well. What they’ve essentially done is removed the need to think about rotations in favor of a more action/adventure button mashing style. And I know what you’re thinking: “You don’t have to think about rotations in the first place! Just go to Noxxic and you’re done!” While that may be well and good for some players, not all of us immediately go to an outside website to be told what our ideal rotation should be. Some of us alter our rotations for our play styles and preferences and not to get the absolute highest dps possible. Unless you raid heroic there’s really no need. And if you’re only spamming one key you’re probably doing it “wrong” anyway.
Classes. People whine and cry on a daily basis about how every player should have access to every class’ abilities. How certain perceived “advantages” given to one class should also be given to others. I cannot comprehend this logic. The purpose of classes is for each to have their own pros and cons which a player must weigh when choosing their character. Again, it simply isn’t how a D&D based game should function and if you don’t care for it, well, no one has you handcuffed to your desk forcing you to play these games. If they aren’t suited for you, go find something that is.
Ultimately this call to revolutionize the genre comes less from a need, and more from the nature of the game. What other game do you play consistently for ten years? When have you ever done anything, video game or not, that you haven’t grown bored of after a decade? People get tired of MMORPGs not because the games are inherently flawed (obviously they aren’t or you never would have started, nor would new people continue to join), but because after ten years of doing the same thing day after day one simply gets bored. That’s it. The game doesn’t need to change one of its most fundamental features just because you’ve grown tired of it and need to take a year or two off. The game also doesn’t need to change to appeal to a generation of gamers raised on fast, action packed, instant gratification FPS games because that just isn’t what MMORPGs are about. By changing these core features, you attempt to change the entire genre as a whole. And while I have no problem with these changes going into effect, it is only so long as they are given an entirely new genre. These new game ideas are not massively multiplayer online role playing games. They’re massively-multiplayer-online-action-adventure-with-a-hint-of-role-playing games.