Time and time again I’ve tried to get into playing MMORPGs and while I’ve played quite a few of them, I never could find the thing I was looking for. Let me explain, I jumped into this genre pretty late, due to either the huge downloads, poor net connections or just because they seemed like a big undertaking to begin with.
Primarily, I played nothing but single player role playing titles and spent a lot of time on exploring every corner of the worlds in games like Elder Scrolls III and IV, Witcher I, Gothic series etc. I was expecting something different from this genre, I suppose. The idea of a role playing game with a satisfying multiplayer ingredient added to it, offering interaction with other players, saving the world together seemed exciting, but when I began scouring the net for what was gonna be my first experience in this genre, I found out just how different the reality was.
After playing a lot of titles like Age of Conan, Guild Wars 1 and 2, LOTRO, Age of Wushu and many others, I found that most titles lacked the basic of RPG features, with the quest lines that generally lacked any sense of urgency but instead featured heavy repetition and focused on this weird late game grinding and dungeoning. There’s weird combat based on number keys for even the basic skills, and oh that ugly and massive skills tab in these games! Although the genre has matured since with newer and more unique titles, and with the advent of the ‘now-current-gen‘, maybe now is a good time to visit my old wishlist. It’s a long one though and would only relate to the hardcore role players so bear with me folks.
A true sandbox experience
An open world in which you can go about doing whatever you like. Maybe I want build a wizard tower on a lonely hill and have my minions guard it, or settle down in a town with my guild mates. Where smaller towns or forests are filled with points of interests and the game encourages those who like to explore and doesn’t limit their imagination in creating their unique characters.
The upcoming MMO Archeage being developed by XL games has some similar interesting features, a player based economy with a huge open world which you can mold and affect.
A different take on questing
Being called the ‘chosen one’ or the ‘prophesized one’ doesn’t really work out for MMOs, when there are literally hundreds of players around you doing the exact same quest, talking to the same NPCs and looking pretty much just like you at that. Add to that the typical ‘go and kill X no. of Y creatures’ or fetch quests which can be broken down to simple grinding for levels and superficial progress. This breaks any sort of immersion and that’s the heart and soul of a true RPG. Maybe something doesn’t need to be wrong with the world to begin with. Maybe that can come into the story later on, and lead to truly epic multiplayer boss battles. (think Guild Wars 2.)
In fact, Arena Net gets a lot right in Guild Wars 2, as opposed to traditional takes on questing in other MMOs. The innate nature of questing encourages public participation in the game and it rewards them for helping. The loot is awarded to anyone and everyone, all’s right with he world. But while the massive world events are truly great, I’d prefer if the areas were a little less crowded in, that the NPC just doesn’t stand there throughout his entire life giving the same quest to every player and even then nothing really changes.
Lets take it a step beyond that; player designed quests. From simple ‘mine 10 blocks of some ore for me and I shall reward you’ to more complex ‘placing a bounty on X player’s head’ or maybe entire quest chains, this can maybe eradicate the redundancy of traditional MMO questing and do away with lifeless NPC quest givers. Ofcourse how that can be implemented in an MMO is something game developers have to figure out.
Player managed economy
Some people are not really into just assembling the legendary gear. They like to settle down, have their own farms and lands, and yet in their own way affect the world. No MMO truly has tried to venture much in this region, but a player managed economy is the future for all games of this genre. And those who go down this route should have a say in how the economy of the world shapes (something like EVE online). Maybe someone just wants to be one of those annoying nobles, or be a publicly elected administrator of smaller fiefs and such. These can even be the people giving out major quests to the other players, and that further goes towards de-emphasizing a central plot.
Snail Games’ Age of Wushu is a good example where this has been implemented. Player managed economy is a big part and you can’t skip it if you want to survive in the world. It encourages people who want to take part in that economy by doing occupations of your choice. People can set up stalls in major cities even when they go offline, so they’d come back to hopefully some good profits. Now only if I can figure out this game’s poor translations and complicated menu systems…
Nitty and gritty
More and more titles these days seem to be relying on a cartoon-like art style, and even more have an anime-ish look. Even games which are not from Asian developers like Guild Wars 2 have adopted this style and while some people may really like that, what I’d much rather have is a title which focuses on realism. Where the gear is not blown insanely out of proportions and characters look like they means serious business. Originally what was developed based on the limited hardware at that time and aimed at having a timeless appeal has now become way too common to stand out.
Age of Conan by Funcom is probably a great example for this. If you haven’t heard about it, the game takes heavily from Conan the Barbarian universe created by Robert E. Howard in his novels and builds upon the dark and brutal style of that world. What I like about this title even more is it never treats you like a child, and is full of content that has not been watered down for younger audiences. (A Witcher MMO anyone?) Even the cities feel huge and realistic, with equally realistic uncivilized areas of the world. The game is tough and rewarding with a dedicated player base, just don’t come crying when you’re getting your ass handed to you repeatedly by some jobless high level prick who decides it’s a great idea to camp in a early level area.
Action based combat
Also a result of older hardware restrictions was the keyboard bound combat found in most MMOs. But games like Elder Scrolls Online are slowly introducing familiar combat designs and put heavier emphasis on player involvement. Since this is the part of the game players spend most of their time on, it should be more than just watching random animations play out, so that the outcome of a duel depends on mobility and skill. Also the future titles in this genre can take upon some of the best unique combat elements from games like GW2 (underwater combat), Archeage (naval combat) and Aion (air combat) to name a few. These add more uniqueness and flavour to the gameplay and more depth to how exactly players can develop their characters. Individual skill leveling based on their usage akin to Elder Scrolls series can be an interesting change to the trend, and may help better shape a truly distinctive character creation system.
Multiplayer done right
Finally, other than questing and PVE side of things, PVP makes up a major part of a MMORPG, and my personal favorite take on that has to be the World vs World vs World setting in GW2, which was later borrowed and added upon in ESO. Massive siege battles, taking of keeps and forts, to intercepting trade routes to weaken an enemy faction, lets face it, we can’t really go back to simple older PvP anymore. Ofcourse party/guild based SPvP is still a very important aspect, but nothing I found came close to satisfaction of working with your guild or friends to take down an enemy faction’s keep. It really changed he way I thought multiplayer can be done. I only hope for even bigger and more bad ass battles to come our way in newer MMOs.
World of Warcraft killer
People don’t really know what they want till they see it, and with newer titles coming out, each seems to be trying to reinvent the wheel in one way or the other. But one can arguably say that the true benchmark for how good a MMO is, has sort of been the same thing since past few years, will it kill World of Warcraft? Love it or hate it, you may not like WoWs toony graphics or how old it looks and plays, even with the falling player base its still a huge phenomenon, one which popularized the genre and still does. I’ve nothing against it, from whatever is written above you can say it’s just not my game, but it’s still kicking, with the devs working hard on each new patch or expansion to draw more and more players. And I don’t think any MMO following the same trend is gonna take down this behemoth of a franchise anytime soon. We can only hope.
But the biggest feature of all for a MMO has to be, offering options. Everyone wants different things from an open world RPG title and to fulfill each of them, that’s what would truly make a great MMORPG. So what’s on the wishlist for you guys? Did I miss something? Are you excited about any upcoming MMOs? Let us know in the comments below!