Recently, in discussing Syl’s topic of how WoW changed us, I looked at other MMOs as well and compiled a set of features that I’d like in my “perfect” MMO. I think it would be an interesting exercise to extrapolate on that list and analyze it a little bit more in depth. My hope is that some of you may do the same, and from that list we can begin to see the shape of our own desires for comparison with what’s actually being produced.
For referential ease, I’ve broken the list down by the supposed “4 Pillars” of role playing games.
More customization of characters both in game play and appearance
I feel like this is a given at this point. Classes are great for players new to the genre, as they make clear what packages work well together and what different roles one can play. Still, I think by this point many of us are much more interested in experimenting beyond classes. Consider the popular soul system in Rift. It allowed almost all of the four “classes” to perform almost any function within the game with few exceptions. I hope that The Secret World’s character design system is popular as well, and that we see more of what Rift and TSW have proposed in the future.
An intelligent crafting and skill system that uses a multitude of parts that can all be collected from the game world
I’m tired of crafting trainers. That’s not to say there’s no role for them, but consider Fallout 3’s crafting system, or Fallen Earth’s, or Star Wars Galaxy’s. I want a crafting system that allows one to craft virtually everything in the game world, and I want plenty of different ways to collect the materials, and plenty of different materials. Why am I unable to learn to pick herbs just because I happened to want to mine? It makes no sense. I’d much prefer a system similar to Eve’s or Glitch’s where players can eventually have every skill, but every skill learned increases the difficulty for the next skill. I’m not a total fan of just time-based skill acquisition, either; I think practicing a skill should reward you, so that you either reduce the time it takes to learn the skill or simply increase your skill ranks directly through practice or spending time learning them. Additionally, the act of crafting should persist while you’re offline if you park yourself at a crafting location, as in Fallen Earth. Your character doesn’t just blip out of existence (I mean, it does, but it shouldn’t be so obvious about it) when you’re offline; let that time be valuable.
A mission system for followers that’s superior to Star Wars’s and more like Star Trek’s
I like Star Trek’s crew mission system. As you progress in power, you gain more and more followers, and you’re able to send followers out to do menial tasks for you for minimal rewards. Your followers have things they’re good or bad at, too, so you don’t send the stubborn engineer to do delicate diplomatic relations nor the passive diplomat to deliver medical supplies into a war zone. You play intelligently and make smart decisions, and occasionally you get lucky and receive a big reward. I didn’t like Star Wars’s system because many of the missions were simply the same thing over and over, and some made no sense, like when my republic character would send his followers to gain light side points by distributing pro-imperial materials. Yes, it’s probably just a bug, but still. This could be utilized for reputation gains, crafting material acquisition, uncovering new places to explore (even “secret” (randomly generated) bonus dungeons), or crafting itself. This feature could fit into almost any genre, and is endless fun that works in the background.
Make exploration relevant
This one’s pretty simple. I’m tired of just getting achievements from flying around above the geography filling in maps for no real reason. I want exploration to be relevant, the way it is in Skyrim (or most other Bethesda games). We already have randomly spawning nodes of crafting materials, why not have randomly spawning nodes of special territory benefits? Why not let people claim territory through exploration using a randomly spawning node system? The territory can then be used to make a little money via a skill or open up special quests for a few hours? Exploration has been vastly underprivileged in the Bartle archetypes. Sure, people who like to explore can just go do it on their own, by why not reward them for what they do? Why not have Mount Stubborn for a few hours until the node spawns and someone else gets it? Why not reward a player whose exploring a great barren waste (think Tatooine without all those “you’re not allowed to go there and die” dead zones. So lazy.) find a randomly spawning oasis that offers sustenance and a few gold for a few hours while the player “sells supplies to travelers.” This seems like a perfect fit with the follower system, as you could plunk down a “savvy merchant” and increase that gold by 15% or something.
Quests can work the same way. Hubs are more and more outdated. Spread the quests out. Let exploring reveal some permanent quests and discover some randomly spawning quests. Consider even the patrolling caravan in Desolace; they rewarded exploring even if you had to look up the fact that they existed. You still had to find them and walk with them. More of that kind of thing would be great.
Smooth and intelligent grouping that facilitates playing with other instead of penalizes it
I put this here because I’m not sure where else to put this. It affects every aspect of the game, but I placed it here because it seems to be about puttering around, exploring zones and bumping in to people and helping them. This was one of Star Wars’s greatest failings and one of Rifts greatest successes. If you played with 3 people in a party in SW, things got significantly harder. You were penalized for having 2 friends instead of 1 or 3. It was utter nonsense. I’d like a game that intelligently groups – or is smart enough not to even need groups – to reward players for working together. Additionally, if you bump into someone who’s doing a quest that you’re not on and you give them a hand, why not simply reward you by giving you the quest? I don’t mean that the other person has to join your group and share it, but you can imagine two heroes discussing why they’re at the murloc village and one saying, “Yeah, this bloke in Goldshire wanted me to collect some murloc heads for a bounty. I’m sure you could get a piece of that,” and BAM – you’ve got the quest, too. No grouping, no hassle, no reliance on the other fellow being decent and sharing the quest.
Better story telling with more valid repercussions and consequences
I’ve heard all the excuses as to why we can’t have this, and my only response is: design better. Find a way to make it work. Blizzard cut the beginnings of this with phasing, and they did it in a very rough fashion, and we all complained, but that’s not a reason to stop trying; it’s a reason to try harder. I want player decisions to have a repercussion in game worlds. I want finishing a quest to matter – or failing it. I want big decisions to eventually hinge on the player – not at level 1 when you by all rights should be scrubbing the horse feces out of stables, but when you’re 30, or 40, or near whatever cap the game has, then you’ve proven yourself as a hero (or villain) and are sought out for decisions that could have a huge, lasting impact. Story should matter; it shouldn’t be a background cloak for getting rid of quest text. Let’s move beyond that. Let planets be destroyed. Let keeps be lost. Let escorts who you failed to protect be dead. The game world doesn’t have to be identical for everyone, and those small differences can really bring your personal character to life.
Does it mean that some people will have access to places or persons that others don’t? Sure it does, but that’s okay. Total and complete fairness isn’t really fairness at all, because it rewards people equally for different decisions and levels of success. I’m not suggesting we prevent people from enjoying major parts of the game, but small things – a daily here or there, a vendor here or there, even something like a mailbox or bank access – can make a big difference. Saved the local merchant from a gang? He sells you things at a 10% discount. Worked with the local gang to kill him? Well, you don’t have access to the merchant, but the gang members in the area are now friendly. Small changes, but changes that matter.
Action combat designed smartly that’s fast paced and skill-oriented
I want to be rewarded for learning my class, not learning every tiny aspect of every single different raid encounter. Gevlon’s gone over this a lot before he started playing Eve, but “the dance” is getting quite old, and it’s cemented mediocre players as “good” raiders because they simply know the dance steps. I want a game that rewards learning your class. That realistically could mean a hotbar system or an action combat system, but right now, and I emphasize that it’s only right now, I’m in the mood for action combat. Hotbar combat is vastly over-represented in the genre (so much so that Tera thinks it can claim to be “the first and only” action combat game), so let’s go in the other direction. Let’s make mouse clicking useful for more than targeting. Hell, let’s eliminate targeting and throw physics back in the mix. Let a tank’s job be to actually shield those behind him from attacks rather than to use some magical force called “hate” or “threat” to keep the boss focused on him. I’m sorry, but any halfway intelligent creature knows that the mage slinging fireballs his way is FAR more dangerous than some smacktalking warrior who happens to be right in front of him. Let’s make the game more tactical, shall we?
And while we’re at it, and since I’m fantasizing anyway, why not incorporate something like League of Legend’s Tribunal system into the mix, so that the players with the most experience can hold some council over poorly-behaving jerks. If you look at the repeat offenders rate, you can see how successful this system has been. There’s really no reason not to incorporate it from the start and let the early adopters earn earlier access to this form of community management.
At any rate, dear reader, that’s what I’ve got to start with. I’m sure I’ll think of 5 or 6 more things, and perhaps we’ll do a follow-up post on Friday if you come in with suggestions of your own. I’d be very interested to hear them, so have at: what’s your list of the best features of other MMOs that you’d like to see become standard?
Stubborn (and delineating)