The Ideal MMO
I've been thinking a lot lately, as my Forsaken Warlock nears level 70 in World of Warcraft, and people are starting to say that Lord of the Rings Online is a damn fine game, about the kind of MMO I really want to play in. Here's a wishlist of features and ideas, and I invite you to comment with your own "ideal MMO".
Much as I love science fiction, I prefer to play fantasy games. My ideal scifi MMO already exists, really: EVE Online. This wishlist is likely to borrow a lot of ideas from EVE. So first, it's going to be fantasy. Given the amount of restrictions around existing settings, in terms of both licensing and execution, I'd prefer to see an original setting. Nothing too exotic, mind - generic high fantasy will do quite nicely, as long as there's a good level of internal consistence.
Like EVE, I'd love to see the whole game happening on one "server". The ability to play with all the people who are playing the game, rather than have to pick a subset on a given server, shard, or realm is excellent, and if I have to give up being able to choose between PvP, PvE and RP servers, I can live with that.
The "one server" idea also needs the setting to be big - otherwise, a few tens of thousands of players, and it's going to be pure lag. You can already see this happening in Shattrath in World of Warcraft, and in some of the major junction systems in EVE, to pick two familiar examples. The players need to be distributed.
So, we have a big fantasy setting. What are we going to do in it? Well, we're going to have characters. Much as I love EVE's skill-based system, I recognise that not everyone likes it, and that balance issues can become very, very difficult when any character can potentially reach any given ability. So we're probably looking at classes and levels, and for the sake of simplicity, we can assume they follow the normal healer, tank, DPS and hyrids approach.
However, I would like to see a system whereby, first, the levelling thing is (nearly) never over, and second, it's fairly slow and in small increments. Most level-based systems that I'm familiar with result in high-level characters who can be battered on all day by lowbies, and probably heal faster than they can be hurt. I'd like to see a situation where a very high-level character can be taken down by a group - say ten or twelve - low-level characters. Also, even a low-level character should be able to contribute something to a situation where they're working with a high-level one, allowing different levels to cooperate and play together.
The next thing I'd like to see is actually a turn away from the fantasy RPG genre, and more in the direction of an RTS - a lack of drops. That is, I would like to see a game where killing the big bad guys doesn't actually result in you getting a fantastic new sword straight away - or at least, a situation where this is very unusual. And if you're going to get a fantastic new sword straight away, then I want to see the bad guy using it in the fight. Ideally, I'd like to have it so that every mob you kill has the goods you see, not irrelevant loot table goods - and that, for good measure, they're damaged by the fight.
Yes, that does mean that every mook you kill is going to drop a full set of leather armour and a shortsword - they're not going to be worth much, and they'll fill up your bags if you gather them all. It will mean, though, that a new scavenger role will join the archetypes of the game; someone who makes a living by sneaking through battlefields and looting the corpses.
I'd like to see situations whereby mobs which are killed stay dead, too. This is partially relevant for ordinary mobs, and really relevant for named ones. One of the things I dislike most about WoW is that, even though I personally took part in taking down Durn in Nagrand, he's still stomping around there. In fact, I personally took part in taking him down three times so far, and fully expect to do it a few more times as well.
This connects back to the idea of a big, big setting. If my guild has worked hard on clearing the Southern Foothills of the Great Big Mountains of orcs so we can mine there, then it's going to annoy me if the orcs respawn in the morning. I want that work to stay done - but orcish raiding parties coming in from higher in the mountains would be great.
The next bit, then: exploration and tradeskills should be a major part of the game. All armour, weapons, etc, should require maintenance, and all classes should require some consumables for best performance. Both of those should be available from NPCs at relatively expensive rates, so that player characters can provide them at a decent market rate. The best kit in the game should be crafted, and be genuinely difficult to get hold of.
Part of the exploration and tradeskills should be building - cottages, houses, strongholds. A sensible approach to this - and sensible treatment of the buildings by mobs and NPCs - will result in the slow growth of villages and towns that are entirely player-generated. The size of the setting will also be important here - a situation where every square inch of ground is covered in buildings would obviously be awkward, so the ground area has to be big.
With a setting that big, and places people want to get to, there's going to have to be something faster than riding - or even sailing or flying - across it. Nonetheless, there should be some sensation of distance; it shouldn't be possible to cross the whole world in one shot easily or frequently. Taking a trip from your stronghold in the outback into the civilised core areas should take some time, and be something you think about, not just a matter of hearthing in and teleporting back. Unless, of course, the hearth-and-teleport mechanism is something supported by consumables and crafting.
Much as I love the universal auction house in WoW, I'd prefer to see regional markets and an ability to sell crafted goods from your own buildings, or via NPC agents. This makes varying supply and demand in different areas a reality, and makes transporting goods for sale - merchanting - a viable play style.
So that's the tradeskills angles and economy stuff covered. Player vs Environment, then... I would like to see intelligent behaviour from mobs. It irritates me at some level to see humanoid mobs standing around while I kill off their companions in plain sight, just because I'm outside their aggro radius. There should be a line of sight and threat calculation consideration there.
I'm not fundamentally opposed to raids, much as I dislike them in World of Warcraft. What I dislike most is that they have to be repeated over and over and over. I'd be all for raid content in my ideal MMO, provided it has plenty of variety - a boss who varies the tactics based on party composition, or who can be found in different places with different terrain features. Also, once killed, they should stay dead or have a very good reason for coming back.
As for PvP, I'm generally a fan. I think an approach whereby some areas are PvE only, and others are PvP, probably with PvP increasing as you leave core, "civilised" areas of the setting, would be excellent - particularly when it allows a player to spend their time in PvE-only areas, without missing out on mechanical advantages. The PvP areas would then be more dangerous - but offer faster gains in terms of gathering skills, unusual mobs, and so forth.
I don't think, though, that this game is likely to appear. I know that my pro-sandbox position is unusual in fantasy games, and I think that - for the foreseeable future - I'll probably have to settle for EVE.
Posted by Drew Shiel at May 22, 2007 12:01 PM