Syl, of the Raging Monkeys blog, made a pretty interesting post about all the ways World of Warcraft changed her. I haven't played World of Warcraft nearly as much as her (it was just a brief stint during Vanilla then a few months later during Burning Crusade) but it made me think about all the ways MMORPGs over the years changed my tastes and expectations in terms of gaming. So, this is my list of those and the MMORPGs who influenced the most on that.
Oh, for convenience, I will just copy the format of her post. :p
1) The Holy Trinity
Even back when I was trying to get into tabletop RPGs I never liked classes much. They just felt restrictive and artificial. It isn't that they are bad per se, depending on the game, it adds to it and makes sense. For instance, I can't think of D&D without classes. It is part of its charm. Now a game like Call of Cthulhu with classes just wouldn't make sense for me.
With MMORPGs I didn't use to have problems with the idea of classes or the expected roles that come with them. Sure, a skill based character system would be (and still is) my ideal. But a skill based system does not necessarily mean a more interesting gameplay. In fact classes could give a sense of comfort, of just knowing what you expected to do in a party so you could just get in and do your thing. Same thing if you needed someone to fill a specific role.
The present: I like playing the guy with the heavy armor and sword in games. Unfortunately in MMORPGs the guy with heavy armor and sword usually tends to be also the tank class. There were a few games that burned me out of this. In the earliest MMORPG games I played, that usually meant being able to take a lot of punishment but doing terrible DPS. So terrible that while soloing you didn't kill the mob by the power of your sword arm. It was because the mob died out of pure boredom. Fortunately those days seems to be gone as far as tanks goes. Or at leas I am more lucky (wise?) in terms of games and classes I pick.
Even though I tried to avoid playing a tank class in MMORPGs, I always found myself playing them for a reason or another. Part of the reason, I already explained, it is just the archetype I like. The other reasons is because I really dislike having to wait 30 minutes or more for a role that is so vital. Plus there is no guarantee the person you are picking up will know which side of their weapon they are supposed to hold. So if we are going to depend so much on one person, it might as well be me. This is also has the advantage that if things go wrong I know who to blame (read: 99% of the time it would be my fault) and who to have to have a talk to so they can improve (that would be with myself).
Now, although I love tanking I can't stop resenting it or the whole idea of Holy Trinity of classes. With a tank, if I don't keep the character leveled up, I get afraid I will be left behind and won't be able to group with my friends for doing dungeon runs. The only thing I am more afraid than that is doing a dungeon run with a Pick-Up Group (PuG). This takes time away from other characters I would rather be playing. The other problem is groups only really need one tank. If the group already has one and I join in I end up feeling like I am taking space that would be better used by any other class as the best I can do is pretend I can DPS.
I could keep rambling on and on about other classes as well. But I think I made my point already.
The lack of the Holy Trinity, at least in its more traditional form, is what I am looking forward the most in Guild Wars 2. I haven't yet done a dungeon run there, and most likely won't do one until the game's release, so I can't say from personal experience how well that will work. I did a lot of events though, with three very different classes: Mesmer, Ranger and Warrior. With all three classes there were times where I felt squishy and there were times I felt it was the awesome class ever. But I never felt I died because there wasn't anybody healing me or because somebody wasn't tanking. Staying alive was always my responsibility. It also just felt more natural too to be able to just get near somebody to resurrect them. For these reasons alone I would already play Guild Wars 2.
2) Opposing Player Factions
I honestly don't remember what was my first reaction at this idea. I can understand the theory behind it though. It creates an easy to understand conflict in your game world, makes it easier to setup PvP and even a friendly rivalry between players of the different factions.
The Present: This isn't as much the present as how my actual experiences went. When I finally got to playing World of Warcraft for more than a month, it was with just a handful of friends. The problem was that they wanted to play Alliance. My heart however was with the Horde. So I end up playing alliance. The only reason I didn't whine more about it was because there was the draenei by then, which I actually liked. Well, the female draenei anyway. The male ones, not so much. The rest of the alliance though.... They could die in a fire for all I could care. I would even help getting the wood for it.
So, yeah, this one boils down to the fact I couldn't play, nor hang around, the races I wanted to. Specially because it never made much sense for me that just because you are from the same race, all your political and philosophical views are automatically the same as the leader of your race. It just feels artificial. To make matters worse a lot of games after WoW copied the same model just because they did it with a great amount of success. Even when it doesn't necessarily add to the game, I would even say it detracts as it separates people or can create population imbalances.
If you must absolute have factions, then the Everquest 2 factions is the way to go, in my opinion. On there faction only determines your starting race and class. After level 10 you always get the option to betray your faction to either join the other side or be a complete loner who gives allegiance to no one. Also in PvE, you can group up, be in the same guild, chat and trade with anyone regardless of their faction, class or race. Sticking only with people of your own faction, race or whatever then becomes a question of player's choice, not something forced upon then. This feels a lot more natural and still has the advantages of a faction based game world.
When I started on WoW, I liked the whole idea of items having different color names to show which ones were better than the others.
The Present: Well, my disillusionment with the whole idea of a gear system started with Lineage 2. But it uses a system different than other games and the less we talk about that the better. In any case, it shares a characteristic that made me very frustrated in Everquest 2 as well. Namely, that there were a lot of times that I felt I was only as good as my gear. Sure, alternate achievements (same thing as Talents in WoW) helped a little but I always felt that unless I had the right gear nothing else mattered much.
Another thing I really hated about gear in Everquest 2 is that every piece of gear had about half a dozen stats thrown in. Now multiply that by... hmm... I don't remember how many exactly, was it 10 different types of gear a character could have equipped? In any case, that always made it hard to say at a glance if a piece of gear was an upgrade or not. When you start to feel like you need a scientific calculator to say if it actually is an upgrade is a sign that there is something terribly wrong with the system.
I honestly don't know how much gear stats will matter in Guild Wars 2. My hope is that it won't matter much. What I do like though is that each weapon has their own set of skills. That makes the choice of weapons part strategic and part personal choice. It also makes it feel like no weapon type will be totally useless. For instance, if you like playing a two-handed hammer, chances are it will still be a very valid choice of weapon type when you reach level cap.
When it was announced that "The Shadow Odyssey" expansion for EQ2 would have a token system I thought it was cool. The basic idea was that you did a dungeon run as normal then by the end of it you were rewarded with a token. That token could later be traded for specific gear. It looked cool, a way to not be so dependent on the fickleness of the RNG to get the gear upgrades you need.
The Present: Well, turned out things weren't so sweet as the announcements made it look like. Part of this was because they mucked heavily with the itemization during that expansion which had the effect of people feeling (or maybe it was just me) that you needed the new token-acquired gear to run through the new dungeons. But you couldn't get the tokens if you couldn't successfully do a dungeon run!
Ok, I am exaggerating a bit. There were a few easier dungeons that you could still do if you were decently geared enough. It wasn't easy but it was doable. Still it could get boring very quick as you couldn't do the other dungeons of the expansion until you got the token acquired gear. And to get enough tokens to fully upgrade all your gear took a while. Which meant doing the same dungeons over and over and over.
Then a new expansion came, with a new token and all the tokens from the previous expansion suddenly became useless. Oh, and if that wasn't bad enough they also started adding tokens to world events too, meaning you had to grind for pretty much anything interesting you wanted to do.
Not to mention all the different tokens took space on your inventory. When they finally added a specific wallet for the tokens it was a relief. It was also a clear sign that the tokens were completely out of control and they had absolutely no intention of doing anything about it. It also makes you wonder what is the value of the normal currency (platinum, gold, silver, etc.) if all the good stuff from NPCs requires tokens.
Nowadays as soon as I read that a game will have any sort of token system I dread about what is to come.
Getting together with a lot of people to take down a huge boss seemed fun at once a time.
The Present: Ok. Just to make clear, I have nothing against the concept of raiding per se or the people who enjoy it. That is an activity I found out wasn't for me though. What annoys me is the assumption between developers and some players that once you hit the level cap you will automatically start to raid. It is not even an if you will choose to raid. You just will raid, like it was a natural evolution of everything you did until then.
To me however it is not a natural evolution. It is something quite different. The few times I tried raiding I felt like a small cog on it, unimportant and completely disconnected from everything that was happening and everyone participating on it. That is a completely different feeling I get from running a dungeon with a small group of friends. On those runs I feel like my contribution, no matter how small, matters. It is also much easier to feel a sense of intimacy with the other people in the group.
So having all that peer pressure to do an activity I simply don't find all that enjoyable just annoys the hell out of me. It also annoys me when it is clear that all the important pieces of the game's story are being told in the raids. This can make it hard when a new expansion comes for you to care about the new story line since you don't know what happened before to care about what is going on now.
My hope for Guild Wars 2 is that those pieces of story can be experienced either through normal group game play or in events.
7) Scripted fights
Ok. This one is one I can't say anything about except that it might make the life of a developer easier to create an artificial sense of a dynamic fight.
The Present: This is another one EQ2 left me with nothing but hate. The problem with scripted fights is that you lose the spontaneity of reacting to whatever is going on the fight. You have to do exactly what the fight demands at that exact time or die. There is no middle ground, no fighting from near defeat to victory, no improvisation. It is all following a script set by a developer who thought doing things that way would be fun.
Worse, a lot of times it can be pretty much suicide going in blindly to a fight as it is not immediately obvious what is going on or how to counter whatever is killing your group. How people can figure out how to beat those fights and write guides about them is beyond me. But I guess it involves a lot of party wipes, a lot of masochism and tons of patience.
On Guild Wars 2 I haven't had any of that problem so far. The closest thing was my encounter with the Giant Burning Charr Effigy event in the charr starter area. My first time through that event I raised my sword, shouted "CHAAARGE!" and then two seconds later I was dead. While I was staring at the sky, philosophizing about the meaning of life and waiting for some kind soul to come resurrect me, I noticed there was something under the mob's HP bar that read like "Damages Nearby Enemies" which makes sense considering it was a giant monstrosity on fire. Once I got up I tried to equip a ranged weapon. I could not do it since the game doesn't allow to switch gears while in combat and I didn't have any ranged weapon equipped on my secondary weapon slot. Lesson learned though, I always kept a ranged weapon equipped on my secondary weapon slot after that.
The point however of this little story is the kind of gimmicky of this fight (i.e. damages any enemy nearby) made sense given the type of enemy (i.e. giant flaming monster of doom) and the only requirement was for me to use a ranged weapon/attacks. Besides that I could tackle it in any way I wanted. The next times I fought it, I used every ranged skill my warrior had at it. If I was playing a ranger or a mesmer I know I could also have chosen to throw a few other tricks at it that could help during the fight. In other words, no matter what class I fought it with it would be a lot more spontaneous than "Oh, that golem is raising its arm, now it is the time where I need to jump on one of my foot constantly to avoid its "Dreadful Armpit Stink of Doom" attack."
Do I need to even explain this one? Ok. I will be brief though. It helps with immersion, can be a great way to express your creativity and a really passionate, sharing community can be formed around it.
The Present: I will be the first to admit the housing in EQ2 had a lot of issues. Despite that it offered a flexibility that I haven't found so far in any other MMORPG. Guild Wars 2 supposedly will have housing some time after its launch. But I am not holding my breath for it. Other possible candidates with interesting housing in the future are Final Fantasy XIV and Rifts. There aren't many details about those either nor am I really holding my breath for any of those.
In the mean time, I will continue suffering withdrawals from EQ2 housing system. And yes, I should probably seek another hobby where I can put all my creative energies into. /sigh
I think those are the things that I worry the most with every new MMORPG. There is probably more but for now those should be enough. If you have some pet peeves of your own, I suggest writing it on Syl's post just for the convenience of having a more centralized place of discussion. Or if you prefer to write your own blog post about it, do so and post the link there. She will be collecting those and making a post with all the links in a few days. 🙂