Dissecting Awful MMO Mechanics – Part 2
This is part two of my three part series dealing with awful MMO mechanics. If you missed the first part, go no further. Today I’ll talk about the mechanics mentioned by Keen in the second part of his own series in which he views them in a very positive light. Today’s mechanics actually aren’t as awful as the ones we discussed before, but I’m unsure in parts why Keen thinks they don’t exist anymore.
Stay on the Path or Die!
I’m all for enemies in games being actual challenges instead of loot piñatas and in some cases it even makes sense for a path through a zone to be safer than its surroundings. Animals in a forest might stay away from the path that leads through it simply because they know there will be dangerous humans there but would attack you when you stumble into their den. Once we’re dealing with actual enemies though (those who actually mean to attack you and are not just defending their territory) there is only one plausible reason for a path being safer than the surroundings: the presence of fellow adventurers.
Sticking together when crossing dangerous territory and helping strangers in distress can be quite fun, but one needs to be careful not to overdo it. You don’t want grouping to be a requirement for gameplay because there are many people who play solo from time to time for various reasons; therefore you can’t just make every zone too dangerous to enter alone. Also it’s not like modern MMOs don’t have zones that are that dangerous, they are just more clearly separated from those who are not. Modern games make it very clear whether a zone is meant for solo players or groups, for example by marking the more difficult mobs as “elite” or something similar.
So we see groupings in modern MMOs as well, just not as often as we used to. This is because the modern games have less group content in the levelling process which, to me, is a good thing. You also don’t see groups sitting in one spot for ages killing all the monsters around them repeatedly while in the cover of the other players simply because we don’t have that much pure grind in modern games anymore. There is hardly ever a reason to kill the same monsters over and over again.
It would absolutely be cool if instead of entering an instanced, linear dungeon I could gather a group to go adventuring in the Old Forest (or what have you) and find hidden places, treasures, and adventures. That we don’t have this at all in MMOs is not a function of “kill’em if they stray” but of world design and player numbers. For a world to provide good non-linear adventuring content for massive amounts of people it either needs to be way bigger than any company can afford or needs to have some really good procedural content generation.
Verdict: Group content is still there no longer required, which is a good thing. Scary adventures would be fun, but are only remotely connected to leaving the path.
Fast and Dynamic Crowd Control
Fast and dynamic gameplay is good, and I quite like crowd control. So how can I possibly disagree with keen here? Well, for one crowd control wasn’t just there “at the very beginning of WoW” like he says but actually only disappeared in the most current expansion of the game, Wrath of the Lich King. Previous to that, crowd control was a very important element of small group gameplay and probably the most challenging part of it. What’s not good is if crowd control becomes too easy to use or too required. Keen says that a skilled enchanter could crowd control four to five monsters at a time – that’s very dangerous. Either fights become absolutely trivial this way because you never need to fight more than one monster at a time or they become absolutely impossible when you don’t have an enchanter available.
Crowd control should absolutely not be fire-and-forget but should require active participation. A hunter in World of Warcraft, for example, can lay traps that freeze a monster that passes over them for a relatively short duration. A hunter would need to make sure to guide the right monster into her trap and make sure to lay down a new trap in the right place and guide the monster into that when it breaks free from the original one. This was made even more interesting by the fact that the cooldown on the trap ability was higher than the duration of the trap. this way there was always a period in between the monster breaking free and being pulled into a new trap in which the hunter needed to keep the monster busy and away from the party.
I don’t know how the original Everquest crowd control worked, but abilities like these still exist in modern games, they just have been invalidated in WoW through badly designed content. For all I know, WoW crowd control is more dynamic and interesting than that of Everquest.
Verdict: Crowd control is a very good mechanic if used well. There are good modern implementations out there that are just lying dormant a bit right now.
Kiting is a difficult topic to handle. On the one hand I’m all for clever uses of game mechanics but on the other hand it’s quite immersion breaking to have monsters stupidly follow you until they die. From a pure gameplay perspective I don’t mind kiting much, but it is quite tough to balance. You don’t want players to simply kite each and every difficult enemy they encounter because that would essentially mean that there are no more difficult enemies for those players. If you make only some enemies kiteable while essentially giving others immunity (faster run speed, immunity to snares and stuns, ranged abilities, what have you) you risk creating a state in which a monster is either simple or impossible to beat for the kiting classes.
I consider leashing (mobs returning to their starting position if you drag them too far away from it) less of an anti-kiting mechanic and more of a mechanic that prevents “mobbing” a complete zone. This is mostly done to prevent the griefing of other players and to a lesser extent to allow players to actually flee from mobs that are trying to kill them.
Verdict: Kiting is fun in small doses but needs to be carefully balanced. It is also not dead in modern MMOs, I’ve used it successfully in both WoW and LotRO for example.
Those Pesky NPC’s that Ruined Your Day
Keen himself calls these “often frustrating mechanics”. Frustration is not a good thing, period.