Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Dissecting Awful MMO Mechanics – Part 3

Welcome back to the third post of me hijacking Keen’s series on “Old MMO Mechanics I Love and You Probably Hate” where I tell you that I do, In fact, hate those mechanics but where I also see whether there’s anything salvageable in them. Unlike part 2, most of today’s mechanics really are awful!

Classes That Filled Unique Roles

In my opinion, classes should be as different from each other as possible in order to make them interesting and I definitely don’t like World of Warcraft’s current course of homogenization. That said, if certain required roles can only be filled by one specific class then group composition is utterly problematic. Back in classic WoW there was a small raid instance called Upper Blackrock Spire1 which more or less required you to have a hunter in your group that knew what she was doing. Sometimes you’d have your whole group sitting around a major city for hours while waiting for a hunter to come along – and then when you did finally find one, she would be terrible and fail at the task she was invited for.

It’s fine for hunters to be the only class that can reasonably kite one of the dragon lieutenants in there, but the game gets a lot better if there would be other classes with different methods of approaching the same problem. I remember wiping on Anub’arak hard mode back when I still played WoW, which pretty much required you to have four paladins in the raid. If only three showed up for a raid night, we simply could not go at all. That is what you get when you create unique required roles, and that is pretty bad.

Itemization

Itemization is a difficult topic that I’ve written about extensively before. I, too, think that current MMO itemization leaves a lot to be desired, but at the same time I don’t necessarily think that simpler is better. Collecting items has been a huge part of the appeal of computer role-playing games to me since pretty much forever – at least going back to the original Diablo. I quite disliked the D&D itemization found in many of the old Baldur’s Gate games exactly because items were just boring and normal. Does itemization need addressing? Absolutely. Is returning to the old ways of a Longsword + 1 the correct solution? I think not.

Pulling and Group Spots

Sitting in a spot for hours, killing the mobs spawning around you that a designated puller is bringing to you is what Keen wants apparently. That’s grinding, pure and simple. Modern MMOs rightly take steps away from grinding or at least mask the grind with quests, new zones, models, etc. A game in which the best way to level is to sit in the same spot for hours and hours killing the same mobs over and over again doesn’t sound like fun to me at all. Sure, Asian MMOs do still do this all the time but western culture doesn’t really seem to accept that kind of gameplay – and rightly so in my opinion.

Personally I actually appreciate the ability to grind mindlessly from time to time – for example to keep my hands busy while watching a movie – but grind should never be required nor the best way to play a game. Companies like having grind in their game because it extends playtime, but players should never ask for it.

Rare Spawn Camping

If Keen’s headline had been “rare spawns” and omitted the “camping” part, I might actually have agreed with him. I like stumbling over a rare spawn while doing something completely different. That makes the game feel more alive and makes you feel somewhat special. Camping rare spawns makes a travesty out of the whole concept. No longer do you have the cool experience of meeting a monster that you’ve never seen before and maybe never heard of but instead you are sitting in one spot for hours and hours doing pretty much nothing while waiting for that rare spawn to, well, spawn. Not only is that incredibly boring but it’s also quite immersion breaking. The whole concept of spawn timers breaks immersion, but specifically waiting for one monster to pop up is about as unrealistic as it gets.

Stumbling over the Time-lost Proto Drake while flying to Ulduar is cool, flying in circles on a path you looked up on Wowhead for hours at a time is not.

Dungeon Crawling

This ties in a lot with the previous two points. It is not cool to sit in a single spot for hours, whether you are waiting for a special monster to appear or whether you are just killing all the monsters in the area over and over again. Doing the same thing in an open dungeon with the hardest task being to find a good spot that is not yet covered by another group can’t be any better, can it? The cool thing about the MMO part in MMORPG is that you get to play with other people and that the world feels alive. Overcrowding and feeling insignificant are not strongly positive features of those games, yet that is exactly what open dungeons are about. No longer do you go out on an exciting adventure with friends to defeat the evil dragon, but instead you set an alarm clock to right after the server maintenance so that your group can be the first to sit at spot X to wait for the poor, outnumbered (Open dungeon, remember. No such thing as a limited to the amount of people you bring.) dragon to appear and be slaughtered right away for spoils.

Train to Zone

I absolutely hate griefing. Ruining another player’s fun by whatever means you have is simply not acceptable behaviour in my eyes. Killing lowbies, killing quest mobs, parking your huge mount on a flight master NPC – all these acts are despicable in my eyes as there’s always a human being at the other end of the line  that is just trying to have some fun which you are ruining. Even if unintentional, this can be quite frustrating. The other day I played some LotRO, carefully soloing my way through a zone intended for groups when another guy invites me to a party. I accepted, thinking that we would be much faster doing the quest in a group. Little did I know that he would proceed to pull badly right away and kill me with that. I was dead about three seconds after I accepted the invite.

Essentially this was my fault for not choosing the people I group with better, but in Everquest (and other games with similar train mechanics) you didn’t need to be in a group for others to kill you by proxy. Whether they are intentionally pulling monsters onto you or just doing that by accident, you are dead either way if you are not constantly looking out for such trains. I’ve played such games before, and I’m much, much more happy with the current “safer” approach of monsters not touching you if someone else pulled them. I still die to such things in games like WoW – for example when exploring a cave which seems somewhat empty (obvious assumption: because someone killed the mobs before I came in) only to be suddenly be overrun by returning monsters that were just following someone else and eventually gave up. Still, the system offers quite some additional protection against griefing, whether it is intentional or not. And how can you possibly advocate griefing?

Conclusion

Most old game mechanics are gone for a reason and at least to me those reasons are mostly sound. There are some gems to be found in older games of course that have either been forgotten or discarded for more mass-market appeal. Mostly though current generation MMOs are simply better than the old ones. Which, by the way, is probably why they are played so much more.

I don’t want this whole series to sound as if I’m bashing Keen, I simply completely disagree with almost everything he wrote in his series except for the statement in the title.


1 UBRS was an early incarnation of raid instances in World of Warcraft allowing for groups of 15 (and later only 10) players to enter at a time but providing loot that was comparable to that of 5 men instances. So it was technically a raid because it required more than 5 players, but it played more like a normal 5 men instance and was treated that way. I’m sure proper raid groups could have completed it without a hunter, but those generally had better things to do.