As an online gamer, I've found it impossible to find the perfect MMO; an online game with minimal flaws that I won’t get bored with after a month. I’ve played the majority of MMO titles: World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, Firefall, Defiance, Rift, The War Z, The Secret World, Champions Online, DCUO, etc, etc. But, I always find myself thinking, “this game is good, but it’s not great.” Each title has its own strengths and uniqueness, but falls short in one area or another, creating a void that just hasn't been filled.
So, what makes the perfect massively multiplayer online game? There are many elements from MMOs of years/days past that are worth keeping; that I place high value on. While everyone has their own list of “what makes a great game,” here are the elements I believe would make the PERFECT MMO.
World of Warcraft accomplished what no other MMO has done to date: it hooked us on the story. The lore of World of Warcraft is by far the richest story in any MMO or game ever created. There are entire websites created dedicated only to the world of Azeroth and uncovering its characters, locations and bosses. The creativity of Blizzard is unlike no other, which is why they can capitalize on their customers’ love for orcs, dwarves and gnomes by releasing expansion packs every year, creating new stories and, therefore, new adventures. There are also numerous Warcraft novels and short stories that the game is based on. This is the type of deep and rich content players crave.
I want a map that has a lot to offer. I want a map that truly makes the player feel like they are just a little spec in the universe. Exploration is one of the most entertaining elements of any game, letting players uncover hidden places and creatively designed areas. Bring me to a skyscraper-worthy statue in one area worthy of the Lost television series and then take me underwater to an expansive underground colony of the past. Give these areas their own lore and fill the world with MANY different wonders. Make it so that areas aren't instanced, also: WoW style. I don't want to have to sit at a loading screen everytime I change areas.
The Secret World brought us one of the most extensive options for character customization yet. There were tattoo options, clothing options, different body builds and even car customization. Guild Wars 2 had a new aspect of collecting dyes and there are a lot of them, to dye your armor pieces to create your own unique look, and it was definitely a noticeable element of the game. Players were creative, creating characters who looked like Batman or Robin or who were angelic I appearance, dressed all in white.
Amazing and Unique Artwork
Art design in a game is more important than you might think. Sure, we can still pick up a controller and play our NES and enjoy ourselves, but certainly not without noticing the cring-worthy design and art that was a result of the console’s limitations. Look at today’s most popular titles and you will notice that there is not a top 10 game that doesn’t have top 10 art. PSN’s Journey was wildly popular, mostly due to the awesomely drawn artwork throughout the game. The Fallout series has some of the most unique artwork in the gaming world, especially in the creative billboards and posters littered around the post apocalyptic world, which greatly enriches the gamer’s feeling of immersion within that world.
Bosses We’ve Never Seen Before
Sure, you could make life easy and force us to battle a dragon for the 1,843,234th time, but that just shows your lack of creativity. It is rare nowadays for you to open up a game, pop it into the drive and find a boss battle unlike any other you’ve seen. I don’t want to see dragons, I don’t want to see big ogres and I don’t want to see giant spiders; it’s been done. Give us something unique in your game!
The biggest problem with Guild Wars 2 was the lack of great loot. World of Warcraft’s extensive list of unique items is one of the largest inventories in a game to date. And, the rare items have their own story. For example, there’s Frostmourne, the Lich King’s sword, which has an inscription on its pedestal which reads, “Whomsoever takes up this blade shall wield power eternal. Just as the blade rends flesh, so must power scar the spirit." Players can wield The Dark Edge of Insanity, with an eye embedded within the axe that blinks at you. This axe drops off of C’Thun, the final boss of Temple of Ahn’Qiraj. None of that will make sense to you if you don’t play World of Warcraft, but that just a further example of the game’s rich lore.
Action Based Gameplay
Another key element in an MMO is best exemplified by Firefall and Planetside 2. I don’t like turn based games because, well, they’re boring. Firefall drops you right into the action from the first moment you pick up your mouse and keyboard. It’s run and gunning at their best, in which dodging incoming bullets actually lets you do just that. So, movement is granted a greater level of importance and necessity for mastery, unlike in other MMOs in which you could stand still or move and it wouldn’t matter because you still get hit. Placing an emphasis on dodging and movement creates an added element of gameplay that makes it more enjoyable.
In Game Calendar Events
A great way to keep releasing content and updating the game is with in game calendar events. This shouldn’t be limited solely to holidays, but expanded to various other times of year/seasons as well. Throw a summer sun event that has some great summer fun the casual player can partake of. But don’t stop there. Give us a summer sun raid boss (The Scorcher) or something that plays off the ongoing event, in which hardcore gamers can team up with their friends to get some awesome loot. My favorite calendar event is World of Warcraft’s yearly Brewfest, mainly because I like beer and you get to drink a lot of it (in the game, at least).
Balancing for Player versus Player (PvP)
Far too often we’ve gotten into a new game only to find out that long standing players have a clear advantage in PvP. It is frustrating to know that your squishy character has no chance against a warrior’s platinum plated armor. While not as prominent an issue as this used to be, it still is worth mentioning.
Guild War 2‘s greatest asset was their version of Rift’s live map events. In fact, Guild Wars 2 is the best example of how local map events should work. You are in an area and suddenly a group of centaurs raids a local village; or a dragon alights on the land to wreak havoc. Boom, instant new “quest” you can choose to partake in, or laugh while others become dragon fodder. It’s fun, especially when players cry out for help via the local chat.
User Defined Economy
Did you just down Jormag in Frostgorge Sound but got a rare drop that you can’t use? Take to the auction house, I mean Black Lion Trading Post, to sell it. But, the problem with many in game trading systems is that you have to pay a sort of tax or fee to use the trading post. In Guild Wars 2, users cannot trade with another player in game. This is a MAJOR flaw. In fact it is the one that bothered me the most about Guild Wars 2. Game developers need to let users set the pricing for their own items. Supply and demand is most important, so this is obviously the driving factor of this type of trade system. Secondly, a trade chat is a must. Sure, you’ll come across a great deal of spam, but there are numerous ways to prevent that from hindering the trade experience. Thirdly, let players meet up to trade the item in game, such as is available in World of Warcraft. This is an important social aspect in games, as it provides players with a chance to show off their cool armor and unique items.
Buy Once, No Monthly Fee
I understand that game developers and companies have to make money in order to want to produce a game, but a monthly fee is uncalled for. The model that many games are chasing these days is Free to Play, but that creates a new problem. The problem created by Free to Play games is either: (a) they’re littered with advertisements; or (b) they’re pay to win/pay for customization. Taking away from customization is a big mistake and turns a lot of players off your game. Out of all items offered, including weapons, upgrades, stat boosts and customization options, customization options are the most lucrative to game companies. The best direction for pricing structure to head is towards the buy once and pay no monthly fees model that made Guild Wars 2 wildly popular. This pay once model appeals to the gamers who don’t play the game for hours a day but maybe hours per week, because they are not forced to pay for the same thing that hardcore/everyday players are paying for. For this reason, The Secret World also recently adopted the pay once model.
World of Warcraft’s greatest challenge today is the game’s outdated graphics. The graphics simply don’t compare to other MMO’s, such as Age of Wushu or Guild Wars 2. MMO’s are looking better and better, which is a natural thing for pc games, as the pc’s graphic capabilities are ever evolving. While not every pc gamer has a super rig like I do, the majority of games come with graphic sliders to adjust the graphics down, which is also a necessity for a great online gaming experience.
Leveling and XP
While most people just want to get to the level cap as quickly as possible, I want to be able to level slowly so that I can enjoy everything each separate level may have to offer, at the intended difficulty. I don’t want to get all the way to level 25 without entering Deadmines, but this is difficult to accomplish when you level so quickly. Leveling should be quick for the first few levels to introduce the idea of leveling and then should scale back after that. There hasn’t been an experience flub in recent memory that I can think of. The commonly used xp points for better traits, armor upgrades and new abilities seems to be working just fine. Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken.
Crafting, Farming, Professions
Many gamers play MMOs for the crafting and professions alone, so it is important for developers to capitalize on this. The upcoming MMO from Paradox Interactive, Salem, is being dubbed the crafting MMO, so hopefully other game publishers will follow suit. But what makes great crafting? The discovery elements that Guild Wars 2 provided were some of the most enjoyable crafting experiences to date. As a cook, players could combine any combination of up to four foods to create a new recipe to cook, which would help level their profession and it made sense. Mixing cheese, dough and pasta sauce created pizza. Mixing oranges, baking ingredients and frosting created orange cake. It all made sense. But while Guild Wars 2’s cooking profession had depth to it. However, the game’s other professions lacked usefulness in the items created. By the time you were able to craft a new sceptor, you’d be well over the level you would want to have used the sceptor for. This was due in large part to the fact that, as stated above, everything in the game grants you experience.
Not many people enjoy farming in the MMO world, but I am one of the people who thoroughly enjoys farming in games to get the items I need, depending on the game. The best MMO should not scale levels of a mob according to the level of your character. If you need to farm carrots by killing a bunny and you’re a level 6000, don’t scale the bunny to level 6000 to make it more difficult. If you were able to get the carrot at level 5 without a challenge, you should certainly be able to get the carrot at level 6000 even faster. Hunting in games can be fun (see Far Cry 3).
Developers should make gathering a challenge. If you want to hunt a deer, you’d better be stealthy. If you want to fish for a rare fish, you’d better plan to try different waters. Creating rare beasts to hunt in a game provides the gamer with a great deal of fun. The perfect example of this is fishing for Old Ironjaw in Ironforge. And, players should get not only an achievement, but a unique costume piece or weapon that clearly says, “I killed this beast.”
Cater to all Types of Players
My biggest gripe with The War Z is that it only caters to the hardcore and says “to hell with you” to the casual gamer. While I, myself, am a hardcore gamer and love games that are difficult for a purpose, other gamers don’t enjoy being thrown to the wolves. Casual gaming is growing at an exponential rate, which is why mobile games have taken off so quickly. Catering to these types of gamers is a necessity to maximize your number of subscribers and prolong the life of your game.
This may be a lengthy list of factors, but I’m a perfectionist. Currently, there is no massively multiplayer online game that gives us every one of these things in a single game.Who knows; 2013 might bring us the year of the perfect MMO. There's a ton of new MMOs on the way. There's the official release of Neverwinter at some point in 2013, as well as WildStar (which is the game I'm most looking forward to), Elder Scrolls Online, and Destiny to name a few. But, until these games actually come out, we’ll have to play World of Warcraft for the lore, Guild Wars 2 for the graphics and dynamic events, The Secret World for character customization and Far Cry 3 for the hunt.
Sound off below in the comments to add your two cents in about what you think makes a great MMO...