The features we’d like to see in a dream MMO
The rumors about the death of the MMORPG genre have been greatly exaggerated. World of Warcraft is still going strong, and it has fierce competition from games like Final Fantasy XIV and New World, the latter of which was recently released to significant hype. And that’s to say nothing of the upcoming MMORPG being developed by Riot Games or older titles that have their many devoted fans, such as Guild Wars 2.
Those titles share many similarities — but also feature many differences from one another. It’s almost impossible to have a single game, as massive as it might be, appeal to every kind of player there is. WoW often comes close: it has enough features to attract all types of players, casual or hardcore, story or gameplay-driven, PVE or PVP-inclined.
But WoW is not unfamiliar to scrutiny or criticism. Players often talk about what could be better about the game; they wonder what their perfect version of WoW — or their perfect MMORPG — would look like. So it’s time to put some ideas into paper, and brainstorm the features that would be found in a dream MMO (even if some of them aren’t all that realistic).
Strong story delivered entirely in-game, without any artificial barriers, and crafted for a single player
Story would happen at its own pace. Players would be able to partake in it just like they’d do in a single-player game. Once a new patch that added story content was released, all of that story content (for the current chapter) would be available to all players. They’d be able to choose whether they want to consume it all in one fell swoop, or take their time.
Still, it’s understandable that some stories would intersect or (by necessity) tie into dungeon or raid content. In that case, this dream MMO would offer an alternative to partaking in the group content: a one-player “scenario” version of that instance that players would brace alongside a group of player-like NPCs — getting the full value of that story on their own terms, without depending on anyone else.
This dream MMO would never require the consumption of external media for players to fully grasp the nuances of the story. All of the main story content would be found in-game, as gameplay content. Sure, there could be novels, comics, animated shorts, etc. — but those would always tell side stories, for the fan who craves more than what’s in the game.
Play whatever you want, and with whomever you want
This dream game would have factions that influence story, and players would choose whether they want to pledge themselves to one of those factions — or they could remain as free-spirit mercenaries who act on their own. When braving PVP, the game would naturally separate players by their allegiances to those different factions (or add the option of working with whoever is paying more).
But this divide would never restrict social factors. You wouldn’t be prevented from communicating or grouping up with a friend you meet in the game because you’re “For The Red Empire” and they’re “For The Golden Church.”
Similarly, players wouldn’t be locked to race, faction, or class choice. They’d be allowed to change those things in-game — albeit for a hefty cost in some cases. No choice should be so permanent to the point of preventing players from enjoying the game, but at the same time, no choice should be so meaningless that they could just flip a switch to redo it.
This dream MMO would also abandon the concept of races, and instead have something similar to the ancestry/heritage/culture system that Dungeons & Dragons is doing. Which would, by definition, allow any player to pick any class they want while still allowing them to benefit from the good parts of their ancestral roots, such as taking certain bonuses that add some glow and spice to their characters.
Cosmetics galore and robust player housing with player-created content
This game would include a lot of cosmetic rewards to chase after — pets, mounts, followers, a gear for all of them, as well as (of course) gear/outfit appearances for your character. And the biggest of them all, a very robust player housing system with many assets to customize it.
Basically, player housing would be incredibly important — albeit optional — and it would be very freeform. You could make it a house that you live in, or a meeting place for your guild or group of friends, but you could also shape it like a fortress, or keep, or pirate airship!
Players could even turn parts of their housing into a “mini-dungeon,” and invite other players to tackle its challenges! They could offer rewards that they craft/gather themselves for those who succeed — and perhaps add optional fees that increase the challenge and the rewards.
This player-created content feature integrated with player housing would ensure that players are constantly visiting one another’s housings, adding an extra incentive to work on your own personal space in this MMO world.
Raise your status in your local society through professions
Crafting would be very important to this dream MMO, and the actual crafting would involve fun mini-games. Furthermore, crafting would allow players to earn reputation, raising their status in their local societies, eventually earning discounts on NPC vendors and the ability to purchase fine commodity goods not accessible to just anyone, among other things.
Crafted goods would include “utility” gear — which boosts characters’ abilities to craft, explore, etc. — as well as catch-up gear, cosmetics, and commodities for their own housing. Much of the “massively multiplayer” aspect of this game would be found here: People would rely on one another to trade goods, far more than on the world out there. But they’d still need to explore the outside world in order to get base materials to craft.
Character power upgrades are permanent but latent
A big problem MMORPGs like WoW run into is that of needing gear resets with every major patch, and even bigger character power resets with every new expansion. To avoid characters from becoming overpowered, developers need to take away their toys every once in a while, so that they can begin the leveling/gearing process all over again, in an endless cycle. Players often get dreadful feelings of getting weaker as they level up on new content, or that gearing up is pointless when a new patch is imminent.
To avoid those problems, this dream MMO would take inspiration from roguelikes: The biggest part of your character power would be latent, only becoming fully unlocked within instanced content.
In instances, both PVE and PVP, by defeating enemies and bosses, or other players, characters would absorb their essences, and those essences would empower their abilities and talents within the current instance. Characters would get progressively more powerful the further they progressed — far more than they’d be out in the world. Abilities would even morph into different forms sometimes — there would be dungeon/raid-specific powers, making each instance feel unique.
But once players left that instance, it’d be just like “ending the current run” in a roguelike game — all of that juicy essence they absorbed would be dispersed, and they’d return to their normal power levels.
Since power is latent, all content is evergreen
Besides the fact that a system like this would ensure that power resets don’t need to exist, it would also ensure that no content ever has to be abandoned. An early-game dungeon — even one designed to teach you the ropes of how to perform your chosen role in group content — would remain forever relevant, since your character would never overpower it. It would be exactly like many MMOs do with systems like Timewalking or Level Sync, but built-in by default. You’d be encouraged to run older instances for cosmetic rewards.
On the other hand, your character could also earn small, localized bits of permanent (not latent) power. Once you completed the story or content of a zone (both leveling and current zones), you could earn gear that allows you to deal extra damage to minions in that zone, or special mount equipment that would let you soar over it with haste. Players would still be able to progress and show mastery over the world; the difference is that this mastery would be localized to each piece of content they’ve conquered.
In essence, this dream MMO would take the “transmog is the real endgame” motto to heart by making cosmetic and housing content — combined with crafting and social ties — a large part of the endgame. Those social ties would never be hindered by story or faction choice. And the combination of player housing with player-created content would bolster it.
Power progression — as well as min/maxing and making the “perfect” build with talents and gear — would exist in a localized form, that springs to life within instanced content, eliminating issues like power resets and borrowed power, and also ensuring that all content is evergreen by definition.
Story content would be crafted like in a single-player game, always delivered all at once, without tie-ins to outside media, and giving players options to tackle it solo if they chose to.
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