The Perfect MMO, As Envisioned By A Player
Ed. Note: James Murff is a long-time MMO player and journalist whose work can be seen on the likes of Massively, Big Download, and Rock Paper Shotgun. He knows his s@$! , so we decided to turn him loose on what he thinks the perfect MMO would look like.
I crouch behind a parapet, nocking my bow. In the distance, a burly-looking warrior crumples to the ground with an arrow lodged in his skull. My guildmates take cover next to me, and one of them throws a few hand-crafted, magically-enhanced arrows my way. As I stand up to loose my next shot, the enemy army begins to charge the gates of our guild’s home. A collection of guards brace the doors in the courtyard as the few remaining villagers and shopkeepers take up residence in the cellar. We built it up from nothing, and we would be damned if we’d let it be taken while a single one of us drew breath.
It’s the ideal MMO. Or, more accurately, my ideal MMO. While every MMO has a little bit here and there that I really love, no title has given me the kind of satisfaction I want. No MMO has given me an experience quite like the one above. Even my favorites, like EVE Online and City of Heroes, have deep flaws that undermine the overall experience.
So here’s what I want. Here’s my perfect MMO. The game that will suck me in and never let go. The game that will consume my life. The last ingredient needed is existence.
Questing is one of the last vestiges of tabletop RPGs in the MMO space. Naturally, I think quests aren’t that great. They are certainly functional, as everyone needs some goal to work toward, but they aren’t fantastic.
I really detest running back and forth between quest camps. It’s time-consuming, boring, and keeps me from going about my business of hacking, slashing, and magic-casting. There’s no reason quests should be that tedious, or at least the kind of tedious that comes from running between locations, not chopping up rabid wildlife.
Quests should be an extension of the player’s experience. After all, questing is basically just a skin to make you feel better about grinding. Quests should be acceptable from anywhere and – if they don’t require an item delivery – completeable anywhere. The tasks can be the same, but the way the player approaches it should be different. Maybe killing a wolf creates a quest that guides you to kill wolves for the nearby village. Maybe a quest to stop an army from assembling pops up when you reach the army’s camp. Making quests more about exploration and less about a set path is exactly what I want from the genre.
While many MMOs have taken steps towards giving players “epic story arcs,” the fundamental truth is that you are just going through the motions that have been laid out for you. Every major MMO on the market – even the oddballs – dictate their story to the audience rather than allowing them to create the story with their actions. No, I don’t mean superficial story creation, like Star Wars: The Old Republic or Guild Wars 2. I mean true emergent storytelling.
This requires dynamicism. Ideally, quests should be reactive to the state of the world, rather than static placeholders for kill totals and item retrieval. A village’s needs change day by day, after all, and killing too many wolves can be just as bad as not killing any at all.
The best implementation of dynamic quests would probably be something akin to the Radiant system of Skyrim mixed with the Public Quest system of Warhammer Online. Villages have needs, which are tended to by the players. As needs are tended to, other needs pop up, ad infinitum. Rather than deal with NPCs that stay in one place all day and give out the same tired quests, players should feel connections to the people they have helped (or not).
By extension, participating in a quest should be an analog process, not a digital one. Rather than forcing the player to kill X enemies before turn-in, players should be able to complete the quest regardless of how much progress they have made. If they didn’t make any, they get nothing but scornful looks and disappointment. If they completed a bit, they get better reactions. If they completed it all, the villager is completely pleased. If they overcomplete it, though, different quests should appear than if it was perfectly or partially completed. After all, going overboard can be just as damaging as not doing anything at all!