Wednesday, March 10, 2021

MMORPGs In Concept

Name an idea better than the massively multiplayer online role-playing game. It’s such a perfect concept. A vast, open fantasy world filled with countless quests, fully customizable characters, and the ability to team up with thousands of other players all around the world sharing the same virtual fantasy as you. It’s probably one of the best concepts in video gaming history. So why are they all terrible?

Every MMO falls victim to the technical limits of just how massively multiplayer it has to be. Obviously, you can’t simply take a singleplayer game like Kingdom Hearts or God of War, and make it multiplayer. Just adding co-op to a singleplayer game opens up a whole world of complications for every member of the dev team.

If you want to make a game that’s simultaneously playable by thousands of players, you have to cut some corners. And in the case of every MMO, the corners cut are the ones that make it feel like an actual game.

Ever since I got my own e-mail address when I was twelve, I’ve played over a hundred MMOs. They’re all the same. They’re all terrible.

Combat is reduced to clicking on an enemy and waiting to see who has better stats. Skill upgrading is something you can only do from a specific person in town. And the quests? Oh, the quests! Remove all quests from an MMO and you'll increase it's quality by 100%.

The first quest in any/every MMO is always the same: the city is overrun by wolves and you have to bring back a certain amount of wolf pelts as proof that you slayed them. This quest is usually given to you by a knight in big, shinning armor with six wings, the kind of knight who could kill every wolf in the area with one swing of either of his giant buster swords.

And the wolves, mind you, aren’t attacking. They’re just standing around, minding their own business until you approach them. And after you kill a few and move on to the next group, the first group magically comes back to life as you question the effectiveness of this quest in the first place. Do that a hundred times and you might actually see inside a dungeon.

I love MMORPGs in concept, but not in execution. I always say they make way better settings for comics, anime, and even singleplayer RPGs than they do actual games.

My first exposure to the concept of MMOs was via the .hack franchise, specifically .hack//SIGN. Even if the show was a bit slow, not helped by the fact that it aired at midnight after the often silent Samurai Jack, I always found the idea of MMOs to be, as I said before, one of the best concepts in gaming of all time.

Maybe it’s because I was already a fan of Digimon at the time and I was more interested in virtual worlds, but I always enjoyed the .hack games more than any actual MMO on account of the fact that, despite being completely singleplayer, they were actually fun.

Like I said: I’ve played over a hundred MMOs in my time and after a while I found myself subconsciously comparing them to “The World“ from  .hack and I gotta say: the closest any of them ever got was a Facebook game and even that was only like 5% similar.

My search for a game emulating the magnificent concept of every MMO without any of the negative features of every MMO led to the discovery of an entire subgenre that I never knew I needed. For a while they were unofficially called “offline MMOs“ which is, understandably, confusing. Nowadays they’re far more common and go by a much simpler and more understood name: the open world RPG.

Games like Skyrim and Breath of the Wild have every awesome feature from the MMO concept and none of the crappy ones. Best of all, these kinds of games are rising in popularity. Virtually every action/adventure IP is getting soft-rebooted into an open world RPG to the point that people are starting to get sick of them.

Me? I can't get enough of these games. They're the perfect stand-in for an MMO. None of them are anything like .hack, but at least they’re all better than World of Warcraft.