Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The MMO Genre Has Hit Rock Bottom

If you happen to be as young as me, then you may remember the games that started it all, like Everquest, Ultima Online or Meridian 59. They were games that created and molded the genre, before Ultima Online no one had ever said the overly familiar acronym MMORPG, massively multiplayer online role playing game, but these games were among the first to popularize the idea and take the genre to new heights. They all had ideas of grandeur, of creating large worlds filled with players, worlds filled with content and worlds that gave players a plentiful amount of choices. Since then there has been many new MMORPG's, especially since the success of the nearly universally familiar World of Warcraft, and most MMORPG's to try to do a great deal of new things to further the genre, now that is no longer the case.

In this modern age where a MMORPG can cost up to $200 million dollars to make, it seems unfeasible to take a chance on something new and unique. That's what big publishers would tell you, like EA, Nexon, Aeria Games or NCSoft. None of them want to support new projects that try dangerously new and exciting ideas. It's been 13 years since Everquest and what new ideas have been brought to the genre? Action based mechanics certainly, free to play, cross server functionality, unique skill systems, exciting dungeons, story based gameplay, but what else? 

You might say that newer MMORPG's have evolved crafting into a better experience or taken the grind out of leveling, but those are both only marginally better than they were back in the last 1990's. What about guilds, well sure some guild systems are thoroughly thought out and have all kinds of accommodations, like in Rift or Tera, but Ultima Online also had a fairly deep guild system. I will concede that MMORPG's have generally been improved and refined, but creativity is being confined and strangled. Will we see a rise of new ideas, bold ideas, that take the genre into new ground, or will the stagnant state of genre continue in this safe manner in which each developer will only take a slight creative risk, generally conforming to a large portion of the already defined aspects of a MMORPG. 

Nothing but slightly re-imagined interface to be seen
Two of the biggest MMORPG's right now at Star Wars: The Old Republic and Tera, two MMORPG's that fail to invigorate the genre with life. Stars Wars: TOR does have the story based gameplay, which was supposed to revolutionize the genre, but instead it merely made it a distinct type of MMO and didn't fulfill any of it's lofty goals. We are told that in The Old Republic your choices matter and your companions are important to your story, unfortunately that is only a partial truth. It is a game that plays with the facade of meaningful choices and delivers you no sense of satisfaction or conclusion, not only with the story for each class in the game, but with the companions that accompany you along the way. Other than this half success The Old Republic has taken the completely safe route, ensuring that it will earn a good amount of sales, but also earning the ire of those who wished to play something that felt original. Nearly everything in the game, besides the story and companions, is straight out of the MMORPG playbook and one of the most important aspects of the game, combat, feels like a re-skinned version of previous MMORPG's. 

Graphically we've come a long way, that's for sure
My other example, Tera, leaves you with a bitter taste. Sure the game hasn't come out yet, merely in open beta right now, but having played it, watched other players it and read about it I can come to a conclusion on a number of points. Tera's defining feature is it's combat, an action based system that is supposed to feel fresh, exciting and unique. While it is fairly new to MMORPG's, it hunkered down by mediocrity. You can dodge enemies, like you could in a game like Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, but everything still relies entirely upon hitting hotkeys and holding down your mouse. While it is meant to be exciting and new, it is instead just like so many games before it. It absolutely takes a step in the right direction, just not far enough.  Tera has a ton of infrastructure and with that it does have an exciting political feature in which players essentially run part of the world, a feature that can be seen as a creative risk, but it is a small portion of the game and does not make the rest of the game unique. Everything else about Tera, besides combat and the political system, is improved or borrowed from previous MMORPG's, once again straight out of the playbook. 

My point isn't to say that Tera or Star Wars: The Old Republic are bad MMORPG's, they each certainly have their own draws and fanbase in mind, but my point is that they both take the easy path. Where is the creativity that spurred on developers to take the idea of 100 person text based MMORPG's and turn that into a whole 3d world that is filled with daring new ideas. I want to see a bright future for the genre, I want to play a MMORPG that genuinely has innovative ideas. No more of this false advertising that attempts to make every new MMORPG into this unique experience that you can only achieve through that one game. They all blend, they all mesh, they are all playing it safe to an almost extreme extent. 

There are some games out there could give some hope to others who find the genre to be tired and out of ideas, like the upcoming The Secret World by Funcom, Guild Wars 2 by Arenanet or Salem by Seatribe.  I say some hope because each of those because like the previously mentioned Tera and The Old Republic, each has some new ideas, but for the most part may stick to tried and true methods, meaning all three of those could be just as unrevolutionary as nearly every other MMORPG right now. Someday we may see the rise of something new that does away with the shackles of safety in familiarity and tries to create a unique, innovative and exciting new MMORPG, hopefully one that takes the genre in a positive direction. 

-Written by Sean Cargle


  1. Lol, Tera has much more to offer than what you just mentioned. Also, the combat is very unique, you have to play more of it. Combo system plus action cancels are a big part of the system and you didn't mention it. Spacing and movement, also an even bigger factor. You lack the knowledge of Tera and therefore you should not say it's nothing new to the Genre, because it is more than you think. U should include GW2 in ur article if you really believe Tera is nothing new.

    1. Also, I did like the Combo system, but action cancels are a stable of nearly every MMORPG.

    2. Not in action MMOs. Tera is the first action MMO with action cancels. Vindictus has it, but that game is not a true MMO game. You might be confused with tab targetting MMOs which one can cancel a skill before it's cast, but That's not action combat. Think of it like street fighter 4, with the level 2 action cancels, That's more close to how the combat is in Tera.

  • I wasn't trying to say that it was nothing new, merely more familiar to the genre that revolutionary, like they claim the combat to be, but I played the game up to level 25 and tried out several different classes. Of course I cannot know it at all without playing the full release, but I can still understand enough to tell that they aren't breaking any new ground. GW2 I did include, but not as something that has let the genre, merely because I haven't played it and cannot attest to whether it's so called unique features are actually unique, however I did concede that it could turn out to be quite bland.

  • MMORPGs are probably one of my favorite genres. I agree with this post but It is also understanding why game developers dont take major risks. They know what works, and they know what a lot of players will enjoy. Sadly this has kept any major progression as far as game design for MMOs. It's sad that having such large budgets that developers are only willing to make minor tweaks and changes to the Everquest and WoW type of gameplay. I really hope to see more progression soon. I would also love to see some kind of MMO zombie survival game, or even something like Fallout. I have not tried Tera yet but I plan on waiting to try it out.

    1. Keep your eye on this, it has been fully funded. There are several others zombie survival MMO's in the work, but might be a good one.