It has been a while since I did my last article in my Character Advancement series. This is mostly due to the fact that I have covered a lot of the basic (and crazy) topics that I had intended to. I had scheduled myself to do an in depth look at talent trees but, in all honesty, they’re just a structured form of alternate advancement points. I have decided to go in a different direction: theft.
Have you ever played a really great single player RPG and thought, “This would work well in an MMO?” There have been a number of occasions where I have and I thought it would be prudent to write about it. Today I want to cover two advancement systems that would translate easily into the MMO genre: Fallout and Final Fantasy X.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Fallout series I highly suggest you finish reading my article and then go out and buy Fallout 3. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Before you do so, however, I’ll give a quick break down on how advancement works in the series.
In the Fallout series your character is made up primarily by statistics and skills. Statistics have certain functions within the game that they modify (strength lets you carry more for instance). The stats directly give bonuses to related skills, while the skills modify more specific actions and set “barriers.” If you’re a thief, your lock picking skill makes opening locks easier but also limits you. Some locks require a certain level of skill before you can even try. Each time you level you’re given a set amount of skill points based on intelligence and allowed to pick one perk. It is the perks that make the game really shine.
Perks in Fallout have always been both fun and humorous. They modify your game play experience directly. Some are straight forward and offer large bonuses to skills or another stat point. Others are for pure enjoyment. The most famous one being Bloody Mess. For a player every other level unlocks a new set of perks that continue to become more powerful or useful. These perks help to specialize and define a character. Imagine how well that would work in an MMO.
Using Fallout as an example, an MMO could start every player off on equal footing without commitment. Players could come up with a general idea of what they want to be and distribute their statistic points accordingly. They could then select the skills they primarily plan to use. Each level, however, would give them new opportunities to specialize their character further or round themselves out. I’m sure, as with all skill based games, I’ll hear the old “but players could gimp themselves” argument. At this point, however, I think we need to start giving players more credit. If they can figure out Eve, they can figure out a Fallout like game. Obviously in an MMO you’d want more options than Fallout provides but the base is solid. I wonder why nobody has used this system yet.
Turning away from the direction-light Fallout experience I think the Final Fantasy X sphere grid offers a lot of potential to the MMO world. At the beginning of each character’s “life” in FFX they would be placed in a different location on the sphere grid. Each time one of the cast gained a level they would be able to move forward once to a node they’ve never visited or back to ones they previous have. The node is then activated with a loot item that corresponds (you would use a power sphere to active a strength node).
How could this work out in an MMO? Developers could start each class on a different point in the grid or on entirely different grids depending on if they wished to allow a multi-class experience or not. Much like in FFX players would have to find spheres as loot (these could even be crafted). The bonus of this is that you have an instant, player driven economy as players would be seeking the specific spheres that they need. Each level players could yield the traditional hp, mana, and basic abilities increase. The sphere grid could then be used to specialize a character to your play style.
Players could travel the grid throughout their character’s career to pick up the abilities, benefits and statistic increases that they want. You could also create different tiers of spheres to augment player progression. Solo mobs might drop a sphere that gives 100% of the nodes bonus but group mob dropped and crafted spheres might give a 110% bonus. You could even put clear forks into the grid to go from general classes to sub-classes and even down to specializations. This would give players a lot of opportunity to think about what they’d like to do. With a little effort I think this would be a great system for an MMO.
I think it would be interesting for MMO developers to borrow more from single player RPGs. We’ve seen so many “levels plus a talent tree” games that a change is well past due. What other systems would be good to steal? What are some of the problems with these? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Originally posted on Epic Slant.