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Running in the Special Olympics

Discussion of the Evolving Nature of the MMO Industry from an Outsider's Perspective

Author: PhatWOP

The Supremacy of Gear or "Talents or Toys, what defines you?"

Posted by PhatWOP Wednesday February 20 2008 at 1:22PM
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What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? Look at the strength in your body, the desire in your heart, I gave you this!

Thulsa Doom, Conan the Barbarian


Besides being an excellent scene in which Thulsa Doom makes an innocent girl commit suicide to prove both his point and that he is one bad dude, James Earl Jones was also pointing to what I feel is an eternal debate in RPGs.

Of course the most recent and prevalent RPG is the MMO. The riddle of steel that Thulsa is discussing is the question of what is more potent, the steel of the sword or the hand that wields it? In RPGs there has always been a tension between what is really powerful, the character and his own skills or the gear he gets. What really makes the character a hero? Most MMOs (following in the tradition of early games like Dragon Warrior as I mentioned last time) fall squarely in the camp of the warrior’s accoutrement. Though there have been a few expections such as CoH, but that was more for adherence to the genre rather than to answer the riddle of steel. Certainly no naked max level character in most MMOs would stand a chance against a fully epic geared 1337 d00d in a spar, duel or whatever your particular game calls a one on one testosterone showdown.

In fact, I think at this point, after almost twenty years of playing video games where "phat lewts" are your ultimate reward, it had become ingrained upon an entire generation of gamers that they are to be judged based on the quality of the gear above all else.

But does it have to be this way?

Certainly gear plays an important role in legendary epics and stories. King Arthur drew Excalibur from the stone and Hercules had his club, but more often then not, it seems to me that the truest heroes from these stories succeeded through skill and talent. Beowulf was a legendary warrior; he did not rely on a set of uber gear. Acheillies, Odysseus, Gilgamesh and many more were all great because of who they were or the things they did. Even in the cases where a piece of equipment was vital, such as in the case of Excalibur, it was still the character of Arthur that allowed him to wield it and that was his only piece of vital gear. Not a full resplendent set of gear he got from raiding the "grail instance".

Now I realize that people enjoy getting things, who doesn’t love the feeling of ripping open that wrapping paper on Christmas morning? Or winning that random roll for a sweet item? But it all begs the question, are we making heroes or loot whores?

What got me thinking about this was the relaunch of D&D in 4E. They are taking the focus away from equipment and trying to focus more on the strength and talents of the heroes themselves. You still get gear, we like the idea of having magical items and I don’t think that can ever be truly removed from games, nor should it. I simply feel as though the real decisions being made about your character at high level are not what skills he should focus on or what power separate him and make him a hero, but rather the toys and shiny baubles he has managed to accumulate.

Keep in mind I am not claiming games don’t give you any good skills or such at high level. Certainly you have some powers and perhaps they are even somewhat modified by traits, talents or another tweeking word beginning with the letter "t", but it seems to me at least, the gear becomes of prime importance, the ultimate treadmill that all characters, whether they raid, PvP or whatever, eventually must run on.

So I will end this with a question? What do you all want? Do you want to see the collection of gear continue and be the defining aspect of your character or you would rather have your skills and powers be what set you apart?



JB47394 writes:

Functionally, character skills and talents are almost identical to items, particularly the "soulbound" kind.  They are just two different rationalizations of boosting the capabilities of a given character so that it can operate in the Big Number Environment of high levels.

So it really boils down to a preference for one fiction over another.  If you, as a player, identify strongly with your character's skills, then it would make sense that you would prefer skills over equipment.  For someone who prefer to collect something that makes them look cool, they'd prefer equipment over skills.

In my case, I don't notice the fiction anymore.  It's just a game for me.  I get a change in appearance for my character with a new item, and I might get a change in game play with a new skill (e.g. a crowd control skill that I didn't have before).  Other than that, it's just bigger numbers so I can keep up with my level progression.

Wed Feb 20 2008 2:19PM Report
Anofalye writes:

I prefer level and abilities to gear.


But as long as gear acquisition is still FUN and in the same activity, I wouldn't mind it.  Try to make me raid/PvP/tradeskill and I will not play this game which ask me to do another activity than the one I intend to do.

Wed Feb 20 2008 5:09PM Report
craynlon writes:

gear collecting seems to be a crucial part of the mmo experience yet it has drawbacks.

one of the major drawbacks i see is that gear dependent gameplay prevents realism in terms of weapon breaking/ looting.
imagine in your mmo that you were striped of all armor and weapons and had to fight just with your bare fists or some makeshift weapons like a wooden spear or a stone. these kind of dramatic elements cant be used in most mmo because a char without his gear would be at only 20% of his strength or even less (same with stupid buffs but thats another issue)

so yes i am in favour of a system where gear boosts your fighting abilities by 3%, good gear by 5% and epic incredible super gear by 10% over an ungeared opponent.

and of course gear should have flaws that come with the benefits. especially armor. its incredible stupid that in most mmo a guy in heavy armor with a two-handed weapon runs the same as a guy in a lioncloth with only a dagger.

Thu Feb 21 2008 5:50AM Report writes:
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