When I got home from this year's Game Developers Conference, I decided that I was going to treat myself to a new FPS. Now, I was a fan of FPS before I'd even heard of an MMORPG and part of my gaming heart will always lay with classics like DOOM, Wolfenstein, Hexen and their slew of sequels.
I wasn't sure what to get. I'd already burnt out on Left 4 Dead 2, and I could hear the siren call of Modern Warfare 2, a game that I feel like a lapsed gamer for not picking up on day one. Then I got a phone call from one of my gaming friends. He and I had killed a lot of hours in Battlefield 2142, a game that he recommended to me, so when he started telling me how I "absolutely HAD to get Aliens vs. Predator," I put thoughts of Call of Duty out of my head and went for the less conventional choice. I'm glad I did.
I can't really tell you about the single player mode. If I want to play through a story, I'll pick up an RPG. For me, at least as of late, FPS gaming has been all about the PvP, which is really what this game was designed for, pitting Aliens against Predators against Marines.
I wanted to highlight this game in particular because a) I think it's great and if you're an FPS fan you should probably pick it up and b) because it does a couple of things that I think MMOs in general could learn from. First, it offers three faction PvP and second, it offers three unique factions that includes gameplay that is completely different from the others.
Three Faction PvP
It's not as though three faction PvP is something new. After all, the inventors of RvR did it quite nicely in Dark Age of Camelot. The lack of it is something that many people have pointed to as one of the reasons that Warhammer Online's RvR isn't as compelling. I think though that those of us out there who never had the chance to play DAoC have a more difficult time in seeing the benefits that tri-faction PvP can bring to the table.
First and foremost, three faction PvP breaks the tedium that often results from fighting the same enemies over and over using the same tactics. Adding a third faction into any combat mix complicates matters and makes the entire scenario play out in a less predictable way, adding to the overall excitement of the process. What happens if, for example, you hone in on a kill, only to be stabbed in the back by a member of the third faction?
Then, you've got to consider the fact that a third faction acts as a bit of a wild card in terms of single faction domination. If, for example, one faction is dominating, the other two factions can choose to work together to take down the first. Aion tried to do something like this with their third faction of NPCs, but there really isn't any substitute for a real live person at the other end.
I've been playing team vs. team PvP in FPSes for a long time, and I have to admit that playing with three factions, something that I thought would be a minimal change at best, has altered the way that I play the game and provided me with a unique experience above and beyond my favourite old mechanics in a new skin.
Three Distinct Factions
I think that what impressed me the most about Aliens vs. Predator was the fact that each of the three races: The Aliens, the Predators and the human Marines each make use of a completely different style of gameplay. The Aliens rely on speed and can climb walls and ceilings, lashing out with their claws and tails. The Predators, on the other hand, do a lot of distance jumping, attacking from a height, using stealth and generally being badass at melee while the marines are your standard run and gun FPS class.
What really struck me about the game though is that none of these factions is a carbon copy of the other, as is so often the case in games. Not only do I, as an Alien, not use any of the same abilities or strategies as my opponents, but I don't even use the same UI. The strategies that my team uses to win are going to be different than the strategies employed by my enemies.
The developers of this game weren't afraid to mix things up with their factions, even running the risk that, in certain situations, one race might be over-powered. While balance overall has been carefully cultivated, there was no need to make everyone feel as though they should be able to defeat anyone else at any given time.
In the world of MMOs, the quest for balance (making everything "fair" for all players) has been replaced by the quest for equality and sameness. How many of the games being developed have been so apparently afraid of difference that one faction mirrors the other exactly, in both classes and gameplay?
Yes, I understand that creating a whole new set of mechanics for each faction is costly and time consuming. Yes, I understand that it seems on the surface like you might be disenfranchising some of your players but in the end, the result is a much more well rounded game with extreme replayability.
There is a lot that MMO developers, and players, can learn by looking at some of the innovations in other genres. I certainly didn't expect that when I picked up my copy of AvP that I'd be playing it and wishing that I could use it to enhance my MMO playing experience, but that's exactly what happened. The concept has been proven, and now it's up to some developer out there to make it happen on the stage of a virtual world.