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Garrett Fuller: Are You Heroic?

MMORPG.com's newest hire Garrett Fuller kicks off his Wednesday column with a look at how MMOs try to make each player feel special.

Are You Heroic?

Recently, I picked World of Warcraft back up. I had taken four months off for a new baby, although I did get my Death Knight to eighty first. Right off the bat, I was lucky to join a group running the daily heroic dungeon and immediately got back in on the gear grind that WoW has now become. Get heroic gear to do Naxxramus, get Naxx gear to do Ulduar, etc. etc. the process is never ending. Then it occurred to me, as I ran through this “heroic dungeon.” Is MMO content truly heroic?

In old school RPGs the six to seven players in your group were always the heroes. You shaped the world that the DM created and felt like characters from your favorite novels, but outside of that group, no one bragged. I mean seriously, who runs around telling their friends that “We killed Asmodeus in our game last night!” Other games would be like, ya nice, well we froze hell over. There was never much weight to these boasts and no one really cared what was going on in other campaigns. Enter the MMO circa 1990s, now you have a whole community you can brag too. The question is how do you brag? How do you stand out and become a hero when there are 11 million players running the same content? This issue has plagued MMOs from the beginning. With each generation of MMOs, we’re promised something new. Not a presentation goes by where someone doesn’t promise to make each player “the hero,” but has anyone actually done it yet? It is my humble opinion, the answer is no.

There are several accepted methods to make characters feel heroic and most of them have to do gear, medals, tokens, ship, weapons, etc. But these methods never really leave with a “No s***, I was there story.” Everyone loves it when a random player demands to know where you got that axe. You can smile and tell them you beat the Tuscan Glacier (with your guild). That happened to me back in Dark Age of Camelot. I remember the pride that the giant axe on my berserker gave me and how I loved it when everyone asked where I got it from. Tuscan Glacier was a raid in Shrouded Isles and it was a huge effort, the raid I remembered took us all day from morning to night, in the end I had an axe to show for my troubles. In many ways current WoW guilds who do raids and are the first to drop bosses are the heroic players of the game. They dedicate the time and energy it takes to solve these massive puzzles and win out in the end. I truly admire these guilds and raid groups and if not for my kids, I would be in there with my shaman every week. The question is where does that leave the rest of us? Where is our heroic experience?

For many, heroism is found through teamwork. Going back to my table top roots, I never had more fun then when a group of players faced with impossible odds beat the system through teamwork. Running raids and instances in any MMO is fun when you have a good group of people. PvP falls into that category as well. I remember my eight man gank group from DAoC, it was fun when you knew how to play together. Raid groups or Arena teams in WoW can be viewed in the same way. It is always important to have a good guild, whether it has 100 members or 10. It feels heroic to win.

PvP is another way to make players feel heroic. The best example of this was the sense of realm pride each side had in Dark Age of Camelot. The devs did not put it in - although I am sure they encouraged it – it just formed naturally over time. Once you made the leap from two to three factions, players no longer felt boxed into one side. Imagine dodge ball with three teams. If you can dodge a wrench, you can take a keep. You suddenly take out the “I’m on the cool team factor.” No one team can dominate. Darkness Falls added to this realm pride as a reason to fight. It was the best place to level characters in the game and you made darn sure it was open to your realm. This built the whole realm together. Sadly this was lost with the Warcraft guild system. Teamwork came down to the guilds alone, that is not a bad thing, it just took away the overall pride players had in a realm.

A reliance on two faction PvP may be one of the simplest flaws with the more recent crop of games. WoW did not capture PvP very well early on, although the arena system has helped a lot lately. Mythic, the company that nailed factional pride so perfectly with DAoC, failed to hit the mark in Warhammer Online. Maybe WAR just needs three factions? Now is PvP fun in these games? Well, yes to some degree. Does it make you feel heroic? I think the arena system in WoW does, especially when you do well or get into a tough fight. However, overall there is something lost to the heroic feel when you are constantly fighting only one side.

Will an MMO ever come out that truly takes the players into a heroic format? I don’t know if it could ever capture the feel of a game like Fable or other RPGs where the whole game revolves around your character. I am curious with games like All Points Bulletin and Star Wars: The Old Republic how elements of heroics will work into the system. APB seems to have some serious PvP plans, while Star Wars is looking to take Bioware’s story driven formula to the next level in MMO form. It will be fun to watch and see if either system can work. Perhaps a game will come along that will allow players more influence over NPCs like God & Heroes tried to do or set up a diplomatic system for players to elect each other. Some of these methods have been tried in games but never really captured what was needed. The again I don’t play games to be popular, I play them to hack monsters and players up.

I do believe that the heroics in MMOs come from working as a team. Whether it is a raid or giant PvP fight, working together is the reason I have played MMOs from the beginning. Like the D&D groups of old, it is fun to have a role and play it well. For now write in and let me know if you have ever felt heroic in an MMO, or if MMOs just make us all the same.

Garrett Fuller Garrett Fuller Editorials
Garrett Fuller has been playing MMOs since 1997. He originally joined MMORPG.com as a writer in 2005. In 2007 Garrett went on to handle Industry Relations for TenTonHammer.com. Then, in July 2009, Garrett happily rejoined his old team at MMORPG.com as the site's News Manager. Garrett lives in Hillsborough, NJ with his wife, son and daughter.

His column appears here every Wednesday.
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