What is the end game? This is the quintessential question in the making and maintaining the average Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) game. How will it keep players engaged when they hit level cap while the developers furiously work on the next major patch that will expand or change the static world. Players expect a great story, a huge world to explore and ever changing content to keep their interests. Something to work towards to show their progress as compared to the others they game with. It also helps if there is a compulsive factor, a lot of little things to do between the big activities like raids normally associated as the end game for gear and the sense of victory against a tough boss.
Artcraft, with their upcoming title Crowfall are taking a different approach and we Hunger to learn more. (Get it?!) Their mantra is Eternal Heroes, Dying Worlds - but what does that mean and how does this impact the End Game? The key elements. As J Todd Coleman, Creative Director of Crowfall stated in Hunger Week… Its About Time is the need to have the opposing design goals the game must reset and the game must last forever married together to take the next step in the MMO design evolution. Not to say these concepts haven’t been attempted in one form or another in the past, but the way Artcraft is combined the win condition and board reset of a strategic game with the permanence of an MMO has me very intrigued and asking a lot of questions. While the concept is simplistic in idea, I can see it being radically complex on the execution.
The Crowfall universe is to made up of multiple rings or multiple worlds. With the exception of the Eternal Kingdom, all the worlds have a life cycle, a beginning, middle and eventual end. Players join in a campaign on the world for conquest and glory. These campaigns will last a variety of lengths from a week to possibly a year. The rewards of staying in the campaign will vary on the length of time and the WIN condition. With each of the Campaign worlds being a full world as you would expect from an MMO and having the temporariness you come to expect from a battleground, the idea is the game will stay fresh as you embark on each adventure. The key here is that your character and its home base in the Eternal Kingdom are permanent and providing the progression you expect in a MMO, tracking your progress of scavenging the dying worlds for relics, resources and glory.
At the core, the campaigns may seem like glorified instanced PVP battlegrounds, the difference being the phase system. As the divine champions of the gods, you will enter a new world that is fresh, free from the hunger. This is the phase of exploration in a clean and untainted world, where you lay claim to resources, ruins and begin to construct an empire. But then the hunger phase begins, a plague that infects the creatures and the land, changing it. Now you not only have to worry about your neighbors but also the growing deadliness of everything around you. As the hunger progresses through its phases as illustrated by the Gryphon, you continue to fight for resources and controlling of territory, forming alliances and destroying others. Despite all your efforts, you always know that while you may be victorious in this world, it will be destroyed in a cataclysmic event and you will return to the Eternal Kingdom either victorious or with lessons to ponder and tactics to plan before the next conquest.
Zombie Wood shows us that the hunger brings on a sense of despair and makes us wonder why we should fight at all if it will only end in death and a world reset. While the Eternal Kingdom is a permanent world where player and guild housing is maintained, I wonder if this will be enough to make you feel “complete”. Coming home with trophies to display is all well and good, but how is this different than say a leader board from a MOBA? While Artcraft has stated that the Eternal Kingdoms will be player owned and player managed allowing for various rule sets, what activities will you be able to accomplish while there? How will players interact, stay engaged and fill their time that is fulfilling before embarking on the next campaign. I am also leary if this mean that the Eternal Kingdoms will be player managed servers. Will the campaigns also be player initiated? I don’t want to speculate too far, but there are definitely a lot of unanswered questions that will drastically affect the appeal. Depending on how and what they structure in the permanent aspects of the game, while keeping the temporary (Campaigns) refreshing enough for you to want to compete in them over and over again is going to be real challenge.
Now that we understand the marrying of the Reset and the Persistence, does Crowfall even have an end game? With what we know thus far it would appear not. What we have is systems that keep gameplay worlds fresh and new, the PVP challenges dynamic and the alliances for world control ever changing. While that is a lot going on, how do you measure your successes, compare yourself to your fellow players and define your progress in a meaningful way? Something tells me we’ll know soon enough.