The sky is falling. The AAA MMORPG scene is in decay. We should all just take our sports balls and go home. Or maybe not. While I’ll happily admit that there is a lull in excitement when it comes to big name AAA MMORPG development I won’t be as sensationalistic as to say that we have hit the end of this crazy ride just yet. In fact I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from those places that MMO’s took their inspiration from to begin with. The RPGs! Maybe even some MUDs… well, probably not the MUDS but definitely the RPGs.
This isn’t intended to be a column debating the merits of what does or does not constitute a MMORPG. This could spark some conversation to that effect but personally I think that what constitutes a MMORPG is fluid and evolving. It’s a moving target so I’ll just put this right here. You are all probably correct. Unless you say solitaire. Then you are just a contrarian.
This column is going to present aspects of three games that I’ve spent a lot of hours with over the past two years. Each game presents in some unique fashion a novel system, or systems, that I believe can be integrated into modern MMOs to make them better.
First up is Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor. There have been more than a handful of video games based upon J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. It’s okay, go Google it, I’ll wait for you… back? Good. Most of them have sucked. Not just a little bit either. Most of them have just been full stop bad. They were either a poorly made movie cash in or just something else entirely that didn’t work. Shadows of Mordor was not one of those Lord of the Rings game. In fact this game and Dragon Age Inquisition were my two favorite games of 2014 with Shadows probably taking the crown.
Two aspects of this game work beautifully and MMO’s would do well to emulate, assimilate, or whatever it is you call what Blizzard does and sticks into WoW-alate. The first is the nemesis system. If an Uruk were to kill you in Shadows of Mordor that Uruk would grow stronger and gain certain abilities. If he were to kill you again it would grow even stronger and gain more abilities. This meddling peon could eventually work his way up into being a Warchief. As you kill ranking member of the Uruk army and then die the Uruk power structure shuffles their way up the deck and continue to gain titles and abilities and power levels. These Uruk will also recognize you on the battlefield and comment on the fact that they had killed you before. This enemy evolution system would add a whole new dimension to some future MMOs.
However it’s the second system that I think has more immediate implications for the current generation of MMOs. When you were killed by an Uruk that location would be marked in game on your friends list, whether that was Steam, XBox Live, or PSN. Your buddies would see the quest marker to kill this Uruk and receive an additional reward for avenging you. While this isn’t the same as grouping up with your friends and laying waste to the land this type of asynchronous multiplayer does add a little bit of flavor to any game and makes it that much more compelling to log in and see which if your friends got hoodwinked and if you can go and dish out some Middle Earth justice.