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The RPG Files: MMOs are Hurting RPGs

Columns By Christopher Coke on January 11, 2015

MMOs are Hurting RPGs

January is the perfect time for reflection. It’s the start of a new year, a breath of fresh air after the last; a time to look back on the prior twelve months and learn the lessons that need to be learned before moving forward. I have a lesson for the games industry in case it missed it: stop trying to copy MMORPGs. Your games are worse because of it.

That might sound antithetical coming on a site that focuses on MMORPGs, but I have to be honest. Two of the biggest games of the year, and a bunch of the smaller ones, really harmed themselves by learning lazy, lazy lessons from MMO developers. In particular, I’m talking about Dragon Age: Inquisition and Destiny.

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Let’s start with Dragon Age, since it’s the most recent. Can we all agree that The Hinterlands, the game’s first explorable zone, is its weakest point? I’ve extolled the virtues of Inquisition in the past, so let’s not worry about criticizing the whole game, but really, The Hinterlands is pretty much a failure of design. It’s big, peppered with enemies far higher level than you, and worst of all, it’s filled with MMO trash quests that never seem to end. It also doesn’t make clear when or how to actually leave, forcing players, and even Bioware itself, to remind players to leave that zone behind.

You might think I’m being harsh calling Hinterlands content “MMO trash” but that’s exactly what the bulk of it is. Kill ten wolves, gather five flowers, slay six bandits, close three rifts. It’s utter, lazy garbage designed entirely as filler to shovel into our gaming mouths. Don’t complain, have a kill quest. It also doesn’t end there, mind you, but The Hinterlands certainly has it in the highest concentration.  So much of Dragon Age is so good that the rest stands out as uninspired, unimaginative, and entirely too much like an MMO. Bioware learned from Star Wars: The Old Republic but the completely wrong lesson in this regard.

Destiny is even worse, in more ways than one. Sure, the entire game is the year’s biggest disappointment in my book, somehow managing to be fun and terrible at the same time, but in trying to half an MMO, Bungie adopted far too many of the bad lessons and too few of the good. When we first heard of the game, Bungie was on point, playing up exploration and customizability, but when they actually delivered, it was a shell of that promise. Their open world content, when not defending Dinkle-bot, is composed entirely of randomized kill/collect quests. They couldn’t even be arsed to give a good reason for your actions; it’s literally a chore list from a blinking beacon and a disembodied voice.

Even outside of that lazy design, slowly sinking its claws into the RPG industry, it’s like Bungie decided to take the MMO world’s worst ideas and reinvent the wheel starting at square one. No party tools? Great idea! Gear treadmills? Sure! Level caps raises? Progression resets? Check and check! For being “not an MMO” it sure seems like a bad one.

But I digress.

The biggest issue at the intersection of MMOs and RPGs is the idea that players will swallow up lazily designed quests. RPG makers: the only reason kill/collect quests work so well in MMOs is because their leveling curve is ten times longer than yours! Furthermore, when these things became prevalent, it was in a time when a) leveling was even longer than it is today and it would have been impossible to fill it with quality content; and, b) players, mostly those beginning their MMO careers with WoW, didn’t know any better! There is precedent there and we’re still tired of it! Don’t break your own – purposes and stories and epic tasks – just to introduce bad game design! Whose grand idea was that?

In the world of RPGs, players have come to bigger purposes. Sure, there have always been kill and collect quests. But as MMOs have risen in the last five years, the veil RPG developers have put over these tasks has thinned to the point of invisibility. Developers claim “hundreds of hours of content” and then deliver with the least possible effort. For every amazing quest in Dragon Age, there are ten you can completely forget. For every raid in Destiny, there is literally the majority of the game worth forgetting. That’s sad.

In short, RPG developers should focus on what they do best, not what works for MMOs. They are different worlds. Somebody might be able to combine them right but it hasn’t been done yet and comes off as trying to cheap out to save a quick buck.

Don’t cross the streams, RPG developers.

Quick Hits

Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition developer, Beamdog, announced “Adventure Y” this week, an as-yet unnamed title which will bridge the gap between Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition and Baldur’s Gate 2, using the Infinity Engine. Having never played either of these remakes, I can’t speak to their quality, though if you’re a fan, new content in this world is certainly exciting news.

Square Enix released its annual earnings report this week, signaling better times following a difficult 2013 year. The company cited a “reformed development policy and organization system” as well as a focus on Western development studios as reasons for its growth. Unsurprisingly, their biggest earners were their MMOs, FFXIV, Dragon Quest X, and, indeed, FFXI.

Supergiant Games needs to step back and brush their shoulders off, playas, as Transistor has sold “well over 600,000 copies” the company announced. We thought it was pretty good.

Leave it to Reddit to uncover a game changing secret in Dragon Age: Inquisition. By reversing some audio, Sashimi_Taco has discovered what may be our best insight into who is truly behind the darkspawn. Be warned: don’t read unless you have finished Dragon Age: Inquisition!

Finally, CD Projekt Red has announced that you will need a nuclear supercomputer to run The Witcher 3 at its highest settings. The rest of us can get by with a merely mortal i7 3770 3.4GHz, 8GB RAM, and an Nvidia 770. Full specs here.

That’s all, folks. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.