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What Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Can Teach MMOs

William Murphy Posted:
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I’ve been working my through the final Kojima-made Metal Gear Solid over the last week. MGSV: The Phantom Pain is easily on my list of this year’s best games. Not only does it have what’s probably one of the greatest and weirdest first hours in gaming, but it quickly opens up into an excellent mix of mission-based storytelling and pure open world awesome.

With that in mind, because I do often thing there are things single-player games can teach MMOs, and vice versa, I wanted to chat today about a few things that I think MGSV does so well that our online game developers should take note.


Metal Gear has always been about stealth. But perhaps better than any other entry in the series, The Phantom Pain also lets you go all John Rambo on any situation. You can be Mr. Sneaky McSneakPants or Guns McKillsEverything. And if you’re like me, you’ll be so bad at stealth that you’ll wind up just laying waste to every enemy outpost.

Part of that magic first hour…

That said, MGSV has one of the best stealth systems I’ve ever experienced. Clothing matters, for instance. An outfit that’s all black will be better for night ops, while something with a mix of tones might be great for rocky climates. Camelot Unchained is going to sport something like this, and I’m very glad they’re doing so. 

But MGSV also does something few MMOs really try: positional and audio-based stealth. Most games just magically make you invisible and give you a dice roll to determine if you’re detected (or something akin to a dice roll). As server and computing tech improves, I’d really like to see MMO stealth incorporate prone states and squatting states, cover, noise, camouflage, and overall enemy detection with AI response to noises and movement that’s detected. Wouldn’t it be something neat if you actually had to try and be stealthy?

Here’s hoping Camelot nails this.


One of the greatest aspects to Metal Gear’s missions is that you can approach them in so many different ways. Static quests to kill such and such bad guy are still in MGSV, but it’s how you get the job done that really makes each playthrough unique. When combined with the aforementioned stealth mechanics, it means that every single enemy encounter is something unique.  There are so many different ways to get to your objective, that even when I’ve had a mission that tells me I need to do something (like ride my horse or use a specific weapon like a bazooka), I’ve been able to finish missions by improvising.


MMOs, especially the theme park variety, tend to force-feed the player story at every possible moment. Quests lead you from one area to the next, and if you go off the rails you wind up somewhere you’re very clearly not supposed to be. There are, as always, exceptions to this rule but the trend started in 2004 has varied very little since then.

Metal Gear Solid, like other open world solo games (The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Shadow of Mordor, Assassin’s Creed, and more) give the player plenty of story, but what they do between story missions is entirely up to them. Guild Wars 2 behaves somewhat in this manner too. Players can completely avoid the game’s main story from level 2 to 80 and forever if they so choose. But it’s always there, ready and waiting should you want to see what happens next.

MGSV is a lot like this. Between major story chapters, you’re given almost limitless freedom to rove about Kabul, check in on your Mother Base, and do recon in your helicopter. Eventually, you have to move things forward, but there’s so much more to do besides progress the story that it feels like The Phantom Pain could last a very long time.

When people ask me why I like Guild Wars 2 so much, I think its level of progression freedom has something to do it. It’s still a theme park. You’re still just working towards a level cap. But it’s the way in which you make your way there, meandering wherever you feel like, makes the journey all the more enjoyable.

We’re in the middle of a crossroads for the MMORPG. There’s a lot of doom and gloom about where the genre’s headed. Frankly, I don’t share the worry. I know that the genre will do as it always has: take what’s special about the single-player RPG and extrapolate it to the online and multiplayer space. As long as we keep getting great experiences like Kojima’s The Phantom Pain, our massive online future looks bright.

It just might take a while for us to get there.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.