If you play a lot of online games, you can reach the point where it feels like if you’ve seen one MMORPG, you’ve seen them all. That can apply to a lot of aspects of design: combat, classes, endgame, and even environments.
Eventually a lot of places in MMOs are going to start looking the same. The same themes just keep showing up over and over. There are certain types of zones that every MMO seems to have.
These are a few of the more common ones.
Low level spider-cave:
It is at this point an immutable law. If you are a low level MMO player, you will end up in a cave full of giant spiders. It has happened. It is happening. It will happen. It is inevitable, inescapable.
Why are MMO developers so obsessed with spiders? It is a mystery with no answer. Certainly giant spiders are a good and classic fantasy monsters, but this obsession with them has reached unhealthy levels.
It’s at the point now where having a low level cave full of giant scorpions would qualify as wild, groundbreaking innovation in the MMO field.
What fantasy locale is more iconic than the enchanted forest? MMO developers will never pass up an opportunity to have one.
These zones are usually dominated by Elves or Elf analogues. You can expect improbably large trees, soothing quasi-New Age music, and probably a fair bit of sparkling.
These are usually among the most beautiful zones to behold, but ironically also among the most boring to play through. The quests are usually just killing random animals, picking flowers, and doing other tedious chores more suited to a groundskeeper than a hero of the realm.
It’s almost as if MMO developers are so proud of the beautiful scenery they’ve created that they don’t want it disturbed by having any real action take place there. But it’s a bit hard to feel a sense of adventure when all you’re doing is gathering herbs and listening to not-Enya.
Year-round Halloween zone:
True Horror MMOs are very few and far between, but for some reason, nearly all MMOs will have at least one zone with a horror twist.
It’s often a forest, but not always. It could also be a swamp, abandoned farmlands, or occasionally another biome. It’s always grim, gloomy, and full of cobwebs and ghosts. There’s probably going to be a quest involving a haunted house at some point. Expect a graveyard or two.
Basically it’s year-round Halloween.
It does get a bit repetitive, but this is definitely one of the better themes to revisit ad nauseam, if you’re going to lean on old traditions. Halloween themes are a great way to bring out anyone’s inner kid, and a darker and creepier zone is often a welcome change of pace from the more traditional fantasy tropes.
Of course, if you’re The Secret World, then this is pretty much every zone.
Being social games, MMOs need places for players to congregate. Developers are fond of building massive, visually spectacular in-game cities for this purpose. Well-intentioned, but it doesn’t take long for the idea to fall flat on its face.
What happens when you cram detailed environments, dozens of NPCs, and hundreds of players into a small space?
If you guessed “a colossal quicksand pit of lag that turns something that used to be a video game into an experience resembling a slideshow of your aunt’s trip to Europe except with more Elves,” congratulations, you win!
The funny thing is that developers have to know this is going to happen. They know how the limits of technology better than anyone. And yet they just keep trying to funnel all their players into a single, over-crowded subzone.
Maybe they just enjoy making people with lower end computers cry bitter tears of frustration.
The desert zone no one likes:
Have you ever heard someone say their favorite zone in an MMORPG is the desert one?
No, of course you haven’t. That’s never happened. No one likes desert zones.
And yet every game seems to have one. An entire zone of sand, dirt, and grey rocks. It’s always boring, always tedious, and everyone is always glad to be free of it, but such zones just keep being made. Maybe the repetitive scenery is easier to design. It’s hard to say why. All that’s clear is desert zones will always be with us, like an incurable illness.
It would help if the developers at least put some creativity into their desert areas. Some of the world’s greatest natural wonders exist in deserts, like the Grand Canyon or Uluru. Why must MMO desert zones be naught but endless sand and blandness?
That One Zone:
We all have one. That one zone. The zone that makes your eye twitch when its name is so much as mentioned. The zone that haunts your dreams. The zone you despise above all others, the one you wish had never been created.
Maybe it’s a very poorly designed zone, with ugly environments and tedious quest flow. Maybe it’s a place where you had a particularly bad experience, a humiliating gank or a catastrophically bad dungeon run.
Maybe it’s a perfectly fine zone, but you’re just sick of it. Maybe there’s no other option in that level range, and you’ve had to bring every alt through it until its familiarity breeds a contempt without equal.
Whatever the reason, it’s the bane of your existence.
And yet you just can’t seem to escape it. Sooner or later, you end up going back there again, no matter how much you wish you could forget it. A crucial quest sends you back there. A friend needs help with a nasty boss that resides there. You’re leveling an alt, and you need to play through it again.
You hate it, but you can’t avoid it, and that only makes you loathe it all the more.
We all have one.